Using Xbox Live to Encourage Good Health

Microsoft’s Xbox Live Avatars may soon reflect weight, health, religious beliefs and more

December 19, 2009 – Microsoft has filed a patent application for an Avatar generator that “reflects a physical characteristic of the user.” The patent application, filed in Spokane, Washington is a strong indicator that Microsoft is looking to create health-based incentives for users of its Xbox 360 consoles as well as foster a social networking environment on its Xbox Live service.

The full patent application states that, “physical data that reflect a degree of health of the real person can be linked to rewards of capabilities of a gaming avatar, an amount of time budgeted to play, or a visible indication. Thereby, people are encouraged to exercise.” This indicates that Microsoft will essentially offer gamers and all users of the Xbox 360 system the ability to have an Avatar that reflects their physical health, which would be accomplished via “third party health data collection repository, a healthcare smart card, a real-time physiological sensor (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose, peak flow, pedometer, etc.) to make such disclosure more convenient and verifiable.” The data collected would then be reflected in the appearance of your Avatar.

The patent application includes a statement that says that video games have become a popular mode of entertainment but promote a sedentary lifestyle. It claims that the Avatar program would enable people to set goals and encourage them to achieve them. For instance, the patent application states that for health reasons your play time could be limited each day, and remaining in good health would be rewarded with unlockable hours and games. In addition, the patent application indicates that Microsoft’s Avatar system would also be to collect information regarding “allergies, chronic conditions, etc.” to “assist in finding those would understand someone with a like condition.”

Furthermore, Microsoft could compile psychological traits and have them reflected in the Avatars. Examples given in the patent application include intelligence, religious beliefs, political affiliations, and hobbies. The patent application divulges that “providing such candid physical characteristics can be rewarded by gaining access to social virtual environments wherein such disclosure is required.” Microsoft’s patent application also states that “a game competition could enforce that only requisite health levels are allowed to compete in a certain competition level.”

The Avatar patent being filed appears to be an attempt not only to help individuals live healthy lives, but to encourage them with rewards and also to forge a social network.

While Microsoft’s Xbox Live service has million of users worldwide, most users don’t interact with their friends on Xbox Live other than through playing games together. Microsoft’s patent opens the door for interactive areas where people can interact and find bonds based upon the characteristics they share.

While it is unclear whether the Avatar program is in development at Microsoft, it raises the intriguing question of how interactive games and Avatars can be. It also indicates that Microsoft may be using Xbox Live to begin creating a vast social network connecting people based upon many different factors in an environment where their Avatars provide an amount of personal privacy.

Source: US Patent & Trademark Office