The most famous game that inspired people to be physically active was Pokémon Go that had millions of downloads and more active users than Twitter.
Gamification has been used for years to engage new audiences and change behaviour, but only recently has playing a digital game been used to dramatically increase physical activity levels and at the same time improve health and wellbeing.
Changing habitual behaviours such as inactivity or driving to school and work has proven difficult via traditional health initiatives. Gamification is proving successful in changing physical activity behaviours by providing incentives and rewards for players.
Gamification offers advantages over other types of physical activity campaigns as it can deliver health through stealth by encouraging people to play a fun, free game rather than take part in a fitness scheme.
The impact of gamifying health can be clearly seen in Intelligent Health’s Beat the Street initiative Beat the Street which transforms communities into playable cities and towns. At the heart of Beat the Street is a six-week game where residents are encouraged to explore their local area by tapping cards and fobs against special sensors – Beat Boxes – distributed across their town. Players are rewarded with points, can create teams and earn prizes depending on how far they run, walk or cycle. Beat the Street games have engaged over 500,000 people, lifting people out of physical inactivity, with 71% still active 12 months later.
Beat the Street has been played in various parts of Essex, most recently in Harwich and Dovercourt where 2,700 people played the game out of a population of 20,000. A major Beat the Street game is planned for Clacton and Jaywick in the summer of 2022.
Another popular game is Street Tag that uses virtual tags so teams can collect points on the app by moving into a location with a tag. With Street Tag, games normally last longer than Beat the Street, often for a few months. Teams can be formed by schools, workplaces, families and friendship groups, with a live leader board and rewards and prizes. Street Tag has been successfully tested in Basildon and Colchester, and there are plans to take the game to Walton-on-the-Naze and Harwich and Dovercourt in 2022.
There are a number of apps available that encourage people to be more active through incentives, including Go Jauntly which is being tested by the LDP. It is free community-based walking app, which invites you into a world of outdoor adventure. Find local walks created by the people who know and love them, discover the greenest walking routes and get some fresh air.
The gamification of physical activity is nothing new – we have been playing games in playgrounds and in sport for centuries. We are also social animals and games bring us together. However, digital gamification is a new phenomenon that is clearly making a significant impact on population levels of physical activity, often in disadvantaged communities with key target groups who are most inactive. The Active Essex LDP team will continue to test gamification and share the learning of the evidence of the impact that various games are making.