New app-based game may help smokers quit

Cigbreak Free, Kingston University and Queen Mary University of London, QMUL,

How good A new smartphone game that may help smokers stick to their New Year’s resolution to kick the butt has been developed by researchers.

The game – Cigbreak Free – developed by researchers from Kingston University and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in the UK works like a regular smartphone game, with players having to complete tasks to progress through levels and gain rewards.

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However, it also incorporates a combination of some 37 behavioural change techniques – theory-based methods for changing behaviour – selected by psychologists to help smokers quit.

“People think games are frivolous but we learn a lot through play. The good thing about a smartphone gaming app is that you can play it anywhere,” said Hope Caton, from Kingston University.

“Craving is a short-term thing, so if you get a craving at 11am, you can play the game in the warm until it passes, rather than going out into the cold for a cigarette,” Caton said.

“You have also got something to do with your hands other than smoke,” she added.

In the game, players have to swipe a certain number of cigarettes to break them within a time limit.

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As well as progressing through levels, the app includes a quit journal where users can calculate how much money they are saving.

There are also mini-games where players have to clear smoke from a room to reveal a health message.

The study analysed the use of behaviour change techniques and game-like elements in health apps currently on the market.

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Researchers found that very few of the health apps they looked at were using games to help people make positive health changes.

The development of the app was inspired by a desire to exploit the latest trends in gaming to help improve people’s health, according to Professor Robert Walton from QMUL.

“Some of the health messages and behaviour change techniques we have used in the game are based on our previous research and include showing players the health consequences of a behaviour, gaining points for grabbing healthy items, or providing virtual financial incentives,” said Walton.

“We are essentially trying to ‘gamify’ these messages and techniques as a way of embedding them in a person’s mind, in the hope that they will then be able to quit smoking,” said Walton.

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Rewards in the game were a way of giving smokers instant positive feedback, Caton added.

“When you are trying to quit smoking you do not get much instant feedback except desire. Your health is better but somehow it doesn’t have the same effect as being told you’re winning or getting a gold star,” she said.

(With PTI inputs)


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