Brush the dust off of those Playstation 2s and Nintendo Wiis, because getting into shape has never looked so promising, thanks to a new national research program centered on campus.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation selected UCSB to house a national program called Health Games Research, an $8.25 million study that aims to analyze, design and promote videogames that encourage healthy living habits either by incorporating various physical activities into game play or by educating players in an interactive environment. Communication researcher Debra Lieberman will direct the program, as it takes residence in UCSB’s Institute for Social, Behavioral and Economic Research.

By studying certain games, such as “Dance Dance Revolution” for PS2, Lieberman said she hopes to implement similar physical activities in a wide array of games over a multitude of platforms. Another video game that could potentially tie into the Health Games Research Program is “Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus” for Super Nintendo, which educates children about caring for their asthma.

“Interactive games, played on video game consoles, computers, arcade machines, handheld wireless devices such as cell phones and many other formats and technologies, can be powerful, experiential ways to learn,” Lieberman said. “They are very interactive and responsive, so a well-designed game lets the player make decisions and immediately shows their impact.”

With today’s technological advancements, Lieberman said she hopes that future health-oriented games will take advantage of portable systems, navigation components such as GPS devices and monitoring technologies that could ultimately transmit feedback to players and doctors. Lieberman also said these additions aim to help motivate players to maintain their health while informing doctors of any medical changes.

“Games can be a great way to send data to your doctor,” Lieberman said. “If you download your weight or your blood glucose or blood pressure or anything else that we have electronic monitors for these days, the doctors can be collecting this data from home, but this data can also go into a game which then makes you more motivated to take your measurements every day. It’s the game of life because you’re putting your data into an electronic system for your doctor to see and when you win, its because you are as healthy as you can be.”

In addition, ISBER Director Sarah Fenstermaker said the program is essential because of its focus on promoting good health in a new way.

“This initiative from Robert Wood Johnson is hugely important, because it is not just funding a single game technology or a single health issue to focus on; it is funding a way to encourage and promote initiative in this general area, touching on a variety of constituencies and lots of different health problems,” Fenstermaker said. “Its impact and range will be quite significant, and I think there will be lots of unanticipated and unforeseen good effects as well, when all these balls start rolling.”

Lieberman said the program’s research and data will hopefully attract major brand names into incorporating fitness systems and technologies in future platforms and games while encouraging players to start exercising and thinking in a positive way about their health.

“We are very excited that we’re getting started on such an ambitious program,” Lieberman said. “We hope to bring lots of interesting research and people to campus in this new field.”