Gooey Gut Trail: a gut health education game

Friday, 03 February, 2023

Gooey Gut Trail: a gut health education game

Gooey Gut Trail is a new board game designed to educate players about the positive and negative effects of everyday habits on gastrointestinal health.

RMIT PhD candidate Nandini Pasumarthy, who developed the game, said, “This board game is designed to confront that ‘ickiness’ factor and allow people to feel safe and comfortable sharing their experiences.”

To play the game, each player is assigned a different Persona card, which outlines unique attributes that can impact their success in the game, such as genetics and lifestyle. Each Persona has a different mix of friendly and unfriendly microbes to start with, called The Warrior and The Minion, or referred to in the game as Meeples.

The goal is to achieve a healthy microbiome by playing diverse activity cards and accomplishing challenges in the game to balance the two Meeples.

“Some of our participants were able to visualise the influence of microbes in our gut through the game, which prompted them to make different lifestyle choices outside of the game,” Pasumarthy said.

“We even had some participants say the game was challenging their negative perceptions of bacteria and microbes, which had previously prevented them from doing certain activities such as composting.”

While pre-game interviews revealed most participants had a limited understanding of factors influencing their gut health, the majority said their knowledge of gut health increased after playing the board game.

“A lot of people think gut health is only about what we eat, but factors like physical activity, our genetics, environment, emotions and lifestyles all impact our gut health in some way,” said Pasumarthy, whose research is published in Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction and is part of RMIT’s Hearty Adventures in Food and Play Research Lab.

“There is a need for a more holistic approach to understanding gut health factors rather than having a sole focus on people with existing digestive disorders,” she said.

Studies show board games have often been used to help people break down complex ideas but Pasumarthy said this game was also an ice breaker to normalise conversations about gut health.

“Our gut microbiome plays a huge role in our bodily function. It is vital for not only our digestive health but also for brain and heart health,” she said.

“Yet so many people are embarrassed to talk about their gut health, especially if it concerns their bowel movement or bodily fluids.”

Pasumarthy is now working on a new smartphone game called Go-Go Biome, where players balance the friendly and unfriendly biome in the game by engaging in real-world activities.

Different from Gooey Gut Trail, Go-Go Biome is an open-ended solo game designed to be played over six to 12 days.

The game has no official ending as it restarts every day.

“It symbolises that gut health is not a destination but rather a process that people must consciously engage in every day,” Pasumarthy said.

Go-Go Biome is about to enter its first qualitative field study and Pasumarthy hopes the game will help formulate design guidelines to help create interactive and playful technologies for gut health engagement.

“We will be looking at how the game’s features may lead to curiosity, action and reflection towards everyday habits that influence gut health,” she said.

This research was led by RMIT University in collaboration with Monash University and the University of Technology Sydney. Co-authors are Nandini Pasumarthy, Rakesh Patibanda, Yi Ling (Ellie) Tai, Elise van den Hoven, Jessica Danaher and Rohit Ashok Khot.

Image: Supplied by Nandini Pasumarthy

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