G-Force: Can Guinea Pigs Help Kids Get Active? Humana Hopes So!

ops2June 12, 2009 Just finished a phone interview with some of the Humana Games for Health team to see if their new free game called OPS (Operation Planet Savers) passed the sniff test of ‘goodwashing’ in their Disney dealings to promote the upcoming G-Force movie coming out next month as a Jerry Bruckheimer first in the 3D big screen.

“OPS” is aimed at launching kids into outdoor summer fun, live now at Humana Games for FREE (open to players under 16).

How will kids ‘play their way to better health’ Humana style?

By challenging kids to be ‘special ops’ G-Force agents and get their keisters outdoors on missions of sprinkler-dodging, squirt-gun battling, water balloon tossing, belly-crawling and other real-world missions. (shades of Verb Yellow Ball “play prompts” to report back onto the site sharing what they did, in ‘Mission Accomplished’ mode)

Humana’s Innovation Center developed and designed the game as a 30-day pilot program ending June 28 with incentives tied into the movie launch of Disney’s hopeful 3D blockbuster of “Gadgets. Gizmos. Guinea Pigs.” ramping up to a G-Force release date of July 24.

opsEven though Humana Games is known for exploring the role of video games in health care (see today’s 5th annual conference in Boston!) the whole ‘hurry, two weeks left to play’ rush is what prompted me to pick up the phone and call Humana in circumspect mode wondering, “Why so short? Is this just a Disney promo folded into a Health 2.0 spin?”

The G-Force alignment definitely piqued my interest to unearth more, as I deeply respect Humana’s H4GH goals (games like Horsepower Challenge) along with other health games I’ve written about like Kaiser’s Health Detective, HopeLab, Playnormous, etc.—all working hard to get kids up, out and moving…Which fits right into our own Shaping Youth ‘mission’ of using the power of media for positive change.

Basically, Humana saw an opportunity to blend with the Disney G-Force concept of secret agent guinea pigs on a mission to save the planet, by leveraging the secret agent popularity of SpyKids scenarios with a dash of game play like the article I wrote about pbs Scotland’s EIU (Environmental Intelligence Unit digital venture )…

Though Disney’s involvement is more of a ‘licensed use’ agreement than any big stakeholder bucks or marketing lift, it’s still a win-win for a Health 2.0 entity like Humana because they already have their game developers and design teams in place…

gforcePiggybacking on the G-Force premiere (pardon the pun) serves Humana’s pilot program’s purpose, while aligning with Disney for guinea pig giveaways gives insta-cred on the parent front as ‘family friendly’ “opps” for getting outdoors.

Here’s how the outdoor element works:

Each week on Humana Games’ site, kids are given new “training missions” with real-world activity  to earn points for completion exchanged for media lures and ‘virtual gifts’ when they ‘report back’ on the site.

Examples? Dodging water sprinklers in mission ‘Hose Off’ because agents need to know how to ‘escape and avoid danger’ or a mental recall game of “Memory on the run” to recap details of five people seen on a jog/walk through the park, etc.)

Ongoing prizes: range from sneak peeks of the G-Force film and virtual G-Force holograms, to iPod nanos and the GRAND prize, walking the red carpet at the G-Force premiere in Los Angeles.

Kids can also sound off about what they liked/disliked in blog-style (or who they lassoed into engaging in the outdoor fun) which I dare say gives all of us in the healthy media sphere some vital research for feedback. (from what’s considered ‘fun’ to the ‘code of ethics/honor system’ in play, to how kids choose to engage family/friends outdoors or ‘game the system’ for goods)

Yes, I know most prefer kids opt to play outdoors untethered to media whatsoever, and many WILL this summer…but if online kids can be coaxed to engage offline, so much the better, eh?

ops-5Here’s my daughter’s account at left (see third one down, ‘recruited by Amy’ Agent TalksAlot—Her own moniker, not mine!)

We’ll be messing with the game a tad over the next couple of weeks, to see if it engages some of the OUTDOORSY kids on our island cul-de-sac now that school’s out for summer too…

They’re already ‘pool’ and ‘watersports’ fiends here, so not the right ‘target market’ I suppose since they’re already offline, but the water balloon wars are epic in this neighborhood so the ‘agent’ motif could ‘sell.’

Here’s more of my chat with HumanaGames.com:

Specifically: Vicki Vogel & Shane Regala of the Innovation Center

Amy Jussel: So how did this Disney deal come about, and why go to all this work creating a game that ends on June 28? G-Force doesn’t open until July 24; will it have another ‘life’ somewhere?

Humana: Well, we’re always testing pilot programs, so we’re set up for that and this gives us a way to test the relationship with Disney too, tying it to the release of the movie…Working backwards, we needed to allow plenty of time to pick the winner, arrange travel and handle logistics, but yes, hopefully we can port parts of it to the site and learn from the experience.

It’s the first time we’ve ever dealt with the whole COPPA compliance issue and double-registration having parents give permissions, validate e-mails and all that, so it’s a learning experience for us. We want to see how and why kids engage, what motivates them, (if it’s Disney, etc.) and add it to our research to refine from there.

Amy Jussel: How are people hearing about the free game? Obviously, I heard about it from you directly, because I’ve written about Humana’s H4GH before…but what about other people…Is Disney promoting this in their distribution channels, or is Humana testing it with your own 10 mill+ subscribers or what?

Humana: Actually, neither one, really…We’re not using our own member base at all; and though Disney has some links on some of their properties like Radio Disney, we’ve done a few events in Chicago, L.A. and Louisville, using word of mouth with kids telling kids to enroll as  ‘agents’…At the events we gave out agent passports and five cards they could give to friends, and if they created an I.D. they’d earn points, so that’s our ‘viral’ experiment I guess.

We wanted to see if using cool characters to help promote the game and the whole spy/agent/training theme would seed the idea of fun things that are also healthy. After a thousand sign-ups or so at the events, one of the things we DID find is that the COPPA rules created some attrition with that ‘double check with parents’ registration, so we’re learning how to figure all of that out…We obviously have also reached out through social media (like you!) and are really thinking more ‘pilot’ than product.

Amy Jussel: What about the actions themselves? Are you tracking the outcomes of whether kids are actually DOING this online to offline activity with an accelerometer device or some hard data point, or is it more of an ‘honor system?’

Humana: Right now it’s the honor system, with parents being sent an e-mail when they complete a ‘mission’ in the hopes that will keep kids honest about it knowing they know that. We also have a pre-post survey on current activity levels, asking kids their favorite games, about the rewards, whether they’d be more likely to see the movie now, that kind of thing.

Amy Jussel: What kind of “on the ground” activities are you trying to foster specifically? Is it tied to the green-eco theme like a planet patrol kind of thing, or more physical fitness and mental gymnastics like Humana’s other games?

Humana: We actually looked into doing more of the green, recyclable angle having kids get exercise by physically contributing to the eco-system (cleaning up parks and such) and we want to do more green messaging for Humana in the future, but we tested it in Kentucky and it was less of an appeal than the challenges we were creating for physical fun…

Surprisingly, traditional games we grew up with like LeapFrog and some of the ‘Old School’ Field Day relays were translating differently to this generation of kids…When we said LeapFrog, they thought we meant the digital toys! So we decided to try to revisit some of the fun field day races and relays and tie it into family connections and play/time under the training/mission and agent theme…

Hide and seek, ground attack, all of that agent/mission message goes with the G-Force concept, but other than the broad-based theme it doesn’t draw on the movie’s storyline, just the visuals.

We know active video games like the Wii and exergaming and all that are getting traction, but we really want to figure out how to get them OUTDOORS altogether…bridging from online to OFFline.

Amy Jussel: Exactly. It’s a challenge. We have an ‘old-fashioned’ 4th of July picnic of field games where I run the kids relays and I forget that some of these kids ‘don’t know what to do’ with a three-legged race or whatever because it’s not part of kid culture, so can you give me an example of some of the active games you’re trying to introduce using the OPS outdoor idea?

Humana: Sure! We have a ‘bear walk’ on all fours which is a great upper and lower body workout and a simple string between two points where they have to bob and weave around it, which is an awkward but fun motion bringing in agility, and a figure eight pattern kind of like the dizzy bat idea; going around eight times in 8 minutes…all tied to the training mission/agent theme.

Amy Jussel: Age group? Any user generated content where kids upload their own outdoor games or show and tell their missions? Video of the kids in play?

Humana: No, not UGC exactly, because we’re geared to 7-9 year olds, and don’t want to show faces because of COPPA and such, but we DO have an ‘agent of the week’ that’s audio right now, using the guinea pig avatar and the ‘agent’ telling their own story of what they did on their mission…it’s really cute, you should take a look at it.

I did. And it is. (See clip below) Help spread the word to kids to give it a go, and encourage them to leave a ‘comment’ as it will help ALL of our research on what works and what doesn’t for online to offline bridges…

I’m EQUALLY anxious to hear ‘what’s working’ and if we should continue ‘playing’ in the 3D virtual worlds to embed positive cues and test content (e.g. like Elf Island, Dizzywood, etc. for Shaping Youth) or whether our original game plan of open source ‘digital short sheets’ that anyone can download to demo-hands-on at home.

As many of you know, Shaping Youth is testing some  ‘activity’ based hands-on games and fun/creative uses of media partnerships like our ‘reality show’ demos that are hands-on for kids to explore. (e.g. Dare To Compare Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition, riffing on Fear Factor;  Survivor-the lunch table edition (peer relational aggression) Idolized (voting up healthier role models) etc.

p.s. As for Disney and the goodwashing? I’d cry foul if they were hanging their hat on it without helping Humana out in any bigger way, (Humana designed and deployed the entire game, Disney just loaned their brand to give it parent safety appeal and some prizes) but they seem to be pretty low key about it so both parties seem to view it as a win…(I’m already rolling my eyes at the proliferation of guinea pig merchandising and gun-toting rodents though, argh)

Say, maybe Disney could partner with the HSUS (Humane Society) to subsidize all the abandoned REAL guinea pigs that will surface when the novelty wears off to signal that live animals are not toys? 😉

I used to set my clock by the intake of animal types by media/film popularization…from dalmations and ‘Spuds’ dogs to purse pooches and now… guinea pigs, sigh. 

Forewarned is forearmed, parents!

disney-earth I’d like to see Disney get behind some active initiatives in the same way DisneyNature did with the Earth premiere and the planting a billion trees Conservation Fund collaboration…

Between Disney’s “going green” promises and their resurgence of the core documentary films via DisneyNature’s new division outdoor fitness and activity could be next on their list for some low key funding of foundation-based partnerships that could ‘buy them’ further good will among parents if they ‘do it right’…

Again, shades of Verb Yellowball if the viral ‘play’ element was given more time for traction through Radio Disney; it was just catching on when the CDC pulled the plug; classic case of private and public partnerships seeding good things together…

Let’s hope this is another one! “Agent TalksAlot” signing off…

About G-Force: (Businesswire)

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer brings his first 3-D film to the big screen with G-Force, a comedy adventure about the latest evolution of a covert government program to train animals to work in espionage. Armed with the latest high-tech spy equipment, these highly trained guinea pigs discover that the fate of the world is in their paws. Tapped for the G-Force are guinea pigs Darwin (voice of Sam Rockwell), the squad leader determined to succeed at all costs; Blaster (voice of Tracy Morgan), an outrageous weapons expert with tons of attitude and a love for all things extreme; and Juarez (voice of Penelope Cruz), a martial arts pro; plus the literal fly-on-the-wall reconnaissance expert, Mooch, and a star-nosed mole, Speckles (voice of Nicolas Cage), the computer and information specialist. Along the way, the G-Force encounters myriad other members of the animal kingdom, including pet shop layabout Hurley (voice of Jon Favreau) and the rabidly territorial hamster Bucky (voice of Steve Buscemi).



  1. More cool news on the ‘serious games’ front…from HopeLab…partnering with virtual heroes for ReMission2!

    See below: “Big news! HopeLab and Virtual Heroes today announced a collaboration to develop the next version of Re-Mission, our video game for young cancer patients. We’ve learned a lot since launching the first Re-Mission in 2006, and we’ll be applying those insights to boost the fun factor and enhance the effectiveness of a new version of the game. And we’re doing it with the support of great partners, including Vivendi, the Annenberg Foundation, and the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

    Check out our Sticky Notes blog for more details and the “official” press release! (http://www.facebook.com/l/;http://blog.hopelab.org/2009/06/11/a-new-re-mission-in-the-works/#more-274)

    Have a great rest of the week!

  2. Amy, thanks for this comprehensive review of the OPS program! As an innovation center associate its very fulfilling to see projects I’ve worked on get this kind of attention. Love the blog, hope this post brings you many views!

  3. You’re quite welcome, Naimul…it was a pleasure interviewing your team. I see lots of viable Health 2.0 uses of media magic to tilt toward healthier messaging…In fact, I’m hoping to attend the Aspen Institute this summer in late July where they’re addressing same…Will Humana be there? –Amy

    p.s. For me, comments spur me on more than analytics and page views, because we’re (I’m!) self-funded currently and not beholden to clicks/ad rev…soooooo thank YOU for taking the time. Always makes my day. (esp. when I see thousands of people pass through here and only a handful leave comments!) 🙂

    Oblige, Amy

    Amy Jussel’s last blog post..Grown Up Digital: Don Tapscott’s Latest On ‘Generation Net’

  4. Just came across this post and wanted to say, what a great idea. I had seen previews for the movie, which looks incredibly cute and fam-friendly, but it’s an added bonus to get kids involved in their own way and interactively…and outdoors nonetheless. I hope it’s successful for HG4H and G-Force 🙂

  5. I hope so too, as I’m encouraged by the recent research saying that e-mail reminders can even impact kids’ health and such to cue them accordingly, so when my first thought was, ‘yah, they can fudge this’ my hope is a.) they won’t and b.) even if they DO it’s still seeded the IDEA of what can be done outdoors to turn exercise into gaming fun with free form, old-fashioned creative play…(ok, I love a good water balloon battle!) 😉

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Best, Amy

  6. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  7. Thanks for this comprehensive posts. I like the way you wrote this article.

    By the way, I love G force. and it’s damn 100% kids friendly. OPS piggybacking on G force was a great decision! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing:)

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