Eat & Move-O-Matic

Use Eat & Move-O-Matic

The Eat & Move-O-Matic App is a great way to explore energy balance.

Cooperation versus competition

Exergames can offer players healthy competition while also facilitating greater social interaction and cooperation, and playing together can even motivate people to move more than if they were playing alone (1).

There are many ways to play exergames, including by yourself, competing against another player to earn the most points, or cooperating with another player to earn points and win the game together. Cooperative play emphasizes group participation, teamwork, challenge, and fun rather than actually defeating someone. Players may be fulfilled and enjoy game play by helping other players to achieve team goals (2). When you play competitively, the aim is to win or beat someone and you may only feel satisfied if you outscore your opponent (2); however, playing competitively may produce some benefits as well.

Several research studies looked into the social context of exergame play to determine which was the most effective, competitive or cooperative play. On the heart-pumping scale, people who play cooperatively, or work toward the same goal together, may actually burn more calories. In one study, 54 low-income, overweight and obese urban high school students played the exergame Nintendo Wii EA Sports Active competitively or cooperatively for 30 to 60 minutes daily (3). They played either after school or during lunch for seven months. Kids playing cooperatively worked with a friend to burn the most calories and earn points together. Competitive exergame players competed individually against a friend to earn the most points.

While both groups showed positive changes, the cooperative exergame players actually lost weight during the seven-month period. Youth playing cooperatively said they were more motivated to keep playing (4). Cooperative players rated the game as more challenging, thought the game provided a more immersive experience, and considered the game a socially interactive experience more than the competitive players did (4). Researchers believe cooperation fosters a team bond that may help obese youth keep moving, even if the activity is physically demanding.

There were positive outcomes for competitive players, too. Both competitive and cooperative game players had increased support from their friends and reported more self-confidence related to physical activity at the end of the seven-month study (3). Also, competitive players improved more than cooperative players on cognitive tests of executive functioning, which includes cognitive flexibility, attention, and inhibiting and initiating actions (5). In summary, weight loss was shown in cooperative players, cognitive boosts in competitive players, and psychological improvements for both types of game play.

In another study, 74 low-income teens played Nintendo Wii Sports tennis for 25 minutes either alone or against a friend (6). Those who played the exergame against a friend burned more calories than those who played the exergame alone, and both exergame groups burned more calories than a control group who did a sedentary computer task. In fact, those who played the exergame against a friend burned as many calories playing the Wii exergame as they did participating in a tennis skills test on an actual tennis court (6).

Both studies indicate that playing exergames either against or with friends is an effective way for teens to burn calories and reap other benefits related to cognitive and psychological health.

Cooperative game play encourages players to keep working together, even when something is more difficult. This can foster greater calorie expenditure, teamwork, friendships and greater social interaction among players. For instance, a study using the In the Groove dance exergame found that creating mentor–mentee relationships among 3rd and 4th grade players successfully decreased absences and improved social skills, self-esteem, and even academic performance (7).

The key difference in cooperative versus competitive game play may be whether the individual enjoys cooperation or competition more. For instance, people who prefer competition reported higher motivation and self-confidence from game play, whereas non-competitive people put in a competitive gaming environment actually decreased in motivation and self-confidence (8). In contrast, young girls who prefer cooperation were motivated by the cooperative elements of computer game play, including online communities and forming social groups for peer support (9).

Either way, it is clear that the social interaction in exergaming helps players burn more calories and improve their psychological and cognitive health as compared to playing the game alone.


1. Staiano, A.E. & Calvert, S.L. Exergames for physical education courses: Physical, social, and cognitive benefits. Child Development Perspectives 2011;5:93-98.

2. Malone, T.W. & Lepper, M. Intrinsic motivation and instructional effectiveness in computer-based education. In S. Farr (ed.), Aptitude learning and instruction. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

3. Staiano, A.E., Abraham, A.A. & Calvert, S.L. Weight loss from Wii Active intervention in overweight and obese adolescents. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(5), Suppl. American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, Denver, CO, June, 2011.

4. Staiano, A.E., Abraham, A.A. & Calvert, S.L. Motivating effects of cooperative exergame play for overweight and obese adolescents. Journal of Diabetes, Science, and Technology (Revision submitted on November 2, 2011).

5. Staiano, A.E., Abraham, A.A. & Calvert, S.L. Competitive versus cooperative exergame play for African American adolescents’ executive function skills: Short-term effects in a long-term training intervention. Developmental Psychology (In Press: Accepted for Publication on November 14, 2011).

6. Staiano, A.E. & Calvert, S.L. (2011). Wii Tennis Play for Low-Income African American Adolescents’ Energy Expenditure. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 5(1).

7. Chamberlin, B., & Gallagher, R. (2008). Exergames: Using video games to promote physical activity. Presented at Children, Youth, and Families at Risk Conference, San Antonio, TX.

8. Song, H., Kim, J., Tenzek, K. E., & Lee, K. M. (2010). Intrinsic motivation in exergames: Competition, competitiveness, and the conditional indirect effect of presence (top 2 faculty paper). Paper presented at the International Communication Association, Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre, Suntec City, Singapore.

9. Suhonen, K., Väätäjä, H., Virtanen, T., & Raisamo, R. (2008). Seriously fun: Exploring how to combine promoting health awareness and engaging gameplay. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 12th International conference on Entertainment and media in the ubiquitous era, Tampere, Finland.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Funding Information

© 2013. NMSU Board of Regents. All rights reserved. This project was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the National Research Initiative (Grant #2008-55215-18837).

About Us

The Exergames Unlocked project includes a multi-state team of accomplished media education researchers, exercise physiologists, medical professionals and doctoral students. Contributing members are researchers in their fields and have helped launch the use of exergames as tools to combat obesity in their communities and beyond. New Mexico State University researchers and their partners have been funded to research the impact of exergames, develop specific recommendations for exergame use, and implement exergaming programs. As part of that project, this website provides access to resources based on research, sample projects, and input from the exergaming community. For more information, contact the project director: Dr. Barbara Chamberlin, Professor, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service
Contact us
View our members

Why Exergames Unlocked?

Why Exergames Unlocked? Exergames are videogames that encourage physical activity. Here, you’ll find the best and most effective exergames, as well as strategies and recommendations on using them with different audiences and in different locations.