The Gamification of Health and Wellness


This article is part of our coverage of the 2012 Net Impact Conference in Baltimore. It originally appeared on Triple Pundit.

For some companies, “corporate social responsibility” is an after-thought or marketing tool; for others, it’s core to their business.

Humana, a Fortune 100 healthcare company, recently got serious about its commitments and formalized a CSR program in 2009, as we learned at the Net Impact Conference in Baltimore.

Humana started as a nursing home company. Now, the company markets and administers health insurance services in all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.

Humana has been socially responsible for decades, establishing an ethics program in the mid-’90s, encouraging employees (or “associates”) to volunteer in their communities, and contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes through the Humana Foundation.

This year, it made headlines for becoming the first U.S. health insurer to follow Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines for sustainability reporting.

One of the primary ways it encourages customers to stay healthy is through the design of play—leveraging behavioral economics, mobile technology, gamification and social media.

Here are a few examples:

Video Games: Humana partnered with video game developer Ubisoft to develop Humana-branded fitness content for ”Your Shape®: Fitness Evolved 2012,”  a workout program available on Xbox Kinect that offers players more than 90 hours of fitness activities, including cardio boxing, jumprope and yoga.

Online GamesFamScape is a online game that encourages more physical activity by families. There is also the Humana Horsepower Challenge, in which students are given pedometers to keep track of their steps. Teams of school systems compete against each other, and kids who are most physically active earn rewards to accessorize their horse avatars. Students in the program did six times as much physical activity than before the program started.

Toys: The company created a prototype of “Grand 2 Grand,” wirelessly connected teddy bears that are designed to let grandparents and grandkids communicate with each other. When one person hugs a bear, the other lights up and vibrates.

Community: Earlier this year, Humana and the Humana Foundation announced a three-year partnership withKaBOOM!  to build more than 50 multi-generational playgrounds in communities across the country.

Bicycles: Humana, Trek Bicycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky created the B-cycle bikesharing system, which measures the distance traveled on each ride and helps bikers keeps track of calories burned and carbon emissions avoided. Members can review their health and transport information on a personal B-cycle web page.

Mobile Apps: Humana offers a couple of health-focused iPhone apps. GoldWalker is an adventure and strategy game where players have to move around in the real world to travel through the virtual world of towns and mining camps to accomplish tasks and find gold. Colorfall allows players to exercise their body and their brain in a color-matching game, resembling Tetris. Players must move around the physical world to take photos of different colored items to complete the game.

Interactive: The Humana Well-Being Tour stops off at state fairs and other community gatherings to offer live in-person gameplay. Guests can play the “Your Shape” game on Xbox Kinect, get a biometric screening, take a spin on a stationary bike, and receive a free pedometer through the WalkIt Program.

Golf: Humana signed on as title sponsor of an annual PGA tournament, formerly the Bob Hope Desert Classic, to promote well-being. The Humana Challenge tracks the steps of spectators through itsHumanaWalkit program. The event formed as the result of an eight-year partnership between Humana and the William J. Clinton Foundation. This year, it raised more than $2 million in donations to benefit 40 local charities.

The 2012 Humana Challenge was named “Sports Event of the Year” By SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily, beating out other sporting dynamos like the 2011 NBA Finals and Super Bowl XLVI. During the event the company also supports other healthy activities with ancillary events like a 5-mile walk and a farmer’s market. Jim Turner, director of corporate communications, says it’s “well-being, with a side of golf.”

In other words, health, with a side of play.

To learn more about Humana’s three pillars of “healthy people, healthy planet, and health performance,” you can download its “Well-Being Starts With Us” report.

Games for Girls: Social or Sexist?


Of all demographics, women over age 30 consistently show more interest in mobile gaming than any others. Of course, there are some companies that specifically target younger users. Crowdstar, the fourth largest social gaming company in the world, focuses on the "younger female demographic," according to its CEO Peter Relan. One of its latest games, Top Girl, ranked as the 57th most-downloaded free iTunes app in the last week of 2011, passing one million downloads in just 10 days. "Even to our surprise, it became the world's top-grossing game on the iPhone, over Zynga's poker games and existing brands like Angry Birds," Relan said.

But how are bloggers and gamers reacting to this hot new app? Not one to mince words, one reviewer said it is "the worst kind of gender-biased tripe on the world." Other players at The Border House and fbomb provide mixed reviews of It Girl (the original Facebook version of the app): "From a feminist standpoint, it’s pretty much trash," one reviewer writes. "The problem is, it’s a good social game as far as the mechanics goes."


Doused in the hottest of pink, Top Girl users first customize the skin tone and hair style of a 2D, Barbie doll-footed, Bratz-eyed, thinner version of Judy Jetson/Betty Rubble. Each user is a fashion model who works her way through five levels of career stardom, earning coins and eking out dollars that accumulate over time, with the help of a moneyed or "energetic" boyfriend. She wins him over by purchasing wine and by dressing "hotter" than his own “manliness.” The model amasses a wardrobe of clothing, including miniskirts, dresses, high heels and the occasional pants, or, even cuter, jeggings that fit into career-boosting brown leather high-heeled boots. To keep the relationship alive, the model and boyfriend share corny one-liners that the user reads via speech bubbles.

Crowdstar's Vice-President of Studios Blair Ethington said that the company's priority is to anticipate the needs of its users, whom she estimates are more than 90 percent female. Crowdstar’s Facebook users are mostly located in the United States and Eastern Europe, while geographic stats for Android and iOS users were unavailable. “We monitor our numbers on an hourly basis,” Ethington said.

She said the developers adapt the game according to who is playing, for how long, and what clothing they wear, barring any personally identifiable information. Seasonal clothing, gifts and dates are examples of immediate changes that do not need a code update, she explained. Qualitative metrics also matter. So far, user feedback has mostly been about “getting more clothes,” Ethington added.

The California-based firm employs more females than most gaming companies, according to Ethington. She praised the in-house art designers who have an eye for fashion and credited the product managers for writing for what they hope are “fun, engaging, light and humorous” boyfriend dialogues.

Critical to Top Girl’s success is Crowdstar's seeming dedication to studying its audience. Ethington described its threshold for pursuing a game as the moment when every team member is “sitting in a meeting room, pounding our firsts on the table saying, I want to play it.” She said that for the mobile app, users give “100 percent of their attention,” which means that the “sense of accomplishment has to happen in a couple of minutes of very intense play.” After play-testing the game internally, Crowdstar then releases a game in a smaller country, such as Canada, before releasing it to the United States.

"Our goal is to satisfy users," Ethington said. "It is a very targeted game, so it’s not going to satisfy everyone.”


At George Mason University’s game design program, professor Seth Hudson said he trains students in the practice of “stripping down message boards” to ingest critiques that may be disagreeable, and to be “able to give useful information that isn't just a reaction via your opinion and pointed phrasing.”  He also said his students often discuss gender stereotyping and the need to consider the impact of their art on others.

Smart game companies pay attention to community critiques and are responding when they can, said Limor Schafman, marketing consultant and organizer for Washington, D.C.'s Meetup group for serious gamers. "Serious games" are games that meet educational or socially beneficial goals.

Online gamers with social justice interests can cavort with like-minded developers at websites like Games for Change (G4C).

It's worth noting that the closest contender to Top Girl that I found in G4C’s database was Sweatshop, by Littleloud, released last July. The “dark and comedic” sweatshop game provides a bird's eye view of a clothing manufacturing factory from the perspective of a trainee manager. When progressing to bigger factories, the trainee manager reads extensive speech bubbles from an angry, sexually harassing, ageist, exploitative boss. The boss, in turn, fears the wrath of a glamorous buyer in a fancy city. Before each work session, a brown-skinned, wide-eyed child worker sneaks in to tell the user how the plant’s poor practices made his and other workers’ lives more difficult. The character dialogue is engaging, though sometimes cartoonish.

The gameplay offers the user many forced choices that include employing child workers and giving access to a toilet. The goal is to assemble shirts, hats, purses and other gear in a certain amount of time, without any workers dying. Facts about labor movement victories and ongoing issues are presented in interstitial text.

Sweatshop uses an infamous aspect of the fashion industry to raise awareness about the overall rights of workers. It also tells a story of the leadership potential of young workers. However, the sweatshop game lacks the thrills of Top Girl, like getting new pretty things and creating a dazzling spectacle (with death-free promotions) and having a carefree romantic life (in a world without obesity.)

One Saturday night in Fairfax, Va., I found myself stuck on Level 17 of a Sweatshop factory. My eyes ached from staring at an assembly line for an hour. I twitched my mouse with no signs of advancement...

People who seek a fun and socially conscious dress-up game on a touchscreen can send their proposed content and other feedback to Ethington welcomes the idea of fans sending one-liners that could be featured in Top Girl’s speech bubbles, for example.

Tell us what you would want Top Girl’s avatars to say in the comments below. Or, how would you want Crowdstar or Littleloud to improve their games?

Read critiques of Crowdstar’s It Girl:

7 links on fashion-forward, social justice game design:

Games for Change: Play Your Way to Making the World a Better Place


Who knew that fighting global warming could be so fun? Just ask Al Gore, who was announced yesterday as the opening speaker for the 8th Annual Games for Change Festival, a three-day event dedicated to exploring the potential of games for social impact.

“Vice President Gore is a significant global advocate who has effectively used popular media to bring issues of pressing concern to mainstream audiences,” said Co-Presidents of Games for Change Asi Burak and Michelle Byrd in a press release. “His presence at this year’s Festival underscores the immense potential of pairing social impact with the increasing accessibility of games.”

Other speakers at this year's festival, which will be held on June 20-22 in New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, include game designer Jesse Schell,'s Laura Hartman, U.S. Department of Education’s James H. Shelton III and Half the Sky co-author Sheryl WuDunn.

The Games for Change Festival features a lot of other fun stuff, open to the public (register here.) Here are the highlights:

Games for Change Awards: The awards will be presented in four categories: Direct Impact, Knight News Game, Learning & Education and Transmedia. (All of which are giving me great ideas for future blog posts!) Nominees will be announced on May 6. If you're lucky enough to attend the event, you can play all the nominated games on June 21-22.

Demo Spotlight: Six game developers will have a chance to get feedback from the audience about their creations. I, for one, would love to check out "Climbing Sacred Mountain," which re-envisions the male-dominated Mount Everest expedition narrative by allowing players to choose strong female climbers as the protagonists, instead. Seems like a great example of how gaming is also storytelling—just like Choose Your Own Adventure books, some of my favorite things to read when I was a kid.

Inspiring Digital Kids Through Game Design: Sponsored by the AMD Foundation, this workshop will include panel discussions and hands-on activities that show attendees how to engage students in designing digital games while learning social science, civics and news literacy. One of the case studies that will be examined is Globaloria, the first social network for learning how to make educational Web-based games.

Outdoor Game (Public Event): When was the last time you went out and actually played in the streets? Now's your chance! Join hundreds of other New York City residents and tourists for a "mass participation" outdoor game that leaves "an actual positive change on the physical environment where the game was played." No word, yet, on what the game will be. The lucky winners of the "Real-world Games for Change Challenge" will be announced this Thursday, April 28. The winner(s) will get $5,000 to execute their idea on the streets of Manhattan on June 19 (Father's Day), as part of the Come Out & Play Summer Series and River to River Festival.

For more information, visit the official event website:


I've been really impressed by Jane McGonigal's case for how "gaming can make a better world." "Reality is broken," she says. "And we all need to tap into a collective sense of urgent optimism—as well as the ability and capacity to act now—to make the future."

( has tons of other content on games, by the way, in case you're interested. Some key talks: Tom Chatfield on "7 ways games reward the brain" and Will Wright on "toys that make worlds.")

Blogger, toymaker and superstar mom Jennifer Cooper compiled a great list of resources—the "Playvolution Library"—explaining why playing is so important, in general, but especially if you're a kid. But adults should join in on the action, too. Gaming can be used to ignite passion for reading (yay, literacy!), as the New York Public Library demonstrated with its smartphone-based scavenger hunt. It can also "communicate complex ideas differently and better than writing and pictures and film," as Ian Bogost wrote in a post about the game-changing (har, har) potential of "news games" to change the way we view and digest current events. Other games can help build support for worldwide campaigns, as exemplified by Darfur is Dying, which increases awareness about genocide in Sudan. Games can even inspire world peace, as shown by PeaceMaker, a game inspired by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

GOOD magazine highlighted some other "social games," like the role-playing video game, "Fate of the World," which shows how players can find solutions for global warming from the comfort of their controller, and Yoxi (meaning "game," in Chinese), a creative competition that pits problem solvers against each other to deliver the best solutions to social issues, like increasing cycling in cities and re-inventing fast food.

On, where I serve as Managing Editor, I've written about games as a tool to help build sustainable cities. A few examples: The toymaker LEGO released its new "Public Transport Station" set last August, "allowing children (and the young-at-heart) to envision cities with high-quality transit, including buses, level-boarding platforms, bike racks at transport hubs, and low-floor trams." I've also covered cool initiatives like "game jams," a series of events that gather game developers, graphic artists, and local youth to produce video game prototypes that encourage healthier habits for kids, which I suggested should include getting them excited about biking, walking and mass transit. I've also geeked out about IBM's CityOne computer game, "which is kind of like SimCity but for sustainable cities, where players act as city planners, dealing with real-life issues related to banking, water, energy and retail." Games can even help real-life decision-makers improve the city's master planning process, as shown by the "Participatory Chinatown" online project in Boston, as highlighted in a post by fellow blogger Jonna Mckone.

Business Insider predicted that 2011 would be the Year of Social Gaming, with playtime being driven by entertainment and social media, totally de-bunking the notion that gamers are loners. But I also see a simultaneous trend toward playtime being driven by social impact, with people motivated to save the world because of the increased understanding and engagement that comes from creative gameplay.

There you have it. A smattering of case studies about the importance of gaming, which I hope to explore in more detail in future posts.

So, go out and play!

Or at least leave a comment and let me know where else I should be looking for fun.


What is "Social Benefit Storytelling?"

Tim Kring, the creator of the hit television series “Heroes,” has created a new creative genre called “social benefit storytelling,” which he defines as an “interactive story, that empowers its audience to take real-life action and create positive change in the world.”

His pilot project is the U.K.-based Conspiracy for Good (CFG), a combination of alternative reality gameplay through websites and mobile apps, videos, interactive theater, music and physical participation in events, which took place on London streets this past summer. This approach to storytelling is also referred to as “transmedia,” but Kring’s particular strand of telling stories through multiple platforms includes a moral element — for good.

Take for example, CFG’s partnership with nonprofit literacy organization Room to Read:

Since June, users from all over the world have been logging on to and following the interactive mystery of a school library in the village of Chataika, Zambia, where a teacher (Nadirah) has gone missing, a shipment of books has been hijacked and a shady corporation may be behind it all…Followers are playing along and uncovering clues online that are furthering the narrative, and in doing so, they are helping to eventually build a real-life library stocked with children’s books…

Uniquely interwoven into the fictional plot, Room to Read has become part of the Conspiracy For Good storyline operating alongside Nadirah, the main character, and the CFG collective, or secret “members” that are fighting the forces of social and environmental injustice. The good news is that in the narrative, when the books are found and Nadirah is located thanks to the Conspiracy for Good, Nokia will establish five real-life Room to Read libraries in Zambia, including one to be built at the Chataika Basic School (which really exists!). Plus, Nokia will fund the education of 50 Girls’ Education Program scholars in the country.

The “real” books for the new libraries will be furnished by Room to Read’s long-time partner, the Pearson Foundation, an organization that has teamed up with Nokia to establish a one-for-one giving campaign, whereby a new English-language book will be donated to a Room to Read library for every digital book read online at

Kring was inspired to start the project when he realized the “interconnectivity and global consciousness” of the world, according to an interview with It was especially apparent that audiences were closely connected when a proliferation of new media sprouted as offshoots of Heroes, with everything from mobile webisodes to graphic novels.

How cool would it be, I thought, to create a story that exists all around you all of the time? — On your laptop, your mobile phone, on your sidewalks, as a secret message hidden in your favorite song or while standing at the bus stop on your way to work. And, taking it further, what if your participation over a few weeks or months actually impacts the story’s development and creates positive change in the real world because a philanthropic mission is integrated into the narrative itself?

The project is made possible with support from Nokia, which provides its Obi mobile technology for games, apps and music, and The Company P, a Swedish production company that specializes in participant-based entertainment.

Kring is now working on a new transmedia company called Imperative. It will be interesting to see what other stories he tells along the way.

Read more about Conspiracy For Good here: