Okay you sultans of spawning, you rulers of RPGs: it's official. Gaming has a number of benefits IRL. For those of you who aren't up on your gaming lingo, that means In-Real-Life. This validation doesn't come from just anywhere. It is the opinion of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is evidenced in the Foundation's support of Health Games Research. (See RWJF: Grants for Public Health).
Health Games Research is funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio program. The program focuses on new and innovative ways for people to get and stay healthy, and it appears that gaming is one of them. According to Health Games Research:
Randomized controlled studies have found that games have improved players’ health behaviors and outcomes in areas such as healthy eating, physical activity, physical therapy, cognitive training, smoking cessation, cancer treatment adherence, asthma self-management, and diabetes self-management, to name a few. These studies demonstrate the vast impact and potential of games in this growing field.
Health Games Research focuses more on benefits of physically interactive games like those played on a Wii or Xbox Kinect, rather more sedentary games like World of Warcraft or Everquest. However, its research does show the cognitive benefits within the virtual world, such as increased social networking skills. Of course, Health Games Research also addresses the drawbacks RPGs have on the player, such a possible lack of social skills in the real world. (Read RWFJ: Grants for Mental Health).
Through its $8.25 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Health Games Research is able to fund 21 other similar programs at hospitals and universities around the country. For example, the Maine Medical Center used its funding for the "Family Based Exergaming with Dance Dance Revolution" and the University of California, San Francisco used it's funding for its program "A Video Game to Enhance Cognitive Health in Older Adults."
Pretty cool, except for the whole "exergaming" and "exertainment" monikers which are prevalent in the names of these programs. This research is forward-looking, fresh, and innovative — but keep calling it "exergaming" and none of the cool kids will want to play.