Seeking Game-Changing Solutions to Childhood Obesity

Cross-posted from the OSTP blog.

Yesterday the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted a workshop to gather insight from leading experts in the fields of gaming and technology to inform the development of a nutrition game-design challenge. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services is preparing to launch the Innovations for Healthy Kids Challenge, a call to American entrepreneurs, software developers, and students to use a recently released USDA nutrition data set to create innovative, fun, and engaging web-based learning applications that motivate kids, especially “tweens” (aged 9-12) and their parents, to eat more healthfully and be more physically active.

Thirty-one experts joined the meeting—some via teleconference—to offer their knowledge and experience related to game design, entertainment technology, social media, and skill contests, in reaction to a previously circulated concept paper outlining key components of the contest.

Our intention here is to invite you to join this discussion. Here are some of the major design-related themes, that emerged from the Workshop, around which we’d like to get input from you:

  • Goal: We discussed the potential for games – powered by nutrition data – to change behavior in our target segment (“tweens” between the ages of 9-12 and their parents). Design questions focused on whether the contest should result in a finished, high-impact game or one that continually evolves over time (“gaming as a service”). How would you recommend we address this question in the design of our contest?
  • Incentives: We discussed government limitations on the size of the prize ($3,000 – a purse we’ve awarded in public service announcement contests as well). Design questions focused on the degree to which other stakeholders might supplement the prize with privately raised funds; develop new markets for educational games, including schools, parents, and after-school programs; and recognize finalists at the White House or other venues. What incentives would you recommend we deploy to maximize high quality participation?
  • Final Product: We acknowledged a spectrum of potential final products– including “back of the envelope” ideas, game story boards, working prototypes, and market-ready “final” products. In addition, we discussed the possibility of multiple phases to capture the breadth and quality of potential submissions (perhaps an early round seeking top ideas/story boards to be developed into games in round two). How should we design the competition in a manner that inspires and empowers both professionals willing to volunteer hours to the competition and students willing to build a game that doubles as a semester class assignment? How do we address the myriad game product categories – from casual games to fully developed titles?
  • Your Commitment: A great deal of the conversation focused on how individuals might complement the official competition with commitments they could offer from their respective positions – whether it would be incorporating nutrition data in already-developed games, faculty assigning class time towards building nutrition games, or organizations spreading the word about the contest. How might you be willing to help? Please post any commitments your firm, foundation, school or other organization might be willing to offer as we build a national movement to address childhood obesity.

Thank you in advance for your ideas on these important questions.

Aneesh Chopra is Chief Technology Officer of the United States

Your Federal Tax Receipt