MobileKids: Where Technology Meets Health

MobileKids: A Study Using Mobile Applications to Promote Physical Activity

The pilot research project of the KidsCan initiative is MobileKids, a study designed to develop and use a mobile, technology-based solution to address inactivity among kids aged 8-13 years. Our team has worked closely with Vancouver-based companies Ayogo, a global leader in the application of game psychology to patient self-care, and Kineteks, a high-tech company in the business of building innovative solutions to improve health, to produce a mobile application (game) that synchronizes with an activity sensor to promote voluntary physical activity.

The game requires physical energy to play, connecting and synchronizing the physical activity of players with points produced in the game. Using principles of knowledge translation, we actively involved the KidsCan advisors in the development and testing of the MobileKids: Monster Manor game. Their involvement makes them active partners in the research and development process, ultimately leading to the production of a health solution tailored to the needs of their demographic.

MobileKids: Monster Manor stands out as an innovative and health-promoting game for youth, one where screen time is limited and activity is the foundation for gaining points during game-play.

Collaboratively competitive

Understanding that people, the social creatures that we are, are motivated by those around us, social interplay between players was identified early on in the design process as an important strategy for the game to be a success in achieving its end goal. We also understood that although competition can be highly motivating to some, too much competition can be detrimentally discouraging to others. For this reason we have designed the game to be “collaboratively competitive”. The game uses a team based metaphor to create an atmosphere of healthy competition, while also emphasizing teammate support to help players that are less active in the game, feel motivated by those around them.

Achievable activities

The activities that will be incorporated into the game will be designed to be progressive and achievable to all players. Not all players will necessarily feel confident in completing all of the activities right away so those players will be provided with activities which are more easily achievable at their fitness level. An important part of any game’s economy is that of progression, as such in MKMM players will be able to progress to new levels of activity difficulty as they increase their level of physical activity. Activities will be clearly labeled based on their difficulty respective to the players’ physical activity levels. Players will be motivated to engage in more challenging physical activities in order to win more “profitable” prizes in the piñata whacking mini-game.





Strategies to fit the player

Each activity will include strategies for the player in how to achieve each specific physical activity goal. Every activity will have multiple strategies that a player can randomize and reveal to help them better understand how to include healthy physical activity into their everyday life. As an example a player may choose a medium difficulty activity and be provided strategies such as: take your dog for a 30 minute walk, or, play tag with a friend for 15 minutes. The strategies are meant to act as real world examples of ways players of various fitness awareness levels and inclinations can achieve the optimum results.






Results revealed

After each activity players will be brought back to the game to find out the results of how well they performed in the activity. Players are purposefully not given any feedback during the activity session, but rather have to check-in after they have completed their activity. This game design decision was created to increase a player's propensity to amplify their activity levels and feel compelled to check-in when the activity is complete. Each time a player finishes an activity and checks-in, the amount of activity they achieved relative to the difficulty of the activity, will be displayed in an energy meter. Better energy scores will result in better piñatas with better odds of winning more currency (Beanz).





The power of variable rewards

Variable rewards are an incredibly compelling game mechanic employed in many types of games, from virtual slot machines to lottery tickets. In Monster Manor we employ the variable reward mechanic through piñatas that get smashed by the player. The power of variable reward games lies in the discovery of what the play device holds within. In the case of Monster Manor our variable reward game dispenses the currency (Beanz) that a player needs in order to buy the ingredients necessary to set a monster free. Depending on the energy threshold the player achieves in completing their activity they are rewarded with a proportionally similar opportunity to win Beanz. The variability of the reward lies in the odds the player has of winning the currency by smashing the piñata. As an example, if a player achieves the highest energy threshold for a given activity, they will be awarded piñatas with the highest odds of winning. In the same way that more expensive lottery tickets have the opportunity to win more expensive prizes, higher activity energy scores result in higher odds of winning more Beanz.



Free the monsters, collect your gold and help your team!

The play metaphor of MKMM and the driving factor behind competing as a team is the desire to free the monsters and collect their Gold, but in order to do these activities, players first need to collect all the necessary ingredients required to set them free. These collectable “ingredients” are the metaphorical theme applied to a collecting mini-game. In MKMM we use the collecting game as a way to allow players to spend their currency (Beanz) on ingredients that help free the monsters, and in-turn, collect the gold they need to drive their team up the leaderboard.





Healthy competition and peer encouragement

A key aspect of the MKMM design is the team screen and leaderboard which demonstrate how each team is doing in the competition. The Gold that each player collects contributes to their team’s overall score, with the team with the most Gold displayed as the leader. When players review their teams score they are able to see a summary of the Gold that they have collected, as well as the amount of Gold each of their teammates have collected. Alongside each respective teammates score is an encouragement button that sends a message of support to help keep follow teammates encouraged, active and engaged in the game. This social support mechanic adds to the team dynamic of the game, which creates positive peer reinforcement and a social obligation dynamic that will keep players motivated and engaged over the long term.