Nondigital board games are being used to engage players and impact outcomes in health and medicine across diverse populations and contexts. This systematic review and meta-analysis describes and summarizes their impact based on randomized and nonrandomized controlled trials.
An electronic search resulted in a review of n=21 eligible studies. Sample sizes ranged from n=17 to n=3110 (n=6554 total participants). A majority of the board game interventions focused on education to increase health-related knowledge and behaviors (76%, n=16). Outcomes evaluated included self-efficacy, attitudes/beliefs, biological health indicators, social functioning, anxiety, and executive functioning, in addition to knowledge and behaviors. Using the Cochrane Collaboration tool for assessing bias, most studies (52%, n=11) had an unclear risk of bias (33% [n=7] had a high risk and 14% [n=3] had a low risk). Statistical tests of publication bias were not significant.
A random-effects meta-analysis showed a large average effect of board games on health-related knowledge (d*=0.82, 95% confidence interval; CI [0.15-1.48]), a small-to-moderate effect on behaviors (d*=0.33, 95% CI [0.16-0.51]), and a small-to-moderate effect on biological health indicators (d*=0.37, 95% CI [0.21-0.52]).
The findings contribute to the literature on games and gamified approaches in healthcare. Future research efforts should aim for more consistent high scientific standards in their evaluation protocols and reporting methodologies to provide a stronger evidence base.
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