UC Davis working on a game where player's real-life stats will strengthen their in-game character

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, are developing a video game to encourage children to strengthen their video game avatars by strengthening themselves.

The university's school of Education and Foods for Health is teaming up with developers from Play4Change to create a game where players plug in their personal health data and then log miles walked and calories burned. The player then sets physical goals and the avatar's physical attributes will change depending on the player's health and fitness.

Cynthia Carter Ching, a researcher on the project, says: "Gamers project their identities into gameplay in various ways already, but we are particularly interested in what might happen if the avatar in a game is tied directly to the gamer's body and his or her actions outside the game."

The project, titled GET-UP: Gaming to Education Teens about Understanding Personal Health, will begin trials at select South Sacremento schools next spring for students aged 11-14. Participants will wear activity-monitoring devices that measure things such as steps walked, floors climbed and calories burned and this set of data along with diet logs and health and nutrition information will determine what choices the player can make and their rate of progress through the game.

A player who records lots of physical activity in a day might find that his or her character becomes stronger and progresses faster, while a player who is sedentary and eats poorly may find that their character progresses very slowly. Ching says that the game rewards players for positive actions right away so that they can experience the benefits long before any real-world physical changes occur.

"Recreational games are often blamed for kids' obesity, and some gaming platforms like Wii Fit and Xbox Kinect have tried to make gaming itself more active, but our approach is different," said Ching. "It's exciting to see if, instead, we can leverage games to positively affect behavior that impacts physical fitness even when the gamer is not playing."

The trials will begin next spring.

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