Saturday, January 24, 2015

Motivational Boosts to Fitness Behavior Modification

In this article, game designer Sande Chen discusses the use of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in fitness apps.

As I mentioned previously in the article, Fitness Behavior Modification, January is the month for fitness goals, weight loss goals, and other behavior modification goals (e.g. smoking cessation).  Numerous smartphone tools, trackers, and devices such as FitBit exist to help people succeed.  Has technology helped boost motivation to change behaviors? 

In a 2014 study of approximately 1900 volunteers around the world, researchers at Imperial College London wrote that there was a "significant although modest" reduction in BMI of those dieters who used social media and smartphone apps compared to those who didn't use technology.  Another study at Arizona State University's School of Nutrition and Health Promotion noted that those who used smartphone calorie trackers were more likely to continue tracking food intake than those who used pencil and paper.

To me, it seems like the technological leap in the Arizona State University study seems to be more about convenience.  I have tried both calorie tracking methods -- smartphone and the more traditional pencil & paper -- and I can state that it is somewhat of a chore to accurately track calories.  I never bothered to weigh my food with a food scale and if I couldn't find the exact information I needed, I would put down whatever was approximate.  A smartphone app made it easier for me to track calories, but I confess that even with the app,  I stopped after a month or two.  This experience of mine isn't unique.  People often take to New Year's resolutions with eagerness, only to fall back into old habits by March. 

Still, a monitor or tracker would seem to point to intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation. The information gained from the data tracking compels the individual to get better numbers and do better.  Intrinsic motivation is about a person's internal desire to engage in the activity without the fear of a negative event or the promise of a reward. Intrinsic motivation arises from within an individual whereas extrinsic motivation is from an outside source.

While I do not know the apps specified in the Imperial College London study, the researchers reasoned that the community forums provided support, advice, and approval to the dieters who used them.  While peer approval would appear to be an extrinsic motivator, it has been seen in research that praise in certain situations can improve intrinsic motivation.  Excessive praise for minimal work certainly does erode intrinsic motivation but if the praise isn't evaluative like "Great job!" and more a subjective expression of appreciation than a reward, then praise can lead to a boost in intrinsic motivation.

Let's take a look at other fitness apps: Here's the carrot or stick approach.
  • Nexercise allows users to earn discounts and gift cards in a gamified environment of XP points, leveling and badges.  
  • FIT ACC punishes users who fail to work out regularly with a monetary fine. 
Competition can be considered an extrinsic motivator, even if it's just about bragging rights.:But what about competing against yourself?
  • Cardio Smackdown allows players to compete against friends.
  • Ghost Race allows players to compete against friends but also a player's best time in the form of a "ghost" self.
Many people consider cut scenes in video games to be a story reward. Run and get some story?
  •  Zombies, Run!  is a well-known exergame in which the runner player needs to avoid zombies
  • Superhero Workout helps defenders of the Earth get in shape for the alien invasion.
So what's better, intrinsic or extrinsic motivation?  The danger to extrinsic rewards, as many researchers have observed, is that it tends to diminish performance.  Enthusiasm turns to boredom.  Now it's just work rather than fun.  Extrinsic motivation is useful for repetitive tasks, which I'm not sure if exercise would be considered one.  Extrinsic motivation can get previously uninterested individuals to start the process of behavior modification, but I think for a real life change to happen, intrinsic motivators need to take over.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

5 Years of GDAM

Apologies for the lack of attention last month.  I had some issues with my computers and am now in the process of building a new one.  I am still using mobile devices at the moment, which makes it harder to update.

Before the end of last year, I had in fact wanted to comment on the 5th year anniversary of GDAM blog.and go through some sort of 2014 year-end review.  5 years ago, GDAM started as an unofficial initiative of the IGDA Game Design SIG.  Its target audience was game designers, students, and other professionals in the industry.  I wanted the blog to be a forum for issues that particularly concerned game designers.  I meant it to be a community blog and not so much my blog, but I did take it upon myself to start writing more blog posts when there were lulls in participation.

In the early days, I had a co-editor, Altug Isigan, who helped to review and solicit articles.  Altug provided scholarly attention and added a dimension of critical analysis to the blog.  I also had a pantheon of repeat contributors who enjoyed the topics that were raised by fellow game designers.  The podcasts were very popular but they proved to be too work-intensive for me.  Altug finished his PhD thesis and afterwards, could not help with the blog as he did before.  He is now a professor.

Throughout the years, there have been starts and stops.  At times, I was working in full-time jobs that took me around the world and simply did not have the time.. Still, GDAM became a regular column in the IGDA Perspectives newsletter (which sadly has been discontinued) and I tried to at least keep a monthly schedule down.  At last, I relaxed the condition that all articles had to be on the monthly topic and simply accepted articles as they came, as long as they fulfilled one of the previously suggested topics.

I hope that as readers, you have found some enjoyment and usefulness in hearing the different voices and opinions expressed on this blog.  I sorta like the variety and I hope that I will get more contributions in the New Year.  And if you're a friend of mine, then yes, I will relentlessly bother you for an article :)

Best regards,

Sande Chen

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December 2014: Franchises

Hello and welcome to a new topic for December 2014!

Back when I was running polls for this blog, there was a topic of Sequels that apparently never got voted up.  I struggled with the name of the topic because I don't think it should be strictly about sequels and franchising.  I think it's an interesting problem to try to continue something after it's already been established and self-contained.  Or perhaps people do create the first game with cliffhanger in hand for the sequel...?

With DLC, it seems like there could be a trickling stream of additional content that further expands the story, the world, and the gameplay.  With MMOs, this is a constant endeavor.  Is there ever an ending in sight?  How do we consider the eldergame?

The Opening Hook explored the impact of beginnings.  What is the impact of an ending that may not be the ending?

As always, I take requests about new topics and even encourage people to write in with their topics and questions.  Please take a look at the submission guidelines along with submission procedure on the right hand side of the blog.  Topic suggestions and articles are welcome!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

IGDA Webinar: The Evolution of Videogame Design

In this video, creative producer Patrick Holleman describes how tenets of game design evolved during the three historical ages that he calls the arcade era, the composite era and the set piece era.

Game design Webinars from the IGDA are held on every third Wednesday of the month.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How Wearable Technology Inspires Game Development

In this article, Josephine Tsay considers the gameplay possibilities when the player's own biology is used as an input and how the blending of physical and virtual can lead to a truly personalized gameplay experience.

New devices not only change the way we play, but the way we re-imagine the player experience. What is interesting about the intersection between wearable technology and health games, is that it removes the hardware controller as an input barrier, and puts the agent, or the player, truly at the center of the experience. Because of wearable device technology, player experience is no longer limited to pressing plastic buttons. The player is now directly using his or her biology as one, or many, inputs.

Consider, for example, using one’s own arm as an input controller1. Imagine the player is touching his/her arm to engage in gameplay. What analogies and metaphors can we, as game designers, extend with that interaction? The neural impulses that occur from a player pressing his/her own skin can trigger a very visceral response as compared to the player just tapping on hardware. A new player empathy map2 subsequently emerges, including the potential for new game scenarios. What types of horror games can push this analogy? How does this inform other genres? What is the potential to teach gameplay through this type of input from the start, the way even the menu screen for Megaman3 teaches the shooting mechanic from the get-go?

What wearable technology does for games is to bring this direct type of cause and effect feedback between virtual and physical environments. In gaming, “wearable technology” often evokes variations of next generation head mounted displays of the Oculus Rift/Google Glass variety. Yet, there are examples of various health related devices with the potential for unique immersive experiences and gameplay using the body as an input device, even if the primary purpose of the device was not intended for games. The LUMOback posture sensor4 is better known to be a posture improvement device. In its app, however, there is a stick figure that shifts, in real time, to your body movements. The magic moment there consists of a combination of how you’re moving your body, how the avatar on your phone is responding to it, and then a very physical sensation of the belt vibrating against your lower back depending on the settings. The angle of how one positions his or her body can now be part of the game design consideration set. Now, this particular device was not designed for games, but the potential of this type of interaction can serve as inspiration, at the very least, for innovative gameplay.

The intersection between wearable technology and health games is an interesting one, if mainly because it blends physical and virtual worlds in a way that goes beyond “just for fun.” Phobious “uses your smartphone as a Virtual Reality device to expose you to those situations that you fear, slowly and gradually.” Thync “creates wearable consumer products that use neurosignaling to shift your state of mind.” Such developments open up the gate for games using biofeedback to alter levels, as Nevermind strives to achieve with its “haunting gameplay experience” where “a biofeedback sensor will monitor how scared or stressed you become moment-to-moment.” By using biofeedback and neurosignals, the player experience can be further personalized in a way that’s specific to the individual player. Layer that with player types, and a game can really feel like it’s been especially crafted for you.

Nevermind screenshot
The next few years will be really exciting as wearable technology continues to disrupt and push the potential of games. As wearable controllers go beyond watches and gloves to jackets and arms, from the screen to the screen-less, the player becomes the center of the game experience in a way that continues to stretch the imagination and propels the industry forward.

1 “Skinput turns your arm into a touchscreen”, Lisa Zyga,

2 Empathy Mapping, Stanford Design School,


4 LUMOback Kickstarter page,

Josephine Tsay studied at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center, and U.C. Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. Her work spans across story, games, wearable tech, educational tech, and mobile user experience. She worked at Google for several years and is now currently exploring the intersection of psychology and games.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

November 2014: Wearable Technology

Hello and welcome to a new topic for November 2014:  Wearable Technology.

Remember, I'm always taking requests about new topics and even encourage people to write in with their topics and questions.  Be sure to take a look at the submission guidelines along with submission procedure on the right hand side of the blog.  Topic suggestions and articles are welcome!

This month, I've combined a few requests together regarding Health Games, Input Devices, Mobile Beyond Phones into the topic of Wearable Technology.  While Oculus, Google Glass, and smartwatches are not necessarily about health and fitness, there is a whole host of wearable devices and apps focused on healthcare.  I've seen gamification attempts but would like to see more games in this area.

Some questions to consider:
  • How will these new devices impact game design?  How does the interface change the way we play games?
  • What new trends do you foresee?  Will these new devices be embraced by mainstream audiences?
  • How can the data harvested from wearable technology be used in gameplay and in games?
  • How intrusive would be these games, considering the data collected is about an individual and not a fictional character?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

IGDA Webinar: Kickstarter

In this video, Howard Tsao, Team Lead of Muse Games, describes how Muse Games created successful Kickstarter campaigns to fund Guns of Icarus Online, its multiplayer airship combat game.

Remember to sign up for the next Game Design Webinar November 19 on the evolution of game design. Creative Producer Patrick Holleman presents the history of game design from Dungeons & Dragons to the modern era.