A meta-analysis on the gamification of physical activity
The first meta-analysis on the subject
Are games that encourage movement effective? A meta-analysis (a scientific approach) has just highlighted the links between gamification and physical activity.
This research work – the first of its kind on this subject – has been published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the leading international journal in digital health (early 2022).
Its author, Alexandre Mazéas, a doctoral student in health psychology at Kiplin (a publisher of health games), was awarded the “Young Researcher” prize at the biennial congress of ACAPS (Association of Physical Activity Researchers). A research work with which Martine Duclos (endocrinologist and physiologist, head of the sports medicine department at the Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital), Bruno Pereira (biostatistician at the Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital) and Aïna Chalabaev (university professor, director of the SENS laboratory in Grenoble) were associated.
3,000 articles, 5 scientific databases
Are digital games effective in assisting in the practice or resumption of physical activity?
To answer this question, 3103 articles were reviewed. 18 were included in the review. Various statistical analyses were performed on a sample of 2407 participants ( from 9 to 73 years old). 5 scientific databases were reviewed.
“The objective was to go beyond the qualitative of a traditional review by adding statistical analyses to quantify the effect of gamified connected interventions accurately. Meta-analyses are considered to be the highest level of scientific evidence and are carried out with total transparency on the method so that it is reproducible and verifiable,” says Alexandre Mazéas.
To be included in this review, studies had to test the effectiveness of a gamified program on measures of physical activity by comparing them to a “control group” of participants who received another program without gamification.
Significant improvement through gamification
The results reveal that the gamified interventions significantly improved participants’ physical activity, with an average difference of +1600 steps per day.
“We did not observe any significant difference between the different subgroups analyzed and no influence of variables such as age, gender or health status of the participants, which suggests a good generalization of this type of program to various audiences,” notes Alexandre Mazéas.
In terms of digital therapies, the analyses also show that gamified interventions had a greater effect on behavior change than traditional digital interventions. This result suggests that gamification acts as a catalyst to optimize the effectiveness of digital therapies aimed at promoting physical activity.
In the North, four Ramsay establishments currently offer this type of digital solution (500 patients included). The same goes for the AP-HP (Assistance Publique des Hôpitaux de Paris) and the cancer centers Léon Bérard (Lyon), Institut de Cancérologie de l’Ouest (Nantes and Angers) and Institut Curie.
What are the therapeutic effects over time?
“When we looked at studies that conducted a follow-up on average 14 weeks after the end of the intervention, our analyses revealed a small but still existing effect of the intervention,” says the researcher.
The effects of gamification would therefore be maintained slightly over the long term. This is a significant result given the difficulties encountered by traditional programs in changing behavior over the long term.
Gamification therefore appears to be an interesting strategy for promoting behaviour change. The levers of the game positively influence different parameters: motivation, perception of pleasure and the overall evaluation of the targeted activity.
Nevertheless, further scientific studies are needed to better identify the active ingredients that enable this behavioural change.
This is precisely the purpose of the clinical trial called DIPPAO (for Digital Intervention Promoting Physical Activity among Obese people) currently being conducted by the Clermont-Ferrand University Hospital in partnership with the Grenoble laboratory Sens. Eventually, 50 patients will be included in this study.