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Online gaming: laying the way for childhood obesity?

by Stephanie Duchenne (Panda McBearface)  Posted Tuesday, October 08, 2013 11:55:41 AM

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I’ve just read an article on gamepolitics.com about how food advergames promote unhealthy lifestyle choices to children. The word “advergame” is defined as follows:

“An online video game that promotes a particular brand, product, or marketing message by integrating it into the game.”

A quick Google search leads me to advergames.com, a little website full of advertising videogames. Among the “food” offerings, I immediately notice that the sponsors include Coca-Cola, Red-Bull, Skittles, McDonalds and Buffalo Wild Wings. Clearly eating these foods is not the healthiest lifestyle choice. However, this makes me wonder how much of an effect these games has on children’s choices in what they eat post- play.

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Sponsored by Buffalo Wild Wings

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Sponsored by McDonalds

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Sponsored by Red Bull

Personally, I can attest to the fact that I have always absorbed more information when I am interested in the topic being taught to me. The way that the topic is presented also has a big effect on this. I wasn’t at school for the age of computery, but I can tell that those History lessons which were “taught” to me by the teacher standing in front and reading out of the assigned text-book were the ones that I spent either drawing, looking out the window and sometimes even sleeping. Interaction with the topic at hand is clearly something that is very important when learning.

This is why we often talk about the value of videogames as a teaching tool. Educational games trick you into learning (well, in my opinion) because you get to have fun while doing horribly boring and terrible RL things like math. However, surely this means that we can be taught pretty much anything, including bad habits, by videogames?

Potentially, it seems so. An interview with Keith Devlin, a Stanford mathematician, on forbes.com states the following:

If designed suitably, video games are activity simulators with a dopamine reward system. When someone plays ANY game, they are learning something.

Uh-oh.

But how effective is “edtech” as a teaching tool? Theeconomist.com states:

The evidence on the efficacy of edtech comes largely from America. Most of it suggests that when teachers have been properly trained, it works. Low-income students at Rocketship, a chain of charter schools in San Jose, California, which also use the technologies, outperform those living in the wealthiest districts in the state.

Sounds like it’s pretty effective then assuming that the correct training is in place. Is this a reason to worry?

Before we conclusively state “yes” or “no”, I think that it’s important to discover what constitutes a videogame that is “suitably designed” for learning?

Sciencedaily.com states that researchers have found 3 key factors that should be used to create effective edtech:

"Teachers must be able to determine the progress of students playing at home, how they interact with the game, how they perform". The problem is that it is not possible to completely track all of the actions taken by the students during the game, since that would hinder follow-up, nor limit the evaluation to one or a few actions. The idea, says the researcher, "is to identify the points that are relevant from an educational point of view".

The technology must also enable the video game to be adapted to the specific educational needs of each student. ‘The machine needs to be taken advantage of so that the game is not static, rather it varies depending on the student's profile’, explains Moreno-Ger, who also indicates that video games are ‘the ideal medium for adaptation; much richer than web pages’.

The final important element in designing educational video games is standardization; that is, ‘packaging the content so that it can move from one platform to another, launching it without problems’, the experts explain.”

I’m now ready to give you my final answer. And it’s a resounding “negative.”

I do not believe that advergames have an enormous ability to influence what our children eat. Sure, these games totally glamourise fast food and making it appear more appealing, but I do not believe that these mindless games can ingrain specific eating habits into children’s minds as they lack elasticity despite the fact that they are interactive.

One might also make the small point that as a parent, one has the final say on what one’s children eat for the most part; which dictates that you have the right to make your child eat broccoli as opposed to a double cheeseburger with bacon. And personally, I think that an occasional piece of junk food doesn’t do anyone any harm - everything in moderation etc. So let’s not get all a-fluster about advergames, because they are clearly annoying, but doubtfully do much beyond being that.

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd 



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