this is my 2nd case study
Bob--Great questions--thanks much for posting them! The first q you raise was/is one that concerned us from the start. We *think* we've got it covered...
What I'd like see related to this concept are more specific examples of game-play. How would it really work? It seems like it could be pretty expensive to develop, too.
Let me give you a *very* little taste of what we have in mind. Suppose the creature you decided to develop was a unicorn. A unicorn's outstanding feature is its (magic) horn. For that reason, a player choosing to raise a unicorn has to pay special attention to his/her calcium intake. Then when the unicorn goes into battle, it can use its horn to cause (crippling) headaches and nausea in any opposing character that hasn't been taking in enough water or electrolytes (or that has failed to balance them), playing on the notion that a unicorn's horn is magic, and is made of calcium (itself an electrolyte). In this way the unicorn's natural characteristics are used fairly seamlessly to promote a dietary requirement and to define its powers in battle. We think we can create similar food-related back stories and powers for a wide variety of familiar character types (and we'll probably make up a few food-related character types, too, to add some additional novelty to the game). Hope this is helpful--let us know if you have more questions--they are very helpful as we push forward with our first potential sponsor in the food industry.
Given the focus on childhood obesity -- and interest in new ways of delivering social marketing messages -- a concept like this one should resonate.
Interesting -- what about building a version of the game with humans who need nutrition to fulfill distinctive individual characteristics. I'm a distance runner, and my need and tolerance for carbs is very different from my wife's who is just reclaiming an active lifestyle and is trying to lose weight. Our daughter is a dancer, trying to balance the needs of an adolescent body with the fueling of an athlete.
With a real-life "skin," I can see this becoming "The Sims" of nutrition. A teen interested in going vegetarian could play to remake his eating and see what getting a balanced diet would realistically entail. Imagine how this game could benefit a summer camp or website for diabetic youth.
Very cool idea- and the comment about relating it to human activity is interesting. A lot of kids are captivated by games like Spore, where they can create different beings-I think kids would enjoy creating different creatures to compete- and if the creatures have relatable things--like kids who like to run build a creature that matches their activity. Kids might also be inspired to get their tv-watching parents to build sedentary creatures---and could use the game to inspire their parents to eat healthier too. I love the family part of this game, that people compete with each other, but also compete, as a family unit. I work in the food business, and am interested in ways to get this crucial information into people in such a way that it is theirs for life- like their bodies. Tracking what one eats is crucial for making healthy changes, and this makes doing it more fun and interesting than anything else I've seen.
Thanks much, Liesel, for circulating our proposal for Metabolis within your company--it sounds like there could be some serious interest in exploring the opportunity with us, provided we can work out pricing/exclusivity issues (which we are already in the process of doing internally)
This is a creative method of interactive learning. My only objection is that there is a moral element to eating that is completely ignored. Animal ethcs is one of the fastest growning ethical felds internationally, and as long as students are learning about nuturtion, they should also think deeper about what they eat. For example, eating hamburgers is linked with the destruction of the rainforests, eating chickens or their eggs is linked with dead zones, and drinking milk is related to the veal industry - one of the cruelest industries known to humanity.
You raise an important issue--thanks much for posting. I think the challenge for us in addressing it would/will be how to integrate that element into the game without alienating or eliminating the large pool of potential players who eat meat and dairy, which would defeat the larger purpose of the game. One possible solution: at this point, there seems to be a fair amount of evidence that, in addition to whatever moral issues there may be with eating animals and animal products (and of course, you only mentioned some of them), it's actually less healthy to consume these products than their vegetarian and vegan counterparts. So perhaps we can address the issue indirectly within the original context of the game by making vegetarian and vegan choices result in more powerful characters (and/or characters with fewer weaknesses) than characters whose players consume a lot of meat and dairy (provided the vegetarian characters are consuming complete sets of proteins, of course, a particularly acute issue for the kids playing the game). In this way, we potentially keep the meat and dairy eaters in the game, but gently steer them towards healthier (and less morally questionable) choices, which serves everyone's larger purposes. What do you think?
The two things that I wonder about with Metabollis are:
Will players really enter what they ate, or will they add foods that will help them win.?
And, once they enter data, is there additional play value? Do the creatures just fight on their own, while players watch, or do the players control the battle?
Oh, one more thing: it sounds like the battles are going to be pretty violent. Is everyone okay with that?
Bob--Great questions--thanks much for posting them! The first q you raise was/is one that concerned us from the start. We *think* we've got it covered by having the game played between members of the same family (except when moving from one level to the next, at which point the family plays as a collaborating unit against 'the system'). Our thinking was that by having family members play against each other (rather than against players in other locations), it would not only help keep all the players motivated (while serving a desire both parents and kids have for more activities they can do online together), but it would also keep the game honest. That is, in theory, Johnny can claim he's been eating five servings of spinach a day to bulk up his character, but if he's competing against Dad, and Dad has a mechanism in the game (which he will) to "see" where Johnny's characters' powers are coming from, Dad can call Johnny on his claims if he's knows Johnny's actual diet consists mainly of Cheez Doodles. And Johnny can call Dad on his claims, too, and Mom can be judge and jury between them where needed, though our hope and expectation is that the likelihood of being found out will prevent most of these conflicts from arising in the first place. A lot of game developers consider cheating a "nice problem to have," meaning if your game is compelling enough that people want to find ways to cheat it, that's a good thing, but clearly that isn't the case here. Of course, over time, the development and widespread distribution of electronic medical devices that can measure everything from blood pressure to blood sugar and beyond could allow us to develop massively multiplayer versions of the game without fear of cheating, at least as long as kids don't find it worthwhile to hack into the devices and rig them (since we first conceived Metabolis, Deepak Chopra has come out with a single-player game called The Journey to Wild Divine that allows you to advance through the experience via a device measuring your stress-related biorhythms [http://www.wilddivine.com/servlet/-strse-72/The-Passage-OEM/Detail])
As far as gameplay goes, the notion is that the data entry leads to development of powers and capabilities in the player's characters, which we think can be fun in and of itself to watch happen and enjoy the results of, in a Neopets/Pet Society kind of way, particularly since players never know for sure what impact what they eat each day is going to have. These powers, in turn, can then be used in "battles," where we assumed the players would have at least some level of control over their characters, representing another form of gameplay beyond the data entry. But lately we've been wondering--as it sounds like you have too--whether these elements alone are enough to make for a sustainable experience. So, for example, as the costs of virtual world development have continued to decline, we've been thinking we may want to let players "trudge around" a bit to generate additional gameplay the way many other virtual worlds do (in many of these games, in fact, the ratio of trudging around vs. actual engagement seems to approach the time spent huddling vs. playing football). We've been thinking that to make these trudges meaningful, we could give the players the opportunity to potentially gain some additional powers that way, e.g. by accumulating food or human biology-related knowledge in the course of their wanderings (or through more generic activities, at which point the game becomes more of a hybrid with more conventional virtual world games). There's a certain extent to which this kind of exploration is already built in to the concept (at the request of one potential sponsor), i.e. the mystical mountaintop kitchen/lab that characters can go to bone up on their food knowledge, get game tips, and strategize with other kids from other families on how to beat the grown-ups (by sharing food knowledge, recipes, etc.)--parents will have their own such social areas, too.
The actual combat between characters we've always thought of as more of a food fight, fairly humorous and food-related, rather than violent. Some kids love game violence, to be sure, but we think a larger proportion (most girls, and some boys) like humorous effects (like sliming) even more. It's also easy to imagine competitive activities involving characters with powers that don't involve fighting, of the food variety or otherwise, at all, i.e. various forms of athletic or intellectual competition ritualized to fit the overall fantasy theme of the game environment (e.g. "tests of strength," "labyrinths," and the like). Our research with both kids and parents indicates that parents are much more involved in their children's media use than most developers realize, and many kids are therefore open to non-violent combat because that's what their parents allow; they're also likely to be open to it because a surprisingly high proportion of kids and even teens long for more activities they can do with their parents and they know their parents will be more likely to engage in non-violent competitive tests or humorous "battles" than any kind of on-screen violence.
I hope this addresses your questions and concerns, Bob, and if not, I hope you'll post again--we're here seeking advice from scientists and educators so as to develop as compelling and educational an experience as possible, and hopefully testing our assumptions against the collective BS meter of the community before significant development dollars get spent. Feedback like yours is really helpful--thanks again for posting it.