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Choice Awards: White House Appeals To Developers To Create Health-Conscious Games
Choice Awards: White House Appeals To Developers To Create Health-Conscious Games
March 11, 2010 | By Kris Graft

March 11, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC, GDC

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's recently-announced Apps for Healthy Kids directive could open a lasting relationship between the video game industry and Washington, White House chief technology officer Aneesh Chopra told Gamasutra Thursday during the Game Developers Conference.

The Apps for Healthy Kids contest, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, will have developers creating tools and games that are meant to encourage healthier eating and exercise habits among kids, and educate parents on their childrens' diets. The challenge offers $40,000 in cash prizes.

"We're hoping this might strengthen the [game industry's] ties with Washington," Chopra said. "...This might be the beginning of a longer collaboration." Games industry figures have already been working with the White House on the project, and the judging panel for the contest includes Mark Pincus, CEO of FarmVille creator Zynga, and Mike Gallagher, CEO of the Entertainment Software Association.

Chopra was featured in a video that played to attendees of Thursday night's Game Developers Choice Awards. In the video, he said around 40 game industry figures had been collaborating with the White House, discussing ways to advance "national priorities" that include combating child obesity.

"This program was very important to [USDA] secretary Tom Vilsack and the First Lady," Chopra said in the interview. The directive, initiated last fall, has roots in the government website, which hosts a database that includes 1,000 of the most commonly eaten foods. By entering a food type, the website can calculate how many excess calories users are consuming in their diets.

The USDA later decided to post the website's nutritional dataset on, making it available to anybody as a free download. For the Apps for Healthy Kids challenge, which offers prizes in "tool" and "game" categories, participants will be required to implement that food dataset into their projects, Chopra said.

He expects that entrants will submit three different types of games: games that are aimed at being commercially viable, games that are already existing, but retrofitted with health-related functions, and entries that are from students trying to break into the video game industry.

The healthy video game directive is part of the Obama administration's Let's Move! campaign, which urges young people exercise regularly and eat healthier. In a letter, Michelle Obama said, "Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled. Nearly one in three American children is overweight or obese."

Speaking directly to game developers, she added, "You know better than most the power of games to deeply engage our nation's youth. Today I'm asking you to dedicate your creative energy skills to address one of America's biggest challenges and help make healthy living fun, exciting, and relevant for kids."

Chopra said in his video address, "It is our hope, through the Apps For Healthy Kids competition, that you will take full advantage of that information and build it into new games on-line, new programs that are built within the games you’ve already established, and to have those of you in the audience today participate in new and creative ways to help advance this national priority."

Entries must be submitted between March 10 and June 30 this year. In addition to prize money, winners will be honored at a White House event in Washington. More information on the program can be found at

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Jay Simmons
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Children aren't fat because of playing games. They're fat because of the toxic food additives that congress should have banned long ago. MSG, HFCS, aspertine and all the poison allowed in the food supply by corrupt government officials is to blame. But why address the problem when you can blame video games. Now excuse me I have to go play Burger Time...

Fred Skoler
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Leveraging the engagement factors of games to teach kids about wellness is a great opportunity to showcase that fun design can impart a meaningful message. If the gameplay is fun the message of the content can be almost anything. I believe this to be true of games targeting any aged player or genre of gameplay. Why not make the message in the game something that may help kids grow up to be healthy (a spoon-full of sugar)?

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Games have nothing to do with obesity. I play probably 30-40 hours a week. Yet, I still go to the gym, go OUTSIDE and get some fresh air, and generally maintain muscle and retain minimal body fat.

Maybe the government should be worrying about fixing our economy first and actually examine what McDonald's likes to put in their burgers before turning to the games industry.

Reid Kimball
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Thank you David and Jay for being so enlightened. Couldn't have said it better myself. As David says, the system is really broken. You think a "tween" has any say in what's for dinner when their parents work 2 jobs or overtime? When I was living with my parents at that age, my choice of dinner was to eat it or not eat it. Several things need to be done for healthy eating

1) Celebrities need to stop endorsing fake food that harms people's health

2) Schools need to offer healthier whole, natural food during lunch

3) Schools need to have cooking classes, when I was in school it was called Home Economics

4) Tax subsidies need to go to whole natural food so that's cheaper than fake food in a cardboard box. Stop the corn subsidies! Everything is made of corn now and cows are fed it, which is not healthy for them or us.

5) Wealth needs to be spread more evenly so that even a single parent can work < 40 hrs a week to support their kids by having the time to make nutritious whole natural food based meals

6) US government needs to adopt the European precautionary principle. US government has a history of waiting until some product, chemical or ingredient has been proven beyond a doubt that it is hazardous to a person's health before pulling it from the market. That needs to be reversed so that if there is any, even the slightest amount of doubt that it is healthy, it's off the market, banned for good, until it can be proven without a doubt that it is perfectly healthy for people.

7) the FDA needs to do its god damn fucking job and get out of bed with corrupt corporations, like Monsanto, so that people don't have to walk through a mine field in the food store. They shouldn't have to spend hours educating themselves that diet soda can kill brain development. Get that shit off the store shelves.

Mark DeLoura
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I agree with some of you that there are many vectors that one can use to address childhood obesity and improve education about nutrition - absolutely. But this particular initiative is not intended to express a message that videogames are one of the reasons why childhood obesity exists, nor be the sole solution. This is actually intended to do something quite different - it's an acknowledgement that videogames have an impact on people, like movies, music, and other media, and that in fact videogames are one of the most valuable forms of media for education due to their interactive nature. So building games that are interesting and fun, that also incorporate messages of health, could have a positive impact. Why not try to make some?

Victor Boone
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Please just leave me alone. Go fix the economy or help out in disaster relief. You can't live peoples lives for them, just make sure we're not getting poisoned. It's becoming like one long public service announcement.