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Technology for Motivation

This is an excerpt from Technology for Physical Educators, Health Educators, and Coaches With Web Resource by Seth E. Jenny,Jennifer M. Krause & Tess Armstrong.

Motivating With Video Games

To say that video gaming is very popular would be a massive understatement. United States consumer spending on video gaming exceeded $43 billion in 2018 (Entertainment Software Association, 2019). Moreover, 90 percent of U.S. teens aged 13 to 17 years (97 percent of boys and 83 percent of girls) play video games of some kind, whether on smartphones, computers, or consoles (e.g., PlayStation, Xbox), and 84 percent (92 percent of boys and 75 percent of girls) have access to a video gaming console at home (Pew Research Center, 2018). In addition, a survey of more than 4,000 U.S. households found that 60 percent of Americans play video games daily, 64 percent of American households own a device used for playing video games, 45 percent of gamers are female, and the average age of gamers is 34 years old (Entertainment Software Association, 2018).

Video games are also being used more and more in both the classroom and the gym as a way to stimulate interest and convey instructional content in an enjoyable manner (Jenny, Schary et al., 2017). The games are commonly played with computers, smartphones, mobile devices (e.g., iPad, tablet PC), and off-the-shelf gaming consoles (e.g., Xbox, PlayStation). Traditional video games are sedentary in that they often involve seated game play while manipulating a computer keyboard and mouse (PC gaming) or handheld game controller (console gaming). These games primarily involve fine motor movements of the arms, hands, and fingers.

In a study involving 212 fifth-grade students, a classroom-based math video game successfully triggered and maintained situational interest as well as strengthened individual math interest in the majority of the participants (Rodríguez‐Aflecht et al., 2018). However, the researchers concluded that practitioners should not use video games only for motivation; rather, they should use games that also help players attain clear and validated learning objectives. In this vein, sport video games may help physical educators and coaches fulfill cognitive learning objectives.

Sedentary Sport Video Games

Sport video games (SVGs) simulate sport action and are primarily sedentary, as players use handheld controllers to manipulate on-screen characters. Many SVGs not only involve playing the sport but also incorporate strategies and tactics. Popular examples include FIFA Soccer (EA Sports), Madden NFL (EA Sports), NBA 2K (2K Sports), MLB The Show (Sony Interactive Entertainment), UFC (EA Sports), and NHL (EA Canada). Although more research is needed, some empirical studies have found that SVGs can increase development in the cognitive and affective learning domains.

For example, in a sample of international college students who were unfamiliar with American football, playing two 30-minute sessions of Madden NFL per week for four weeks increased overall American football knowledge as compared with a control group, as well as motivated intention to watch or play real-world American football (Jenny & Schary, 2014). Similarly, in a sample of American college students who were unfamiliar with cricket, playing two one-hour sessions of Don Bradman Cricket (Big Ant Studios) per week for two weeks significantly increased overall cricket knowledge as compared with a control group, as well as motivated intention to watch or play real-world cricket (Jenny, Chung et. al., 2017). In addition to enabling simulated sport game play, both of these SVGs (and many others) incorporate a simulated live television broadcast with in-game broadcasters providing auditory commentary on game action. Thus, SVGs may be used as a tool for increasing learners’ sport knowledge and stimulating motivation to engage in real-world physical activity.

Motion-Based Video Games

Motion-based video games (MBVGs) use sensors and software so that the player physically performs both fine and gross motor movements in order to play the game as the on-screen character (i.e., avatar) mimics the player’s actions. Thus MBVGs combine video gaming and exercise and are also known as exergames, active video games, or interactive video games. These games employ various types of motion-sensing technology, including cameras (e.g., Xbox Kinect), handheld motion controllers (e.g., PlayStation Move), balance boards (e.g., Wii Fit), and motion-detecting dance platforms (e.g., Dance Dance Revolution), and some systems integrate multiple motion-detection technologies. MBVGs have been found to benefit children’s motivation and physical activity levels as compared with sedentary video games in an educational context (Sun & Gao, 2016).

For instance, interactive video game cycling has been shown to result in significantly greater energy expenditure, maximum oxygen uptake reserve, and enjoyment as compared with traditional stationary cycling (Monedero et al., 2015). Typically, interactive video game cycling allows the user to compete against computer-generated riders while sitting on a bike and pedaling to move an on-screen bike avatar on the gaming display located in front of the rider. In addition, left and right movements of the handlebars correspond to in-game movements, and music and mechanical sounds are coupled with visual and audio feedback as part of the gaming experience. However, due to the cost and equipment required, this technology may fit best as an option in a fitness or recreation club or an exergaming lab.

Sheehan and Katz (2010) have proposed that MBVGs and other forms of interactive video technology may satisfy six Cs that are essential for intrinsically motivating physical activity in children (see table 5.2). These characteristics include control, challenge, curiosity, creativity, constant feedback, and competition.

Table 5.2 Six Cs of Motivating With MBVGs and Interactive Video Technology

Preservice physical education teachers tend to perceive MBVGs as fun and believe that they can increase student motivation during class (Jenny, Hushman, et al., 2013). These perceptions are supported by research showing that MBVGs can motivate previously unmotivated students in physical education to display a positive attitude and demonstrate willingness to collaborate with classmates (Finco et al., 2015). However, evidence also exists that participating in a sport (e.g., rock climbing) in the real world motivates future activity more than playing the MBVG version of the sport (e.g., Kinect Sports Rivals Rock Climbing) (Jenny & Schary, 2015). Still, at least in the short-term, MBVGs appear to increase enjoyment and motivation (i.e., situational interest) more than traditional physical education activities do for some students (Moholdt et al., 2017).

Teaching Motor Skills With MBVGs

For physical educators and sport coaches, one of the most important questions about MBVGs is whether they help teach sport-specific motor skills. In other words, do they require the same correctly executed motor movements that are needed in the authentic or real-world sport or activity? For example, does a track-and-field MBVG that involves hurdling require the user to use proper hurdling technique, with a lead leg and a trail leg, or does it simply require the user to execute a standard two-footed jump straight up and down?

One study found that although MBVGs are perceived by preservice physical education teachers as a fun way to increase student physical activity and heart rate, they do not always mimic the fundamental motor movements used in real-world sport (Jenny, Hushman et al., 2013). For example, one experimental study found that the Kinect Sports Rivals Rock Climbing used similar arm movements to authentic wall or rock climbing but that the leg movements (arguably the most important part of climbing) were totally different (Jenny & Schary, 2016). Another study compared NCAA Division I tennis players performance of the forehand, backhand, and serve in a MBVG versus in an authentic environment (Jenny, Noble et al., 2017) and found that all three strokes were performed significantly differently in the MBVG. More broadly, a literature review on the effectiveness of teaching motor skills with MBVGs concluded that

MBVGs may be beneficial with novices in teaching basic sport concepts or with individuals with special needs who might otherwise not be able to participate in the full authentic version of the sport. However, empirical evidence is lacking which supports the effective use of MBVGs in accurately teaching authentic sport-specific motor skills. (Jenny, Schary et al., 2017)

Therefore, based on current technology, the majority of MBVGs should be used to encourage physical activity, and using them to teach motor skills should be performed only with caution. Even so, activity-specific cognitive and affective learning (e.g., sport rules, strategy, terminology, enjoyment, cooperation) may be accomplished through the use of MBVGs. See figure 5.3 for a recommended gym setup involving multiple MBVG systems.

Dance Dance Revolution

We would be remiss if we did not mention one of the oldest MBVGs, which is still popular: Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). Participants stand on a motion-sensing platform marked by four colored arrows in a cross formation. Users are judged on the timing and accuracy with which they tap with their feet on the prescribed arrows in a rhythmic fashion using auditory musical and visual on-screen cues. Performing well makes available new songs and greater difficulty levels. DDR first gained popularity in the arcade but now thrives in many physical education classrooms in the form of Dance Dance Revolution Classroom Edition, which permits up to 48 students to play at the same time through wireless dance mats that interface with the gaming console. All students’ scores are tracked on-screen. A less expensive version of the game uses plastic mats with the DDR arrows printed on them and only one authentic DDR mat interfaced with the game. Students follow along on the fake mats, but the score is tracked only for the student on the authentic mat. This approach appears to work well at the elementary level. Many mainstream MBVG systems now include knockoff games such as Dance Central and Just Dance. Figure 5.4 provides more teaching tips for integrating motion-based video games into your teaching and coaching.

Video Games in Health Promotion and Health Education

Video games have also been used in health and wellness promotion and education. For example, they have been used to motivate preteens to get vaccinated for the human papillomavirus (HPV; Cates et al., 2018), to motivate children to make positive changes in diet and physical activity (Baranowski et al., 2010), and to train health care professionals (Wang et al., 2016). In a review of game use to aid health, Baranowski and colleagues (2016) noted that early results are promising, additional research is needed, and key stakeholders should be involved in both game design and the process of motivating behavior change in order to mitigate potential adverse effects (e.g., gaming addiction, gaming-related health problems or injury, breach of privacy, online harassment). If this area of research interests you, we encourage you to peruse Games for Health Journal, which details many studies on the use of sedentary video games and MBVGs to improve health outcomes across varying populations.

MBVGs in Rehabilitation and Health Care Settings

MBVGs have been used in rehabilitation for various purposes, such as performing balance activities and aiding at-home exercise adherence, particularly with elderly populations and those who are recuperating from a fall or who have a disease or injury that affects balance. For example, when a player stands on the Nintendo Wii Balance Board, the gaming system interprets weight shifts and movements of the player’s feet and provides visual feedback on a display screen (de Carvalho et al., 2018). Research has found that MBVGs can also help improve dynamic postural control, reduce pain sensitivity, and increase mobility in diverse populations, such as individuals with spinal cord injury, elderly females who have fallen, healthy older adults, and long-term care residents (Aguillar et al., 2018; Carey et al., 2017; Manlapaz et al., 2017; Rosly et al., 2017; Taylor et al., 2018). Collectively these studies show promise that MBVGs may improve health outcomes and can motivate clients in adhering to a self-facilitated at-home exercise protocol.