I would like to introduce you to our Fun Expert, Dr. Cynthia Phelps, PhD, of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She is an assistant professor at the School of Health Information Sciences and leads the Learning & Technology graduate program. Dr. Phelps has conducted research in numerous fields including biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, cellular mechanisms of memory, and technology-based learning.
Food Fury, our first Playnormous game, was created for Cynthia as part of her amazing research funded by the Aetna Foundation. I first saw Food Fury while I was still a masters student and research assistant at The University of Texas Health Science Center. I absolutely fell in love with the game–the characters were adorable, the health messages were superb, and the gameplay was absolutely addicting! Little did I know that it was a doctor-approved game
Food Fury was co-developed and tested by Dr. Cynthia Phelps to ensure that children who play the game learn about nutrition while still having lots of fun. The game teaches the “Go, Slow, Whoa” method of food selection developed by UT nutritionists for the Coordinated Approach To Child Health (CATCH) program including Dr. Deanna Hoelscher.
Food Fury was designed for 3rd to 5th graders. However, the game can be enjoyed by audiences as young as 3 and as old as 65.
I personally love this game–I find it fun to play and very informative.
The concept of “play” and its significance is something we talk about a lot in this office. We also talk a lot about how little is written on the topic, how few people are doing research about it, and how many scientists consider the word “fun” a four-letter-word.
There was a very interesting article in the New York Times by Robin Marantz Henig this week about this very issue.
Although this article is basically a series of qualifications (and kudos to Henig for presenting multiple, well-researched sides of the argument), some light was shed on the whole topic of play and how it relates to the brain. Among scientists who study play, the general consensus seems to be that play is a central part of a child’s neurological growth and development.
There are many specific theories that go along with this idea such as the play-as-preparation hypothesis which basically views childhood play as preparation for adulthood (ex: a little girl playing “house” is preparing herself to, one day, keep a home). I won’t go into all of these since the article does such a good job of explaining each one.
Coming from a science background, I like the hard evidence. The article cites some interesting experiments have been conducted using animals to research the relationship between the brain and “play.” I found the results from several of these studies very interesting:
The take-home message of this article is that more studies need to be done to prove scientifically that play is beneficial to a child’s cognitive development in the short-term and beneficial to their well-being in the long-term.
The idea that play is “good” is still a little too idealistic and sentimental for many researchers, hence, “…science demands something a little less squishy.”
At Playnormous we believe that play IS essential to a child’s well-being. Play is what defines childhood: a time of fun, a time of learning, a time of exploring.
This is why we work so hard to make our health games fun–because games are a form of play, play is fun, and if you are learning about health and having fun at the same time, all the better!
Although we haven’t done any experiments with rats to prove this, we will be testing our games using our Playnormous Fun Expert and neuroscience researcher at The University of Texas Health Science Center, Dr. Cynthia Phelps. More to come about her amazing work!
At Playnormous we don’t think of Fridays as just the last day of the workweek. Fridays around here are known as Flash Fridays, a special day in which we only work on Flash-based projects. We conclude every Friday with a Playnormous meeting because the Playnormous website is being created using Flash. Most of our health games are Flash-based as well. I plan on posting the hottest topics discussed during our Playnormous Flash Friday meetings. This will give you an idea of what Playnormous projects we are working on and what progress we’ve made. In essence, you will get to sit in on our Playnormous board meetings!
Flash is a multimedia program created by Macromedia (now Adobe). It helps make websites more “flashy” by adding animation and interactive components. If you want to create a website that really makes a statement, adding some Flash is usually the way to go. You probably already have a Flash Player plug-in on your computer. Many people like Flash because it can be viewed on 95+% of Web browsers and allows for quick downloading of videos, animations, and games. The player is also free and can be downloaded from the Adobe website.
I think a little explanation about our tagline “Making Health Games Fun.” is in order. So what’s in a fun health game?
The answer seems simple: it’s a game that’s fun and about health. Unfortunately, actually creating and delivering this type of game is very difficult. Health games aren’t meant to just be Tetris with bananas and apples, and they aren’t meant to be shove-down-your-throat health content in game’s clothing.
Fun health games must successfully merge the fields of behavioral science and design, fuse the left-brained folks with the right-brained folks.
Fortunately, the people on the Playnormous team have been doing this for a long time and have come up with, what I believe, is a catalog of games that your kids will want to play and that your kids will learn from.
I am proud to say that Playnormous games are conceptualized, designed, and field-tested with the guidance and assistance of our medical research partners at The University of Texas Health Science Center and Baylor College of Medicine’s Children’s Nutrition Research Center.
Our website and games are built by award-winning artists and programmers with almost 25 years of experience under their belts.
We have the best of both worlds: experienced researchers who know how to change behavior and designers who know how to keep things fun.
Welcome Playnormous parents and friends! As I’m sure you’ve probably figured out, Playnormous isn’t your run-of-the-mill education site, game site, or health site.
We’re fun, quirky, and fresh; a little puny at times, but we try to keep that to a minimum.
The Playnormous website is dedicated to “Making Health Games Fun.” and Monster’s Blog is dedicated to…well…me writing about “Making Health Games Fun.”
The Author and Editor of Monster’s Blog is little old me, Melanie M. Mowry, MPH, Director of Marketing.
I like how there are so many “M’s” involved in my name and title.
On this blog, I will be providing you with the latest and greatest on what’s happening at Playnormous.
As Director of Marketing for Playnormous and its parent company Archimage, I really have a 360-degree perspective on what’s going on around here.
Not to brag, but I get to rub elbows with the best-of-the-best including the award-winning artists and programmers on the Playnormous team, neuroscientists like Dr. Cynthia Phelps, nutrition behavior researchers like Dr. Debbe Thompson, and child behavior researchers like Dr. Tom Baranowski.
Furthermore, my perspective is slightly unique because, unlike everyone else at the Playnormous home office, my background is in science and health–microbiology and public health to be exact. I feel so blessed because my position allows me to combine my love for science, health, behavioral theory, and social marketing.