Houston, Texas -- Archimage, Inc, a Houston-based architectural design studio, is creating two video games for preventing obesity and type II diabetes in children.
Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space and Escape from Diab are sci-fi adventures in healthy eating and exercise. The project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health. Archimage is collaborating with experts at the Children’s Nutritional Research Center of Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine on the games.
You might be asking yourself, “What are architects doing creating computer games?” According to Tom Baranowski PhD, Professor of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, “a lot.” Archimage president Richard Buday FAIA is the grant’s principal investigator. He and his partner Jerald Reichstein AIA are also executive producers of the games. The two are leading teams of researchers, writers, computer artists, programmers, musicians, and an award winning film director on the four-year effort. “We use our architectural skills to think through complex problems, study and visualize alternatives and manage the process,” Buday notes. “Then we construct game worlds that integrate Baylor’s diet and exercise intervention technology to the immersive environments.” For Buday, it’s a fascinating new branch of architecture, planning and design.
The rising incidence of type II diabetes has been called a “looming crisis” that is reaching epidemic proportions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts one third of Americans born after 2000 will be diabetic in their lifetime. Unlike type I diabetes, which is a result of mostly genetic factors, type II diabetes is primarily associated with behavior. Today’s increasing numbers of diabetic teenagers and young children are linked to poor diet and lack of exercise. The predicted societal and economic impact is staggering. Diabetes is already the country’s leading cause of new blindness and kidney failure. It is also the nation’s sixth leading cause of death.
Baylor’s Children’s Nutritional Research Center pioneered the use of behavior interventions delivered though interactive Web sites and computer games. Says Dr. Baranowski, “Video games’ rich immersive capabilities allow players to participate as characters role-playing inside a story. That means players can learn through actual experience as we deliver positive messages.”
Buday and Baranowski believe video games are a great medium to motivate children to healthier lifestyles. But spending too much time in front of computers and televisions is believed part of reason today’s kids are obese. For that reason, Archimage and Baylor limit the amount of time children can play the games. Players also must set and achieve diet and exercise goals in real life to win.
Archimage continues to design buildings and interiors, though most of it’s current work is developing video games for health. Projects include games played on the Web, PCs, handheld games and Nintendo’s Gamecube. The 23- year-old visual design studio has won over 30 international awards for everything from buildings to television commercials, computer imagery and print graphics.
“Archimage is doing things that I never thought architects did, but I’m very glad they do,” says Dr. Baranowski. “Buildings that keep people warm, safe and dry are great. Architecture that keeps people healthy is even better.”