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Last modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mystery shrouds World Day for Physical Activity at IU Bloomington

April 7, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Dozens of Indiana University students in Bloomington will observe World Day for Physical Activity on Wednesday (April 8) with a 4-mile trek around the scenic campus as they search for a mysterious character.

The students, competitors in the alternate reality game Skeleton Chase 2: The Psychic, for weeks have been learning about nutrition and other health matters as they work with their teammates to solve a mystery as it unfolds via digital spaces and the physical world. On Wednesday, the players will head to the Student Recreational Sports Center to pick up a Global Positioning System that is also a walkie-talkie. A character from the game will speak to them and arrange a rendezvous, but he is on the run, and they will have to try and find him.

Part grant-funded research and part fun, Skeleton Chase 2: The Psychic might also be teaching the students lessons about community -- a local food bank will receive a $5 donation from faculty for each student participating in Wednesday's search.

"Throughout the game we have been communicating with the students regarding health, nutrition, physical activity," said Jeanne Johnston, assistant professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and lead investigator of the high-tech, action-oriented research project. "They have been learning about the benefits of being active and living a healthy lifestyle. This is their chance to apply that knowledge and make a statement to the community that they care."

World Day for Physical Activity is promoted by the American College of Sports Medicine and the Brazilian research and advocacy group Centro de Estudos do Laboratório de Aptidão Física de São Caetano do Sul (CELAFISCS). This year's theme centers on "active neighborhoods building health." Both groups encourage people to accumulate at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week for health.

"One of our goals is to increase the awareness of the walkability of the campus community and make the students more familiar with the campus and the benefits of walking," Johnston said.

Johnston and her research colleagues, Anne Massey, dean's research professor in the Kelley School's Department of Operations & Decision Technologies, and Lee Sheldon, assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Telecommunications, received a $185,000 grant last year from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to explore how an interactive digital game can be designed to improve players' health.

The sequel to last fall's The Skeleton Chase, participants for this semester's game were recruited with the assistance of Campus Recreational Sports, a division of the School of HPER. The latest game, involving around 60 students, consists of a narrative -- including characters played by actors. The story unfolds digitally and throughout the city of Bloomington.

Students work in teams of three to collect clues, solve puzzles and work towards solving the overall mystery for seven weeks. During this time they will be trekking across the campus and surrounding community to obtain clues and also have a goal of accumulating 50,000 steps per week. The players use various forms of technology including GPS geo-caching, the Internet and social network tools, such as Twitter and OnCourse. Winners of the many contests -- puzzle solvers extraordinaire -- and particularly enthusiastic participants all receive recognition and prizes.

After Wednesday's adventure students will enjoy free pizza donated by Butch's, a local restaurant that is also providing gift certificates to several lucky winners.

For more information, contact Johnston at 812-855-5073 and