Gamification of Physical Activity with Dr. Dennis Kappen | Episode 083

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Dr. Dennis L. Kappen, Professor at the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology, Humber College, Toronto, Canada, is a leading expert in UX design, human interaction design, industrial design, ergonomics and human factors, with more than 25 years experience in the field. His recent doctorate (2017) in Computer Science from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Canada, focused on assistive technology, older adults and the use of gameful technology. His Ph.D. dissertation “Adaptive Engagement of Older Adults through Gamification” was in the research and design of assistive technologies utilizing gamification strategies, facilitating physical activity among older adults’ through motivational affordances and gameful technology. Dr. Kappen’s gamification framework called the “Kaleidoscope of Effective Gamification” (2013) has been well-received by academia and researchers as a tool providing a step-by-step methodology for designing gamification applications.

Dennis wears many hats, he is a professor, researcher and consultant! He has about 40 students in his capstone class. As a full-time professor he teaches almost five hours per day, four days per week. He also meets with students, faculty members, research and consulting projects and is always catching up with writing and social media! We also had a quick chat on “digital hygiene.”

He is convinced of the importance of failure to achieve success. His favorite fail (or first attempt in learning) would be when he was in his initial design for older adults (while being supervised in his Ph.D. studies by Lennart Nacke). Towards the second year, after a few focus sessions, after talking to physical trainers and having a wireframe for an app, they realized they couldn’t adapt to the variability of their customers. This includes age-related challenges like physical impairments, cognitive decline, balance issues and acceptance of technology added to the typical personality and motivational differences. There could not be a one-size-fits-all solution, the app couldn’t adapt to this, they realized that they had only scratched the surface. Luckily it was early on and they were able to get back to the drawing board and come up with a solution that had long and short term goals, accounted for barriers for engagement (many age-related challenges) and built a knowledge-based system with 1,200+ related exercises customized to individuals using the apps. We can realize that failure is not final, it is not failure and we can use it to make our designs a lot better.

Physical activity is important for everyone but not many of us jump out of bed looking for it. For many, it is actually a chore. The challenge he solved using gamification was precisely related to this need of physical activity for older adults. What he found during his Ph.D. studies was the exercise and motivation technology framework, a tool that combined desirability or motivation, customization and the affordances of gamification elements to engage the users, for them not to feel that it is a chore. Even each micro-step towards the right direction can be a great step towards reaching the goals.

Dennis’ gamification process started with his Ph.D., using his consulting and design background. He built a Kaleidoscope of Effective Gamification, which starts with identifying the intrinsic motivation of the target players. The next layer is to design the game experience, using the motivation from the previous layer to leverage the motivation into an experience. Then is the game process layer, the game elements and gameplay for the experience. Finally he reminds us to include fun, playfulness, to keep people coming back. It is his most used checklist and toolbox. We can find the full paper of the Kaleidoscope of Effective Gamification here. Also the Adaptive Engagement of Older Adult’s Fitness through Gamification (his Ph.D. thesis) and on page 239 of it is the Exercise Motivation Technology Framework.

A best practice for him would be understanding the needs, wants and motivation of possible players . He considers just slapping PBL (without understaning your players first) into a project should be a gamification crime!

His favorite game would be the Zelda series. He would like to listen to Dr. Elisa Mekler and Dr. Rita Orji along with all the fantastic previous guests! He would like to recommend Drive by Daniel Pink and Designing for Behavior Change by Stephen Wendel. The superpower of Dennis would be the mix of his experience in design consulting and research, that though not exclusive is certainly very powerful!

The random question this time is related to where to look for inspiration in gamification… Listen to the answer on the episode!

We can find Dennis on Twitter as both @3d_ideation; @gamefulplayx, Instagram @3d_ideation and on his websites and!


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