Living Healthy

Sherry Hertle
Jane Tutein



Do you know if your food and drink choices are meeting or not meeting your calorie and nutrition goals? And what about burning those calories? Have you had sufficient activity to burn those calories and keep fit?

In this simulation game players will be able to design a character, and live out a life in that world. They’ll hold jobs, have families and even have the option to watch TV! Players will be required to select healthy nutritious meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, choose what snacks to eat and what to snacks to avoid, as well as well as decide whether to exercise (or not). Players will input desired activity level, starting weight and health conditions, including predispositions towards ailments like diabetes, heart disease, or food allergies.

When creating a meal plan, players can choose from hundreds of meals located in cookbooks or browse the food and beverage database to select a single item, such as an apple or a beer or to customize a meal. Players also have numerous activities to choose from like horseback riding, running or simply lifting weights to help them reach their fitness/activity goals.

Players will have access to information to assist in selecting food items and setting diet and exercise goals. In addition to the standard meters, the Living Healthy expansion pack introduces several new meters triggered by players health and wellness goals. Seven nutrition meters (calcium, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, hydration, protein, fruit & vegetable) as well as calorie and fitness meters provide players immediate feedback on their diet and exercise choices. Players will also have access to an online community where they can create a profile, share recipes, and compete in weight loss challenges.

Instructional Objective

The objective of this game is for players to:
  • Find your personal balance between food and physical activity.
  • Get the most nutrition out of your calories.
  • Stay within your daily diet and exercise targets.


The game is designed for individuals who enjoy playing computer simulation games (like the SIMS) who also want to learn how to make better choices about what foods to eat and how a fitness activity choices impact fitness and dietary goals.

Context of Use

Living Healthy is a recreational education game and not designed to be used in a formal educational setting. It will be played by individuals on their personal computers or any computer that has the game disk loaded. The game that you play saves to your computer, so if you want to pick up where you left off, you’ll have to return to the same computer to continue game play. If however, you choose to play on multiple computers, then you will be playing a different game with different characters.

The game may be played more than once. Prior to engaging in active game play, players must first design a character. (Input sex, height, age, weight, dietary goal etc.). The game may be saved and players may return to the game at anytime. The game is not playable on the internet. However, an online community for individuals who play Living Healthy is accessible to all players. Players can create a profile, share recipes, and compete in weight loss challenges.

There is no set time a that a player can engage in the game as there is no real end or beginning.


Living Healthy is designed to be an expansion pack to the Sims life simulation game which allows players to play for as long as they want over extended periods as they manage their characters lives and watch them grow from child to elder. We think Living Healthy play time will be a minimum of 45 minutes which is approximately one Sims day and up to 2 -3 hours at a time over a period of days or weeks.
Living Healthy content includes:

  • New embedded characters as well as nutrition, medical and fitness coaches.
  • Menus and an extensive food and beverage database with associated calorie and nutrition information and ability to customize for special dietary needs
  • Cookbooks that characters can browse for recipe information.
  • A variety of eateries ranging from fast food, deli, coffee shop and sit down restaurants.
  • Medical Center where nutritionist and physicians are located.
  • A variety of fitness activities and calorie burned calculator . Fitness can take place at the YMCA/Fitness Center or town tennis courts, softball field, hiking trails, lake for sailing, kayaking, canoeing, fitness park, running/walking trails.
  • Home owners can purchase fitness equipment and build tennis courts, swimming pools, and home gyms.

Object of the Game

The main goal of the game is to organize your character's time to help him/her reach his/her goals. This includes maintaining optimal health and fitness meters for the player and his or her family while managing their virtual life. (Going to work, earning money, exercising, eating, meal planning, decorating or upgrade your home, maintaining relationships, having families, advancing your career etc...).

Competing Products

Games that cover similar content:
  • Fatworld is a free downloadable game about the politics of nutrition. It explores the relationships between obesity, nutrition, and socioeconomics in the contemporary U.S.
  • Healthy Eating & Exercise available on CD Rom, designed to teach young children the importance of eating healthfully and staying active
  • Yourself Fitness can be played on an XBOX, Playstation 2 or a PC. It is a home fitness game designed for adults that offers players a virtual coach, fitness analysis, customized meal planner, various workout environments and health and fitness tips from Prevention Magazine
  • The Sims is a strategic life simulation computer game. Players are in control of their virtual world and their daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, reading, and bathing. Instead of objectives, the player is encouraged to make choices and engage fully in an interactive environment. The only real objective of the game is to organize the Sims' time to help them reach personal goals.

The game content is similar to Fatworld and Healthy Eating & Exercise. However, like Yourself Fitness, the game we are designing is geared towards adult players as opposed to children. Fatworld also involves designing your own character, menu planning and making food choices like our game, however, Fatworld has a more linear structure and our game is more of a sandbox style. Fatworld is also different in that it doesn't include a selection of fitness activities that tie to specific diet and fitness goals. Our game is designed to be an expansion pack to Sims and it provides nutrition and fitness related content that is not available in Sims.

Design Details

Living Healthy design details can be viewed from this Word document: LH_Design Details_Dec22.doc

Motivational Issues

Living Healthy is designed to be an expansion pack to the Sims life simulation game. The intended audience is people who already enjoy playing the Sims and are interested in learning more about incorporating healthy nutrition and fitness choices in their own lives. So why would they want to play a game to learn more about nutrition and fitness? And what type of game play will sustain their interest? According to Malone & Lepper (1988), there are four intrinsic motivations involved in individual game play: fantasy, curiosity, challenge and control. We designed Living Healthy to exploit these four intrinsic motivation factors.

Fantasy Category
Fantasy environments contribute to intrinsic motivation by satisfying emotional needs of players. Malone & Lepper also state that it is difficult to characterize the different emotional needs of people and predict which fantasies will appeal to an individual. For example, someone might play Living Healthy because it provides vicarious satisfaction from controlling the life of his or her character while another person might find satisfaction in achieving a specific goal such as weight loss. However, one predictor of emotional satisfaction is whether an individual identifies with a character. Therefore, to encourage emotional satisfaction through close identification with characters, Living Healthy requires players to design their character(s). A player must choose the name, age, weight, height, weight/fitness goals as well as family affiliation, dress, hairstyle and color of a character. The ability to tailor a character also means Living Healthy should appeal to a broad range of people interested in health and fitness from a male college student who is wants to build muscle, to a middle-age professional who needs to lose 10 pounds, to a grandmother who wants to maintain weight but gain muscle and flexibility.

In addition to character identification and satisfying emotional needs, Living Healthy addresses cognitive aspects of fantasy through the "real-world" simulation environment. During the game, players have their character's make daily food and fitness activity choices to meet short and longer-term health goals. Characters also have access to nutritional and calorie information and "people" resources to help make good choices. Our hope is that players will apply the information and experiences learned in the imaginary world to real life situations.

Curiosity Category
Living Healthy satisfies the sensory and cognitive curiosity of players. Sensory curiosity deals with variations in sensory elements such as light, sound, color, movement to attract attention. Engaging senses is a strength of computer simulation games and Sims game players expect a robust, colorful virtual world with new environmental features. To satisfy this expectation and engage a player's sensory curiosity, Living Healthy players provides new embedded characters and coaches, new buildings and outdoor locations, new fitness activities, and new objects such as cookbooks and fitness equipment.

We think that cognitive curiosity will motivate someone to continue playing the game once sensory curiosity is satisfied. Malone & Lepper state that cognitive curiosity is stimulated when people believe they have a knowledge gap and want to close the gap. The spreading interest theory of curiosity predicts that people are interested in new information related to topics they are already interested (Collins& Loftus, 1975). Both theories support our assertion that the fitness and nutritional content will motivate Sims game players who are already interested in health and fitness.

Challenge Category
Characteristics of challenging activities include explicit goals, uncertain outcome of reaching goals, performance feedback and self-esteem. The overall goal of Living Healthy is for a character to manage his/her virtual life, which includes achieving health and fitness goals. This is a long-range goal (distal goal) that encompasses a wide-range of activities including going to work, exercising, eating, maintaining relationships, advancing a career, etc. However, research shows that proximal goals are better than distal goals for sustaining intrinsic motivation, which is why Living Healthy includes daily and period-to-date calorie, nutrition, and fitness meters in addition to other Sims game meters. Living Healthy also offers players an environment that supports emergent goals. For example, a player might play one game in which the character's goal is weight loss following a low-fat diet. Then the same player might play again using a different character whose goal is gaining muscle but maintaining weight.

Malone & Lepper state that motivation is greatest when there is uncertainty about attaining the goal(s). Goal attainment in Living Healthy is uncertain because other than requiring a character to eat three meals a day, there are no other game play requirements. It is a player's choice as to whether the character will stay within calorie recommendations, follow nutrition guidelines, and do fitness activities in order to meet goals. It is also the player's choice as to the difficulty of the goal. For example, a player might want to lose 5 pounds, over three months, which is an easier task than losing 15 pounds over three months. We also included random elements to make outcomes uncertain. For example, a "friend" might drop by to visit just when the character is going to the fitness club. Does the character visit with friend and keep the relationship meter positive or choose the fitness activity and keep the fitness meter high?

Performance feedback in Living Healthy is frequent, clear, constructive, and encouraging, which increases intrinsic motivation according to Malone and Lepper. For example, each time a character makes a food choice, the nutrition and calorie data shows in the food/drink selection interface. Similarly, when character performs a fitness activity, the calorie burned displays in the activity interface. The data also is automatically reflected in the daily and period to date calorie, nutrition and fitness meters. The menu/item and fitness activity selection interfaces also allow a player to experiment with different choices. For example, a player can select activities and get feedback on calories burned before making a decision. A constructive and encouraging feedback mechanism is that coaches are alerted when nutrition and fitness meters are poor. When this happens, coaches can pop in the player’s life at home, work, or while out on the town to check in and offer advice or relevant tips. In addition, players may visit coaches at their office or contact them anytime by phone.

Control Category
Games that give players a powerful sense of control are intrinsically motivating. The amount of player control depends on the range of outcomes provided and whether the outcomes depend on the player's responses. Given this definition of control, Living Healthy can be described as a game that gives player's almost complete control. The outcomes of a game is dependent on the player's choices of what to eat, whether to exercise or not, and other life choices (go to work, visit friends etc.) One choice they do not have is whether to skip a meal or not. A character is required to eat three times a day, but what they eat and where they eat (at home or our) is their decision. Players also have a wealth of choices in fitness activities as well as their character attributes and goals.

Design Process

It was important to us that we design a game to help adults learn what healthy eating really means by giving players essential tools enabling players to realize the impact their food choices have on their bodies. At the same time we knew we had to create a really fun game because, to keep people need to stay engaged in game play long enough to internalize the content. We decided the best way to accomplish this would be to subtly weave the content throughout the game in such a way to make learning the material so fun that it actually enhances the game play.

The first thing we did was to research games similar to the idea we had in mind. Surprisingly, we were unable to find any educational e-games on health and wellness for adults, the closest thing we could find applicable to adults was designed by XBOX and the Wii. There were however, plenty of nutrition and wellness games created for children.

We played as many games as we could to get a feel for how the content was integrated into the game design and to evaluate the different structural designs elements. Next we narrowed down the objectives for our e-game and decided the game structure. All things considered, we decided to create a simulation game to compliment the popular PC game, the SIMS. Living Healthy is designed as an expansion pack for the SIMS.

Initially we were going to design a completely non linear game allowing player’s unrestricted freedom to explore the game. However, we were concerned that giving players too much freedom might night provide the structure needed to keep players focused on the health and wellness objectives. So, we decided to design the game with a blend of both linear and non linear, style.
The game is linear in that players are required to eat three meals a day, and yet non linear as well because in between the required sequential meals, players are allowed to wander around the game, explore and discover additional health and wellness information or engage in activities unrelated to health and wellness if they wish.

We mused over whether or not to mandate activities. We concluded that players will be required to eat three meals per day. Players will be alerted at meal time and will have one hour to initiate their meal, if no action is taken, game play will stop until players begin their meal.
We decided not to mandate exercise; we embedded into the game a lot of fun activities surrounding physical fitness such as horseback riding, swimming and tennis that players can partake in. Again, exercise is voluntary however, rewarded in the game by allowing players either more calories or increased fitness.

We made the decision to mandate players to make three meal selections per day to reinforce good habits and decided not to enforce daily fitness activities because that isn’t realistic and we wanted to give them control/choice.

To clarify the reasoning behind our design even further, we had players select a health and wellness goal, which triggers the game to load corresponding cookbooks and meal items from the food and drink database. We considered multiple options to represent “proper nutrition.” We considered the idea of utilizing the food pyramid which would have given us 13 nutrition categories, but after thinking it through, decided to focus on 7 key areas and not the food pyramid.

In order for players to get essential information to increase their knowledge on health and nutrition, we decided it was of the utmost importance to provide frequent, constructive feedback. As a result, we designed several nutrition and/or fitness meters designed to changes every time player’s intake food or engage in exercise. In addition to the meters, we added several coaches and characters that are accessible to players as a knowledge source. We wanted players to have the option to learn more about health and fitness, but not to mandate it. Hence, the embedded characters not only to give richness to the environment but also to add randomness to help make outcomes uncertain.

To get feedback we created mock up of the game and asked friends to read through the design document and think aloud their thoughts on Living Healthy. Then we posted our prototype to the Wiki, and received written feedback from our classmates and our instructor.

Based upon initial feedback of the game, the following scenarios were disregarded. Initially the game was designed to give players the option to input their hip, calf, thigh measurements to calculating body fat, but was identified as a hindrance to game play. Another aspect of the game that was discarded was the grocery shopping scenarios. It was cited as too complicated and time consuming.

The lessons learned from designing this game that we will carry to our next game design project is to brainstorm ideas and identify content and audience, to seek feedback and, with a project this size, to map out a detailed time line for completion.


Books & Journals

  • Malone, T.W., & Lepper, M.R. (1980). Making learning fun: a taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In Snow, R.E., & Farr M.J. (Eds.), Aptitude, learning and instruction volume 3 cognitive and affective process analyses (pp. 223-253). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.