PopCap And Anne Diamond Versus The Waistlines

By John Walker on November 26th, 2008 at 4:14 pm.

Perhaps eating gem-based fruit is good for you.

Can casual games help you lose weight? That’s the question being asked by the scientific forces of PopCap and Anne Diamond… Oh good lord, isn’t this mentioned in Revelation? PopCap’s latest promotional campaign for their most recent release, Bejeweled Twist, is by far the most peculiar. Teaming up with Diamond’s BuddyPower.net (also called FatHappens.com), we are told a “clinical trial” will take place.

Anne Diamond doesn’t like some videogames. She finds them “sickening“. In fact, she’s so against them that she apparently developed terrifying super powers and began ingesting the boxes into her very being.

She will destroy us all!
Original image from the Daily Mail article

Diamond has previously made her opinions known, explaining to frightened mums how games she’s glanced at are going to turn their children into murderous psychopaths or similar. In fact, a rather odd claim is made in the opening of the press release promoting this endeavour, saying of her “reviewing” violent games, “her damnation was so scathing that it overshadowed The Byron Review.” Er, no it didn’t. It got laughed at for a ridiculous broken photo and being complete nonsense.

But now she’s turning her gaming eye to her most favourite of subjects: how being fat is great and how everyone should try to lose weight. This Glenda-Slaggery is in full effect at her website, Buddy Power, where articles about how there’s nothing wrong with being a biggun are surrounded by adverts for diets, and pieces about how to shed those pounds. I’m so confused! And not least by her latest move, where she’s teaming up with PopCap to conduct what is being called a “clinical trial” to see if playing Bejeweled Twist can improve your waistline.

Under the Mail-ish headline, “Can casual gaming aid weight loss?” (see also: “Will eating cucumbers cure smallpox?”, “Are falling house prices killing your children?” and “Is the Queen on ecstasy?”), the site writes,

“January is when most of us resolve to manage our weight and it can be really hard to stay the course in the winter months. At BuddyPower.net we’re always interested in finding out more about anything that can help our buddies, manage weight. (sic) So when PopCap.co.uk told us they wanted to conduct a clinical trial to find out if casual gaming can aid weight loss, we were intrigued. We are looking for men and women who would like to help us put PopCap.co.uk’s Bejeweled Twist through its paces by participating in a trial led by BuddyPower.net’s very own Nigel Denby.”

I’m intrigued now. Does PopCap’s lacklustre sequel to their match-3 classic contain some secret element that’s eating calories as I sit stationary before it, my index finger lightly clicking on the mouse? Perhaps it will make my muscles twitch every time I clear some gems, like one of those devices on the infomercials where the blobby guy becomes a body builder in a week. What will it be?

“The Bejeweled Twist weightloss test will take place throughout January 2009 and we are looking for dieters whose Achilles heel is beating cravings or grazing between meals. You must have access to a computer at work and at home and be willing to keep a cravings diary for 4 weeks. We will provide the diet plan and a free copy of Bejeweled Twist. So, if you want to help dieters everywhere then email Nigel Denby at nigel@BuddyPower.net for more information and you could be PopCapping the pounds away!”

So each time you get a craving for a Mars Bar, you have a game of Bejeweled Twist instead? Except, you go on a diet at the same time. There’s slightly more clarity on how the game will help from Diamond in the press release.

“The theory is that playing casual games like PopCap.co.uk’s Bejeweled Twist for a few minutes, say at lunchtime, or at a stressful time of day, can provide a simple distraction from food cravings, helping dieters remain focussed, de-stress them and lift their mood – very important features in weight loss… So naturally, I wanted to know more.”

She does add that this doesn’t impact on her opinions of violent games.

“Of course, we are not talking about the kinds of violent games I reviewed earlier in the year, and which caused such a stir in the gaming world. We’re looking at casual videogames. Research suggests that, unlike the violent and adrenalin-fuelled titles I reviewed, certain ‘casual’ games can reduce stress levels, enhance mood, and even reduce depression. What’s more, they could actually help with weight loss – a subject very close to my heart.”

It’s a bold claim that violent games don’t reduce stress levels, enhance mood and reduce depression. I’d be interested to see her data. This all springboards from PopCap’s East Carolina University study that demonstrated links between stress relief and casual gaming. It’s a shame that PopCap, who have previously offered some interesting research into gamers and gaming, have taken this peculiar route. But who knows, let’s wait until we see the data. Whatever the case, choose Anne Diamond isn’t going to help the study be taken seriously by anyone.

There’s no clear request so far for people to take part who don’t go on the diet but play the game, nor those who go on the diet and don’t play the game. Will there be control groups? And how will the game be used to regulate cravings? We’ve contacted BuddyPower’s Nigel Denby for details regarding these issues, but have yet to receive a reply. We’ll let you know as soon as we do.

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16 Comments »

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  1. Optimaximal says:

    Can’t the woman just take a hint and go away?

  2. BC says:

    “Will make any comment for money”

  3. The Hammer says:

    “…caused such a stir in the gaming world.”

    Heh.

  4. Ginger Yellow says:

    I’m so forwarding this to Ben Goldacre.

    “So when PopCap.co.uk told us they wanted to conduct a clinical trial to find out if casual gaming can aid weight loss, we were intrigued”

    This should read: “So when PopCap.co.uk told us they wanted to pay us money to construct a sciencey sounding piece of marketing, we were happy to oblige.”

  5. Premium User Badge

    James G says:

    How will you have a placebo I wonder, then again, I’m tempted to say Peggle is the sugar pill of gaming anyway. I mean you come away smiling, but its hard to actually identify any active game-play ingredients. (Bejewled on the other hand is a bit more substantial)

  6. bengoldacre says:

    i’m slightly moved by the fact that i just sat down to look at my email, and three separate people have sent me this guff already.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Fede says:

    People at PopCap have a strange way to do marketing.

  8. jonfitt says:

    I feel I must explain Anne Diamond to our American readers.
    She’s basically the equivalent of a Good Morning America host who hasn’t had a morning show since 1996-odd.

    Basically, Joan Lunden but orders of magnitude less famous. If she wasn’t talking about games she wouldn’t have made the news.

    What I’d like to see is an Anne Diamond/ Dominic Diamond face-off debate!

    Sorry, for our American readers, Dominic Diamond is too hard to explain.

  9. Ginger Yellow says:

    Clearly there’s a high degree of overlap between the readerships of RPS and Bad Science.

    “She’s basically the equivalent of a Good Morning America host who hasn’t had a morning show since 1996-odd.

    Basically, Joan Lunden but orders of magnitude less famous.”

    Maybe so, but I did have a bizarre crush on her when I was very young. The shame!

  10. Iain "DDude" Dawson says:

    I think John, that all of us in ignroance were having a hard time watching our weight and going to the gym, and as a result you want to ignore this glorious new discovery with talk of “control groups”…

    This is the future!

  11. Scundoo says:

    Who is that old bag and why should anyone care?
    But i guess this article is for the.. 5 brits that pay attention to this kind of nonsense?

    p.s. yeah, i think someone answered my first question above, but I still don’t see why we should care.

  12. The right to arm bears says:

    Like James G above, I find it somewhat questionable that the results of said study will have any scientific merit. The sensation of “food cravings” (hunger?) are a rather subjective outcome measurement, and when you have a subjective outcome measurement you absolutely must have your study be well-controlled, randomized, etc. I suppose it deserves its fair shot, and one would have to see the study to be certain, but I would guess that this study is pants. Did I say that right, UK types? ;)

  13. Brian says:

    I didn’t find the new Bejeweled to be inferior to the preceding titles. I had to wrap my head around the new gameplay but it’s starting to come naturally now. The graphical presentation is quite excellent and I was surprised to see it support 1920 x 1200 resolution. Best of all, the music (by Peter Hajba aka Skaven, and Phillipe Charon) is mindbogglingly phenomenal.

    And oh yeah, the topic. I dunno who this Diamond broad is but she sucks.

  14. Bobsy says:

    “Irrelavent commentator makes irrelavent comments on hotbutton scapegoat topic”

    Or:

    “Diamond wails on fat kids”

  15. Richard says:

    Much as I like PopCap’s games, I can’t help but hope – at least a little – that their pet scorpion turns right back on them after getting addicted to Peggle or something.

  16. A Delicate Balance says:

    This is the first I’ve heard of Diamond (never heard of her when I lived in the UK and managed to miss her apparent recent rantings by living in Canada).

    However she clearly uses the same polarised attitude towards things she does not understand as people like George W Bush or the old woman who came into the computer store I worked at in Somerset – she took one look at a Voodoo 5 box on a top shelf with a flaming CG face and started ranting about how games were evil and how that box art proved it.

    “Sure, ma’am, that box art kills children. Can I help you with anything else?”

    People like these exist in our reality, but don’t seem to be interpreting that reality in what we would describe as rational way. Those same people would probably be the first to call us loonies (we who appreciate a fine game – or other artifice – for what it is, it’s merits and faults, violent, sexual, provocative or otherwise).

    They’re the kind of people who think they know what they’re talking about, not merely without having experienced it for themselves, but without even having seriously researched the topic, yet still feel they have a birthright to spout their mouths off.

    You might claim I’m doing that right now – sure I’m spouting my mouth off – but I do feel I know games fairly well, they have formed a significant part of the influences that have shaped my life and I don’t get called a psychopath too frequently. In fact the reason I am “spouting my mouth off” is because games have given me much and led me to be passionate about the artform.

    For all that there may be studies done on Bejewelled and losing weight, I don’t need any studies further than my own senses to tell me that games have improved my life.

    When I have felt isolated or depressed (losing weight isn’t my issue), great games, like other great art have given me a place of strength. I’m an atheist, so I don’t believe in the power of God to save, but I do believe in the power of inspirational fiction and understanding the human condition through art. I have gained comfort, a sense of reduced isolation, like-mindedness, amusement, entertainment, mental stiumlation, stress relief and spiritual meaning from reading Iain M. Banks novels, watching A Scanner Darkly or listening to Feist, but the same could be said of Deus Ex, Max Payne, Sim City, Civ IV, Eve Online, Counterstrike, Left 4 Dead and many, many other titles.

    Games have taught me to think in ways I would never have done otherwise – creative problem solving, teamwork, quick reactions, precision, attentiveness. None of those benefits specifically comes from casual gaming, of which I have done a little; Bejewelled, Peggle, Flash games and a variety of other enjoyable, but fairly forgettable experiences.

    What irks me is the insinuation in some quarters, as seems to be demonstrated by the idea behind this unholy gaming alliance, that “casual” games are completely acceptable, while “violent” games are the produce of the Hadesoft Inc’s 9th Level Studios.

    So we’re back to black and white thinkers. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it much more of a multicoloured spectrum of possibilities than a binary choice, I’ve “casually” played “violent” games for hundreds of hours, providing some of the most memorable moments, not just in my videogaming travels, but in life itself.

    These are, I reiterate, some of the very same positive developmental and theraputic influences which, had I been denied could have led me down a much darker path in life.

    To conclude, I join the rest of you in laughing heartily at the idea of a genuinely useful, objective clinical trial under these circumstances and I regret that we have not reached the point where games take their rightful place in culture and society alongside other great works of the human mind.