Are game developers contributing to the obesity epidemic? (Guest Post from the Healthy Gaming Network)

Posted on Posted in Philosophy

Brandon:

The following is a guest post by Burt Yaroch of the Healthy Gaming Network. His website’s stock and trade is helping gamers make healthier choices while enjoying what most people consider to be a sedentary hobby. However, today he turns the mirror of self-reflection upon us as developers. Do we, as game developers, accidentally promote unhealthy lifestyles while we promote our hobby?

Enjoy and prepare to be a little uncomfortable…but no more uncomfortable than you would be on a treadmill.


Burt:

With the obesity epidemic continuing to worsen in the United States, our society has been forced to make some changes. Changes have started to come from the most likely culprits – the fast food industry. We now see restaurants like McDonald’s offering a variety of healthy salads and wraps. But what about the gaming industry? Are we contributing to the obesity epidemic? If so, what should we be doing about it?

 

It’s a step in the right direction.

 

These are both difficult questions.  I believe the first can be answered with personal introspection and anecdotal evidence. What is the longest gaming session you have ever had? What is the average length of your gaming session? I have had 12 hour gaming sessions on numerous occasions in which my only physical movement was caused by the pain of having to relieve my bladder. Average for me is likely around 3-4 hours.  It is, without a doubt, the most sedentary time of my day and the least healthy activity in my otherwise active lifestyle (or so it used to be, but we will return to that later).  If that isn’t enough to convince you there is a problem here, a look at your average gaming get together or convention might be. While I will concede that correlation is not causation, I believe these venues have a disproportionate population of overweight and obese people in attendance. Anecdotal evidence notwithstanding, we can at least agree that sitting around for hours on end is not contributing to a healthy lifestyle. Should game designers be doing something about the sedentary nature of our hobby. Indeed, can we do anything about it?

First, should we? If we are offering a service that we know has the potential to adversely affect the health of our customers, do we have a responsibility to mitigate those health risks? The answer, in nearly every other industry I can think of, is a resounding “yes”. Even if it is big tobacco putting a warning label on each pack of cigarettes they sell, manufacturers have a responsibility to provide clientele with healthy alternatives or, at the very minimum, cautions to warn of risky activities. I personally see this as a moral imperative as well as an ethical obligation to an unwritten code of conduct. But what can we possibly do?

 

Big Game of Twister
Physical movement isn’t unprecedented in board gaming. Photo by Eugene Kim, posted to Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license (Source).

 

The McDonald’s approach was twofold: providing healthier food choices and healthier promotion and advertising. I would offer that game developers could follow this same pattern of success.

First, we make healthier games.  That is not easy, but achievable particularly if we define “healthier” in a broad range from increased physical activity to promoting laughter to enhancing dexterity and fine motor skills.  Our company, Healthy Gaming Network, has three games currently in development that specifically target healthier gaming, and I’m certain that anyone reading these words is a much more creative game developer than anyone on our team.  I don’t doubt that once you are thinking about creating healthier games, this is precisely what will happen.

Second, we promote healthier living in all our engagements with our customers: in the rulebook, at conventions, during demos at our FLGS, and during gaming sessions.  We become the examples of healthy gaming in our snack choices, our beverage choices, and in HOW we game. Remember how I mentioned that gaming was previously the least healthy activity in my day? It isn’t anymore. Now whenever I am gaming, I am exercising. I have a portable under-desk elliptical trainer that I take with me everywhere.  It’s not terribly convenient and it gets me some strange looks. But I will be burning more calories than anyone else at that table who isn’t similarly engaged. Granted, this leads to only a small change in my daily calorie burn, but that isn’t really the point.  The point is to transform gaming from an activity that is impacting my health in a negative way to an activity that is enhancing my well-being.

Like McDonald’s, we cannot force our customers to make healthy life choices.  But we have the same moral imperative to recognize how what we create affects gamers and the gaming community. Isn’t it time for a change?


Brandon:

Feeling the burn yet? Burt offers an indictment of the gaming community and its relationship to healthy lifestyles. With this in mind, I have two questions for you:

  1. To what degree are developers responsible for the health of their customers?
  2. How can we transform board gaming into a more active hobby? Do we even need to?

Let me know what you think in the comments below and I can share my thoughts as well!

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