Is social gaming the new health and wellness frontier?

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Everyone loves a good game, whether it's the old-fashioned kind using cards or the modern type using computers and the Internet. At least that's what Aetna (NYSE: AET) is betting on as it launches its latest initiative using social media to engage members.

I'm talking about social gaming--games played on and using the infrastructure of a social networking website like Facebook, although some gaming experts think social games in the future will be played at home with "real" friends, on mobile devices with people who are close by, or online through any portal. 

"We have been trying to find new and interesting ways to leverage technology," Dan Brostek, head of member and consumer engagement at Aetna, told FierceHealthPayer. "Social gaming is a cutting edge, very dynamic space."

Aetna is entering the gaming arena with a new partnership with social gaming company Mindbloom, which developed Life Game. Aetna will be offering a version of Life Game, an interactive online site that encourages players to engage in activities and set goals, like planting a tree or drinking more water, that promote more balanced, healthier living, to its members beginning this fall.

The goal is to engage consumers in a "fun, easy, and rewarding" way to help them establish healthy lifestyles and prevent illnesses, Brostek said. "We want to create a multi-channel experience around well-being for all domains, including spiritual, relationship and financial--not just health." For example, people can use Life Game to schedule daily meditation reminders on a mobile phone. "You can get pictures and audio sent to your phone to help you meditate," he added. Life Game users also can create individualized "well-being to-do lists," and the platform will explain why each step is important to the user's health.

Essentially, the game serves up "premium content based on each user's life" to help them meet their health and well-being goals, Brostek said.

It seems that Aetna is arriving at just the right time. Social gaming is estimated to be a $1 billion market in 2011, as 62 million U.S. Internet users, or 27 percent of the online audience, will play at least one game on a social network monthly this year. And social gaming is on track to become a $5 billion industry in the next five years

"People are already playing social games, but they don't think about well-being while they're playing. This is an opportunity to engage people where they already are and move the needle around health and wellness," Brostek said.  

As someone who's always looking for simple ways to integrate healthful habits into my life, I'm intrigued by Aetna's idea of marrying health and wellness to social outlets and gaming. If other people are just as interested, perhaps we'll be seeing a healthier, more balanced public in the near future. - Dina