Games for Health – SpaPlay

Investigating the use of SpaPlay for health behavior change

Given the popularity and reach of social media and games on individuals’ lives, there is a unique opportunity to study and design games that can motivate and promote lasting behavior changes. Very few games, however, use their motivational tactics to change health behaviors, and even fewer have been empirically evaluated. Games have a unique capability to bridge virtual and real worlds, introduce a play component into health-related activities, motivate players through continuous rewards and penalties, provide individualized feedback, and draw on the potential of virtual and real circle of friends.

Overview: This proposal led by PI, Magy Seif El-Nasr at Northeastern University, aims to develop a novel health-based gamified social media environment called Spa Play (Igniteplay, 2011), designed to engage individuals in day-to-day healthy activities by


linking those activities to success in the game. The virtual world is represented by a spa that players build and maintain, striving for a higher ranking. The game will utilize state-of-the-art technology, including smart-phones and physical activity sensors and trackers, to assess real-life and real-time physical activity and food intake, which in addition to traditional game-play activities, will determine progress in the game. The work is built on a partnership between the interdisciplinary research team at Northeastern University and a social media and game company IgnitePlay, and pilot work done over the past year. The project has three specific objectives:

  1. To develop and integrate important gamification strategies (e.g., rewards, goal setting, group activities) in the current version of Spa Play to enhance and sustain players’ motivation.
  2. To develop, integrate, and validate sensors and mobile software for tracking physical activity and food intake in real time.
  3. To empirically evaluate the short- and long- term impact of continuous play of Spa Play on a) nutrition knowledge, b) attitude towards healthy eating and exercise; c) amount of physical activity and quality of food intake, and d) weight loss.

Post Doctoral Fellow: Shree Durga
Faculty Members: Magy Seif El-Nasr (PI), Mariya Shiyko (Co-PI), and Carmen Sceppa (Co-PI).
Industry Partner: IgnitePlay


  • Shree Durga, Seif El-Nasr, M., Shiyko, M., and Sceppa, C. (2013). Designing Games to Promote Healthy Eating and Exercise – A Study of Feasibility and Acceptability. Virtual and Augmented Reality in Healthcare, Springer.
  • Durga, S., Seif El-Nasr, M., Shiyko, M., Sceppa, C., Naab, P., and Andres, L. (2013). Leveraging Social Play in Health-Based Games to Promote Sustained Behavior Change in Healthy Eating and Exercise. DIGRA. 
  • Shiyko, M., Seif El-Nasr, M., Sceppa, C., Durga, S., and Naab, P. (2013). Using Social Gaming Environment to Promote Healthy Eating and Exercising. Society of Ambulatory Assessment. 
  • Durga, S., Seif El-Nasr, M., Shiyko, M., Sceppa, C., and Naab, P. (2013). Design of Social Games for Fostering Sustained Behavior Change in Healthy Eating and Exercise. Games, Learning and Society. (poster).