Anti-Smoking Video Games
by: Laurie Johnson, April 20, 2009 12:04:09 am
Video games have come a long way since the days of Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. One of the latest trends is using gaming to teach new concepts or behaviors — whether it's helping kids learn about science or shaping the way people think about nutrition and health. And now, even combating smoking.
Dr. Alexander Prokhorov is a professor of behavioral science at M.D. Anderson. He says tobacco cessation programs are especially important for military members. About 40% of males in the Army smoke cigarettes. That's compared to 24% of males in the general population.
"It's not an easy, of course, burden that people have to endure when you go to the army. They have to cope with a considerable amount of stress and they learn new skills and new things. You know of course if they end up in a combat situation there's all kinds of you know emotional stress and things like that associated with that. So people look for easy ways to cope with stress and other emotional issues."
And cigarettes are an easy, readily available option. However, besides the obvious health and cancer risks associated with tobacco, it also compromises physical and mental performance.
"If you want to be a better soldier and you want to be better in many ways, physically and mentally, you're better off if you're a non-smoker. So that's what we try to do, we try to both look at the sort of long-term consequences of tobacco use which is prevention of cancer and other diseases, but also we're thinking about the short-term consequences."
Like fatigue, shortness of breath, dulled senses — things that soliders simply can't afford to experience.
That's why the Department of Defense gave Prokhorov $3.7 million to develop a video game to help soldiers quit smoking.
"This game is actually not just one size fits all. It's really tailored to the needs of every individual user. Say if you are a smoker who does not want to quit, we have a special educational track that will basically motivate them — that would show them how they can benefit from quitting."
It'll take about a year and a half to develop the video game. Then Dr. Prokhorov will test the program, called Project Combat, on soldiers at Ft. Hood.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.