Behavioural change with serious games



Behavioural change is everywhere in our society. Consciously and unconsciously, we are influenced in our daily lives. Sometimes you don’t notice it. However, companies, your colleagues and even the government, try to stimulate a change in your behaviour daily.

Generally, behavioural change or new habit formation is difficult. Hold on, what if behavioural change can be done in a fun way?

Games are fun. If the entertaining elements in a game are properly harnessed, then it could be used to create behavioural change over a period. Therefore, behavioural change and serious games seem like a perfect match.

Gedragsverandering en serious games: een perfecte match

How does behavioural change work?

Everyone can change someone’s behaviour. Give an employee a 20% bonus if he walks 30 minutes every lunch break for a month, and there is a good chance that he does it.

But will the employee walk 30 minutes every day in next month, without receiving the bonus? Probably not…

Extrinsic motivation often lies in the environment, not in the person. Extrinsic motivation works with a reward or punishment. As soon as the reward or punishment stops, the motivation stops.

In certain cases this method works very well. Think of receiving a one-time discount when ordering a monthly subscription.

Intrinsic motivation works differently. You do something because you want to do it. This requires awareness; understanding why a change in behaviour is necessary.

Yet, these two types of motivations are not separate. An extrinsic motivation can change into an intrinsic motivation over a longer period of time.

For example: let’s go back to the employee, who gets a 20% bonus if he walks for half an hour every lunch break for 1 month. After the first month he won’t be rewarded any more. Studies show that, on average, it takes 66 days to learn a new habit. Which means it takes 66 days to create an intrinsic motivation.

What if the employer gives the reward for three months? It is more likely that during these three months the employee will become aware that it is useful to exercise for 30 minutes every day. Maybe he feels more healthy, has more focus and feels happier. So, an intrinsic motivation is growing. The employee becomes aware of the goal and has a personal reason to do it. There is a bigger chance he will now also do it without the bonus.

Beleving en betrokkenheid in serious games

Behavioural change and games

Serious games basically give an extrinsic motivation to do something. There is a challenge, an action and a reward.

So why do game work well to create behavioural change, create awareness and also build intrinsic motivation? The answer: experience and engagement.

Experience: stories make memories

The impact games in behavioural change has been widely studied. In ‘Video Games and Stories for Health-Related Behavior Change‘, researchers concluded that stories in video games have a positive influence on health-related behavioural changes.

Stories in games make it possible to make someone understand why a behavioural change is needed. The player moves around in a virtual game world with interesting characters and an engaging storyline, creating memories.

Those memories help to understand the ‘moral of the story’ and make someone less likely to fall back into old habits.

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Engagement: we love games

Games are fun. The higher the entertainment value, the more engaged we are. There are several techniques that increase engagement in games:

  • Daily log-in bonus: Players get a bonus every day they log-in.
  • Levels: serious games are often based on levels. When players get better, they reach a higher level, which keeps the game challenging.
  • Rewards: Successful actions are rewarded with in-game rewards (such as points).
  • Leaderboards: a visual representation (ranking) that allows players to compete with each other.
  • Feedback: players receive direct feedback. Even if a wrong decision has been made, a game ensures that the player will understand this without feeling attacked.

We often deploy serious games – with behavioural change as the goal – for at least 3 months. As mentioned before: it takes an average of 66 days to learn a new habit. That’s quite a long time.

The engagement and experience of games together ensure that the target group continues to play. As a result, the message is transmitted very strongly and there is a greater chance that the player will be intrinsically motivated to continue the behaviour.

In practice: greenhabit

We make games aimed at behavioural change. A great example is greenhabit: a game that makes health-improvement fun.


In greenhabit, players get a certain challenge every day. This challenge, message or question is focussed on one of the 5 pillars for a healthy lifestyle:

  1. Healthy nutrition
  2. Exercise
  3. Relaxation
  4. Positive thinking
  5. Social environment

In a 12-week adventure, players must complete as many daily challenges as possible. Points and badges serve as in-game progress rewards. Physical rewards, such as a free (healthy) food box from the local supermarket, are also given away in the game.

You don’t go on the adventure alone. Together with a colleague, and a buddy from outside the company, you will play the game. By working together, the players keep each other motivated and keep coming back every day.

The game has a combination of refreshing content and challenges, appropriate rewards, insight into your progress and working together with your buddies. This makes the game interesting to play. Therefore, players are exposed to the desired behavioural change for a longer period of time. This way, greenhabit ensures a healthier lifestyle in an exciting way.

Let’s play!

A well-developed serious game is the perfect way to realize behavioural change. It can be applied in an infinite number of fields. Think of healthcare, education or sustainable projects.


Want to know more about behavioural change through serious games? Or do you think it might be interesting for you? Please contact Tim Laning to discuss the possibilities.


Tim Laning

Business developer

Do you want to know more about the possibilities of serious games? Let’s discuss what serious games can do for you.


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