In one of the more off-the-wall pieces of gaming news from the International CES 2013 in Las Vegas, Konami announced a partnership with UnitedHealth Group to bring a new “Classroom” version of Dance Dance Revolution to high school physical education in a new initiative to promote healthy behavior in students. This news of gaming being used as a positive influence in peoples’ lives comes at an opportune time as the news increasingly fills with controversy over video game violence. Contributor and reviewer Ethan Smith had a chance to speak with Brian Landwehr, Director of Innovation and R&D at UnitedHealth Group about this new program and how it relates to gaming.
Brian Landwehr (UHG): Hi. Today what we’re showing you is the Konami Dance Dance Revolution: Classroom Edition. UnitedHealth Group just announced a partnership on Monday with them, to bring these into some schools that we have a partnership as well. It’s really a three-way partnership between us and some of our schools that we call our Activate Program, as well as Konami.
Ethan Smith (GI): I actually had Dance Dance Revolution in my high school, actually somebody set that up and we played that. For this initiative, did you guys come up with this on your own?
Brian Landwehr (UHG): No, absolutely, that’s actually where Konami got the idea for it, originally. Because they had gym teachers who were buying one or two Wii’s or PlayStations who would hook them up with the two-pad version, but then all the other kids either had to wait their turn or they all had to dance on the floor and not actually on the mats, and eventually they just said we got to find a way to make this so it’s accessible to everybody.
They built this system you see here, which is all wireless pads, they all are very heavy-duty, but they’re also very light enough that they’re designed for a kid to be able to pick them up and put them back on the charging rack. Each one comes with an individual smart card that has all the data for the kids for when they’re doing their activity, when they’re doing their dancing. Teachers can also load on their height, weight via MyData and that sort of thing as well.
Ethan Smith (GI): I think it is a really great idea, it was something that I always personally loved, and I know that at my school, it was one of the most popular things. It really added a lot more to the experience. What do you think is the best thing with this classroom edition? What do you think is the best you’ve added that to the DDR experience for exercise in schools?
Brian Landwehr (UHG): Again, I’m with UnitedHealth, I’m not working at Konami. Konami actually built that, but their biggest thing, I think, really is the curriculum. What they did is they actually had a nationally-renowned scholar who does sensor gaming as her main focus. Her name is Dr. Lisa Witherspoon from the University of South Florida. She actually built the curriculum and helped us train the teachers on how to use this, and helped them design the game so it would be more participative, and would actually track all the things that not only what you would want to track for health, but also what they would want to track for school usage.
What drew us to Konami’s implementation of this, was not only that, and the fact that they had a really good plan for how to make it effective, but that they have reams of data about how effective the DDR game is at burning calories and hitting activity levels that get your heart rate to where it needs to be as well. It really is, we really like the scientific effectiveness of it as much as the game play.
Ethan Smith (GI): Right. How big is the initiative starting out? How big are you planning on going right now?
Brian Landwehr (UHG): Right now we actually have the Activate Program, which is the UHG partnership with these schools, I believe we have six schools in three districts. What we basically are doing right now is we’ve implemented this in three schools to test it out, see how it goes. We’ve got one in Texas, one in Georgia and one in Florida. They’re going to be our first test bed. We actually just trained the teachers right before Christmas, so it’s only been in the schools for about three weeks, and the kids have probably only had it for about a week. We’re really in the very early stages of seeing how it works and we’re excited about it. We think it’s going to go somewhere.
Ethan Smith (GI): What kind of time frame do you have planned out for the test period right now?
Brian Landwehr (UHG): Right now, it’s not firmly set. Right now, we’re trying to determine exactly what we’re going to measure, how we’re going to measure. This year is going to probably be more of a “feel it out and see how it works” in the curriculum and in the school programs, and we’ll probably start really measuring it next year. Next school year, I should say.
Ethan Smith (GI): If it takes off, are there any plans to expand it in any ways, or introduce any other methods for putting some gaming or such in the exercise curriculum?
Brian Landwehr (UHG): That’s certainly a possibility. There’s a lot we have to determine to figure out how we would do that, and how the business model for that would work. Today it’s really, it’s something that we want and we are basically implementing in these schools, at our cost, to try and drive better healthy behaviors in the schools, as opposed to it really being a business proposition at this point. It’s something that we’re not only working in the schools, but also in the homes.
We have another study that we’re probably going to publish this year that’s a fully-vetted, we used a set of controls and a set of non-controls in an obesity study, where we actually have a full obesity program that we use for kids who are 95th to 99th percentile BMI that are trying to lose weight. We implemented a gaming system in that instance as well, with exer-gaming and we’re evaluating right now, pre-publication, what the results of that are, so later this year, you should see a study with exer-gaming, published by us, hopefully in a major journal.
Ethan Smith (GI): I look forward to reading it. Thank you very much, Brian.
Brian Landwehr (UHG): Yes, thank you.