VitaVillage is a tablet-based educational game, aimed at teaching children about nutrition through play. Educational games are games a person enjoys playing, but has the underlying aim to teach something - in the case of VitaVillage: nutrition. We think it is important to teach children about nutrition because many studies have found the level of nutrition knowledge of a child, to be related to their eating patterns. As 1 in 4 Australian children are overweight, and about 60% of overweight children will become overweight adults due to the carry-over of poor dietary patterns, an eating habit intervention during childhood is crucial.
Unfortunately, a survey among Australian primary school teachers showed there is little to no nutrition education in primary school. The teachers mentioned an already overcrowded curriculum and insufficient nutrition knowledge to be the biggest barrier for discussing nutrition in class.
In order to overcome these barriers, we have developed this educational game that children will enjoy playing, but will not ask too much time and knowledge from a teacher. An educational game platform was chosen because studies have shown children respond well to learning though playing games.
Who developed it?
This project is an interdisciplinary cooperation between nutrition experts, software engineers and education researchers. It is the main part of Nienke de Vlieger’s PhD thesis and she has taken the lead on development, design and content.
For who is it?
While there is no age limit on the user, the content was specifically designed for children aged 9 to 12. Besides the users, this game was mostly developed for teachers to use in class, with the aim to alleviate teachers’ work load if they already have an overcrowded curriculum or are themselves not confident teaching nutrition.
What is it?
VitaVillage is a farming-style game, with the user being a farmer in the town ‘Vita Village’, tasked with the objective to make the town as healthy as possible. The villagers of the town have poor dietary habits and are in need of more healthy products!
The user (as the farmer) can improve the town’s health by completing quests for the villagers, who are in need of for example ‘a food that will make my bones strong’ or ‘a food that is high in vitamin B’.
The user will accept one quest and will have to go to the town’s shop to get seeds for the correct foods.
Once they have put the needed amounts of serves in their backpack, they need to take it to their farm and grow it by answering questions about the nutrient and the food.
Once the user has answered 3 questions correctly, the food can be harvested and taken back to the villager. When the quest is completed, the town’s health goes up.
Also included in the game are a fish stall, grains stall and a cow to milk. In addition, some villagers pose just one question about portion sizes and food groups to the user, instead of having a full quest.
Development so far, pilot testing and the future
While the game is intended to teach children about all aspects of nutrition, as of yet it only included mostly micro and macronutrient quests and questions. Our aim is to develop the game further and include other aspects such as portion sizes, food groups, balanced meals, food safety and healthy choices. Other quests and game-experiences (such as multi-user play) will be added to increase the user’s experience, as was one of the main suggestion when we tested the game on year 5 and year 6 students at a Newcastle primary school. This pilot test of the game showed that the children enjoyed the game very much; they gave the game overall a score of 77 out of 100. Also, on the effectiveness side of the story, our test showed that the children’s nutrition knowledge was improved after playing the game for a total of 40 minutes.
We believe this game could be very useful in classrooms and will make teaching nutrition more accessible and time-efficient for teachers. While the children in our pilot test were already quite positive about the game, we also asked them for feedback. Using this, we will continue to develop and improve the game and hope, in the future, all children in Australian primary schools will have the opportunity to play it, and learn some important knowledge while doing it!
How can I play it or use it in my classroom?
At this stage of development, the game is only available for android devices. If you have access to one and would like to gain access to the game, please contact Nienke de Vlieger.