The federal government has invested over $10 million developing and promoting a video game about a young teen that must escape a town full of fat people, as a method to fight obesity.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) paid for the development of two video games that promote healthier eating, including "Escape from Diab," a "nightmare" fictional city where people are only allowed to eat junk food.
"The story centers around five children who must get healthy enough to escape the evil King Etes," explains Archimage, Inc., a computer game company that received $9,091,409 to develop the games. King Etes is a fat ruler who forces his people to eat out of vending machines.
"Deejay, an athletic inner city youth, accidentally tumbles into an abandoned building and through its rotting floor," according to the backstory described on Escape from Diab’s website. "When he awakes, he finds himself in Diab, a nightmare city where people eat nothing but junk food."
"He finds new friends and agrees to help them prepare for their escape to the legendary Golden City, using everything he has learned about nutrition and exercise from his track coach," it says. "Deejay’s arrival has been noted by the despotic King Etes who will stop at nothing to capture him."
"This is the town of Diab. You can eat all the junk food you want. In Diab, you never have to exercise," a narrator says over a trailer for the game. "Sound like a dream? It’s not."
Deejay has to teach his fat friends about healthy eating and exercise in order for them to escape the city, which is full of "high-rise vending towers" that give "free access to foods like Lard Chips, Creamy Cakes, Butter Breads, and Etes Burgers."
The game is not available to play online, though the site does offer its version of Tetris for kids to play.
The financing for the creation of the game was provided by NIH grants from 2003 to 2008. Archimage, Inc. also developed "Nanoswarm: Invasion from Inner Space," a game set in 2030 when the United States has a female president and life is "almost perfect," but kids have to save the planet from obesity and type II diabetes.
After completing the games they were tested on about 100 kids aged 10 to 12. Results of the study found that children increased the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat by 0.67 servings, but that playing a video game did not increase their physical activity levels.
The NIH is now spending $1,760,807 for further research on how the games can fight obesity, through studies being conducted by Baylor College of Medicine.
"With the increasing rates of child obesity and diabetes, innovative programs are needed that capture children's attention and permit behavior change messages to get through," the grant said. "Serious video games with their immersive stories offer one such promising alternative."