Love, Health and Happiness: How Health Games Win Hearts

By February 12, 2016Ideas, Insights

Health games and gamified apps gather power from “People Fun”. For Valentine’s Day we thought we would break down the game-based elements that tap the power of love to show how health games win hearts!

People Fun: the Game of Love

Did you know that love triggers norepinephrine, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin? Well—so do games! Psychologist and game designer, Nicole Lazzaro talks about People Fun as one of her Four Keys To Fun. She describes the engagement emotions in games as Amiero, Amidar and Amici.Nicole Lazzaro - how health games win hearts

• Amici captures the emotionally engaging elements related to “social grooming”. You grow Amici in health games and gamified apps by creating experiences that foster social connection with real people, caretaking actions and cuddly effects in human-computer interaction.

• Amidar captures feelings associated with admiration and social status. Amidar grows out of rank and competition and is captured in game metrics such as followers, leaderboard status, levels and other ways that gauge relative performance and allow us to compare our performance to others

• Amiero captures social bonding. According to social psychologists, we have an innate desire that underlies our social norms around giving and receiving. If someone gives you something or performs a good deed, you feel compelled to return the favour and re-establish a social equilibrium. Gifting is a mechanic that allows players to do a “good deed” to another and to reciprocate good deeds done for you. It is perhaps most widely known for its use in Facebook games like Farmville.

Harnessing Happiness for Better Health

Health games and gamified apps are an excellent example of designing for happiness. Grounded in Positive Psychology they are part of a new approach to health that moves away from the Disease Model toward strength-based management of chronic conditions. The health game strategy is to empower progress, provide feedback and keep players in the challenge zone.
The wonderful thing about health games is that the player can learn to manage their condition, learn through role play perhaps taking the form of an avatar, navigate choices in educational narratives and fail safely at health challenges. Unlike managing one’s health in the real world, in a health game or gamified app, failure is part of the fun!
Not only do health games prepare us to better deal with real-life situations, they can also frame our outlook. A recent study of the effect of health messages embedded in a Wii game increased positive physical activity attitude, self-efficacy, and perceived behavioral control in children, compared to traditional physical education that included the same messaging.

Health Games and Gamified Apps Win Hearts

”People Fun provides the excuse to hang out with friends. People are addictive and these mechanics over time build social bonds and teamwork.” Nicole Lazarro, Four Keys to Fun
People Fun is motivating and engaging because of the neurochemically-enriched pleasure we feel when we:

• Communicate
• Cooperate
• Compete
• Earn Admiration from our peers

Social games and gamified apps can improve patient-provider communication, and further they help foster a Social Support Network one of the World Health Organization’s Key Determinants of Health. Including these core elements can increase patient engagement via health games and gamified apps.
Ayogo’s Empower Platform™ is being used by healthcare organizations and pharmaceutical patient support programs to build social health games and gamified apps.
The secret of the Empower™ platform lies in its ability to build engagement through features that create an experience of social exchange. By fostering relationships and peer-to-peer support builds the self-efficacy of people trying to manage a chronic condition.

Science of Love - how health games win heartsValentine’s Day Bonus: The Science of Love

So as we mentioned above, there is a science behind those loving feelings we have for others. And we can trace them back to four main neurological chemicals. Here’s how they work:
Norepinephrine: There’s the excitement of romantic love. A pounding heart and sweaty palms are the signs that your body is producing norepinephrine (“adrenaline”). It’s hard to sleep. Can’t eat. You are in the intense first stage of love. The receptors for norepinephrine “ignite” in a chain down your spine, and light your brain up.
Dopamine: Helen Fisher studied people newly in love and saw that the major reward centres of their brain were like a “sprinkler system sending dopamine to various parts of the brain, producing focused attention as well as fierce energy, concentrated motivation to attain a reward, and feelings of elation — even mania — the core feelings of romantic love.”
Serotonin: The elements of social recognition and status appear to call out a subtle response grounded in Serotonin.
Oxytocin: Bonding and trust can be attributed to a lovely neuropeptide, called oxytocin. While both men and women produce oxytocin, women have more oxytocin receptors, so we often associate this hormone more with women than men. Experiments by Dr. Zak show that oxytocin is key to pro-social behaviours, such as cooperation and reciprocity, generosity, trust, and affection.* Dr Zak found moving stories and social features like checking facebook both unleash oxytocin.
Interested in reading more about the science of engagement? Download our Whitepaper!

Read the Whitepaper

*Nicole Lazzaro Image Source:
*Zak, Paul J.
The moral molecule: The source of love and prosperity. Random House, 2012.