Effects of Social Interaction Mechanics in Pervasive Games on the Physical Activity Levels of Older Adults: Quasi-Experimental Study


Background: The novel genre of pervasive games, which aim to create more fun and engaging experiences by promoting deeper immersion, could be a powerful strategy to stimulate physical activity among older adults. To use these games more effectively, it is necessary to understand how different design elements affect player behavior. Objective: The aim was to vary a specific design element of pervasive games for older adults, namely social interaction, to test the effect on levels of physical activity. Methods: Over 4 weeks, two variations of the same pervasive game were compared: social interaction for the test group and no social interaction for the control group. In both versions, players had to walk to physical locations and collect virtual cards, but the social interaction version allowed people to collaborate to obtain more cards. Weekly step counts were used to evaluate the effect on each group, and the number of places visited was used as an indicator of play activity. Results: A total of 32 participants were recruited (no social interaction=15, social interaction=17); 18 remained until the end of the study (no social interaction=7, social interaction=11). Step counts during the first week were used as the baseline (no social interaction: mean 17,099.4, SE 3906.5; social interaction: mean 17,981.9, SE 2171.1). For the following weeks, changes to individual baseline were as follows for no social interaction (absolute/proportional): 383.8 (SE 563.8)/1.1% (SE 4.3%), 435.9 (SE 574.5)/2.2% (SE 4.6%), and −106.1 (SE 979.9)/−2.6% (SE 8.1%) for weeks 2, 3, and 4, respectively. For social interaction they were 3841.9 (SE 1425.4)/21.7% (SE 5.1%), 2270.6 (SE 947.1)/16.5% (SE 4.4%), and 2443.4 (SE 982.6)/17.9% (SE 4.7%) for weeks 2, 3, and 4, respectively. Analysis of group effect was significant (absolute change: $η$2=.19, P=.01; proportional change: $η$2=.27, P=.009). Correlation between the proportional change and the play activity was significant (r=.34, 95% CI 0.08 to 0.56), whereas for absolute change it was not. Conclusions: Social interaction design elements of the pervasive game may have some positive effects on the promotion of physical activity, although other factors might also have influenced this effect. http://games.jmir.org/2019/3/e13962/

JMIR Serious Games