Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of South Carolina Research Foundation will explore how video games can motivate healthy behavior through grants provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The New Jersey-based non-profit awarded grants totaling some $2 million to 12 teams. The grants can be worth as much as $200,000.

The UNC-CH School of Public Health team will investigate how games can motivate players ages 18 to 35 to expend energy.

“The study will compare physiological measures of energy expenditure while people play traditional video games (those that involve pushing buttons on a standard game controller or on a Wii motion-sensing controller) versus active video games (those that require physical movement, using inputs such as a dance pad, balance board or guitar),” the foundation said in a statement.

“It also will explore players’ sense of being present in the game and their intrinsic motivation to play, two factors that are known to increase the amount of time people will spend playing a game. This is the first time that research will identify impacts of these factors on players’ energy expenditure; study results may lead to recommendations for making traditional games more active and active games more compelling.”

At USC inn Columbia, S.C., researchers will explore how video games can help people who have suffered strokes can recover motor skills.

“The study will compare the effects of two video game systems (Wii and EyeToy) on players’ mobility, balance and fear of falling,” the foundation said.

Teams in California, Florida, Indiana, Maine, New York, Vermont and Washington also won grants.

The Johnson foundation is working with Health Games Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to coordinate the initiative and is providing $8.25 million in funding.

“Health Games Research gives us a tremendous opportunity to advance the field,” said Debra Lieberman, director of the program. “Previous studies and clinical trials have shown that well-designed interactive games can significantly improve players’ health-related knowledge, skills, behaviors and outcomes. The 12 new studies will give us deeper insights into how and why certain game designs are compelling, fun and effective, and for which types of people. This work will yield a broad spectrum of validated game design principles that game designers will be able to use to enhance the effectiveness of future health games and game technologies.”