You like games?  Got diabetes?  Then you are going to love this: A small Massachusetts-based startup company called Glymetrix has created an online game that aims to help you improve your diabetes management, but without all the boring and preachy "diabetes stuff."

Seriously, the game is modeled after Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy and similar games you've probably played before or watched on TV.  Only about 20% of the total content is diabetes-related.  (Categories include Sports, Television, Olympics, and "All at Sea" {sailing stuff}, as well as tracts like "Living Well.")

What they've done is "sprinkled in reminders to test your blood sugar," and are working to offer tangible rewards that give people an immediate motivation to change their health-related behaviors.

"The core problem with diabetes management is that you need to do something difficult and/or onerous now for rewards much later.  That makes it tough for people to get motivated.  We thought it would help if there was a way to make it more immediate — so if you check blood glucose today or go for a walk today, you get a bonus now! The games offer a software-based environment where we can do that quickly and efficiently," says Glymetrix CEO Tom Hunter, whom I talked to on the phone late last week.

The first reward on the docket is a $50 check for a determined high-point score.

Developed over the last year, the game is still in the beta testing phase, and the company is looking for user feedback.  So feel free to register and give it a try HERE (Glymetrix actually encourages you not to use your real name, "for privacy purposes," see Nitty Gritty, below.)  Game questions are developed in-house by the company's small team.  For validity, all diabetes-related content is ADA-referenced, and anything related to food or diet is cross-checked with the USDA food database.

Although it's still a work in progress, the Glymetrix trivia game is scheduled to be rolled out as a feature of the new Healthy Outcomes diabetes education-rewards site (announced here recently) some time this week.  Healthy Outcome users who click on the game link will get a "quick round trip" through a 20-question cycle of the game.

"The game-based environment offers competition, entertainment, and multi-player interaction. People pay to participate in online environments like this, so why not play a game for free that could also help your health?" Hunter says.

With the likes of Dr. Graham McMahon of Harvard as Medical Advisor, a specialist in diabetes and behavior change, Glymetrix seriously believes that its game can help people lower their A1c, possibly by a full percentage point or more.  Early testers have reported as much.

Thus the company is applying for a grant to set up a clinical trial at its local hospital in Salem, MA, in which they hope to prove the medical benefits.  They'll keep improving the game features as more and patients get on board, too, Hunter says, in part because his development team believes that the state of current online tools for diabetes is "pretty dismal."

"There are better tools out there to help you design your Disneyworld vacation," he says.

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For the endlessly curious: The Nitty Gritty on Glymetrix

Of course I asked more questions than even the gaming experts knew what to do with.  So if you're still truly intrigued, then read on:

DBMine) How did the idea for the game come about?

Hunter) "The inspiration came in Canada, at a training company some of us were working at for oil rigs.  They were also known for creating games. A group of doctors came forward and asked for a diabetes game. So we started doing research into how to build a game to change behaviors (there is a fair amount of literature on gaming and behavior change)."

So what's your business model?  How will you make money if people play for free?

"We got a round of funding from investors in 2007.  We envision the game as a component in other people's online solutions, like healthcare providers or other health maintenance companies.  The most interesting business model for us would be a per user subscription fee from those partners.

"Part of the plan is also to package and sell the patient data.  That is, anonymous data will be rolled up into reports for Pharma companies, providers, and other interested parties.  There won't be any details on individual users, but rather POPULATION data about behaviors, such as 'Do people who eat Italian food regularly tend to have worse outcomes?'"

Doesn't the game get repetitive after a while?

"Actually, the content adjusts based on what each user does, and it will get more sophisticated as you go. We've built that into the architecture. Customization for each user is important, because you might have a player with a high school education versus college-level, master's or post doc, so if the content is not adjustable, some people will lose interest, and others will keep losing when they play. If they lose the game, their self-efficacy goes down, which is exactly the opposite of what we want to achieve.  Of course it's rigged so that you win! That's what we want.

"And of course it's not just all about diabetes, or it wouldn't be fun anymore.  Right now, we want more people playing for feedback on whether or not we got the balance right."

Besides the voice-over, will the game also integrate multimedia, like photos and video?

"We plan to build out community aspects like leader boards that show who scored the most points, text chat, voice chat, and message boards.  We also want to allow uploading of pictures as part of the quiz game, so maybe people could upload their vacation photos for points, for example.  Currently we're testing photos in the "All at Sea" category — and that's just because a friend of mine is a photographer and had a lot of photos of ships and boats and stuff.  We're working on utilizing photos of foods, showing portion sizes, as part of the health content."

What about a mobile app?

"That would be interesting, certainly.  It's just a matter of developing various protocols for cell phone standards.  That all depends on funding, of course (chuckles)"

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Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.


This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.