Dr. Approved Video Games

A new kind of video game is under production here in Houston. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, it's doctor-approved as a healthy video game for children.

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Eleven-year-old Adam Reichstein is working the controls of a hi-tech videogame, snapping pictures of tiny robots on the screen.

"[Reporter]Once you get a picture of each robot, what happens at that point? [Adam]I'm not sure. I think the levels -- I think you finish the level after that."

Adam is playing a game called Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space. It's one of two games in production at Archimage, a local design studio. This game takes the player on a journey inside the body, where the goal is to battle diseases that result from childhood obesity. Dr. Tom Baranowski is a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and studies behavioral nutrition at the Children's Nutrition Research Center. He says these games are designed to modify the way kids think about food and exercise.

"We think that the nature of gaming is so attractive to children that it captures their attention and involves them in the behavior change process like no other medium is able to do right now. So we think that the games are a phenomenal channel for reaching and capturing children and engaging them in behavior change.

The two games, Nanoswarm and Escape from Diab, are multi-million dollar productions. Archimage Vice President Jerald Reichstein, who is Adam's father, says serious videogames like these are an emerging trend in the gaming world and it remains to be seen how successful they will be.

"Kids are a tough audience. They're very discriminating and I think especially the younger kids in this age group -- you know they've seen Toy Story and they've seen The Incredibles and they know what's possible and anything less than that is a negative for them."

That's why these games are rich in imagery and storyline. They have to be convincing enough for kids to want to play them, but still meet the goal of promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles. Nanoswarm and Escape from Diab are funded by an $8-10 million grant from the NIH. About half of the money is used for development, the rest covers research, testing, marketing and follow-up to see how effective the games are in actually changing behavior. The games are scheduled for release in early 2008. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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