Using the Behaviour Change Wheel Program Planning Model to Design Games for Health: Development Study

Michael C. Robertson, Tom Baranowski, Debbe Thompson, Karen M. Basen-Engquist, Maria Chang Swartz, Elizabeth J. Lyons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Games for health are a promising approach to health promotion. Their success depends on achieving both experiential (game) and instrumental (health) objectives. There is little to guide game for health (G4H) designers in integrating the science of behavior change with the art of game design. Objective: The aim of this study is to extend the Behaviour Change Wheel program planning model to develop Challenges for Healthy Aging: Leveraging Limits for Engaging Networked Game-Based Exercise (CHALLENGE), a G4H centered on increasing physical activity in insufficiently active older women. Methods: We present and apply the G4H Mechanics, Experiences, and Change (MECHA) process, which supplements the Behaviour Change Wheel program planning model. The additional steps are centered on identifying target G4H player experiences and corresponding game mechanics to help game designers integrate design elements and G4H objectives into behavioral interventions. Results: We identified a target behavior of increasing moderate-intensity walking among insufficiently active older women and key psychosocial determinants of this behavior from self-determination theory (eg, autonomy). We used MECHA to map these constructs to intervention functions (eg, persuasion) and G4H target player experiences (eg, captivation). Next, we identified behavior change techniques (eg, framing or reframing) and specific game mechanics (eg, transforming) to help realize intervention functions and elicit targeted player experiences. Conclusions: MECHA can help researchers map specific linkages between distal intervention objectives and more proximal game design mechanics in games for health. This can facilitate G4H program planning, evaluation, and clearer scientific communication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere29964
JournalJMIR Serious Games
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  • Behavior change
  • Behavioral interventions
  • EHealth
  • Gamification
  • Intervention
  • Mobile phone
  • Older adults
  • Older women
  • Physical activity
  • Psychological theory
  • Serious games
  • Video games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Rehabilitation
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Biomedical Engineering


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