Max Birk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial Design at Eindhoven University of Technology. With an interdisciplinary background, Max draws from psychology, interaction design, data science, and game design, to investigate the effects of game-based design strategies on mental processes and design-induced behaviour change. His research contributes to games user research, digital health, and motivational interface design. He is interested in projects contributing to a healthy society, improving entertainment experiences, and developing tools and methods for researching interactive experiences.
During his Ph.D. at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, Max investigated avatar customization as a motivational design strategy to increase engagement with technology-enabled services for health. His work received several awards, including the Governor General’s Gold Medal, the Bill Buxton Award, the University of Saskatchewan Doctoral Dissertation Award, the GSA Excellence of the Science Award, and 4 ACM honorable mentions or best paper awards.
Max’ research has been published more than 25 times in international top HCI venues, and he has contributed to research on player experience, individual differences in play, task adherence, crowdsourcing, and on the intersection between video games and mental health. Max has collaborated with game-designers in North America, Europe, and China, and experience working with independent developers like AlienTrap and global tech companies like Tencent.
Investigating Avatar Customization as a Motivational Design Strategy for Improving Engagement with Serious Games
Games for health are a promising solution to improve physical health, mental health, and health education. Unfortunately, the largest barrier for effective interventions is participants’ gradually fading engagement with novel training applications. Engaging users through design presents an elegant solution to the problem; however, research on serious games is primarily focused on the efficacy of novel interventions and not on improving adherence through engaging interaction design. As a result, motivational design strategies to improve engagement—both in the moment of use and over time—are underutilized. Informed by Self-Determination Theory, I have investigated avatar customization as a game-based motivational design with the goal to address fading engagement.
I present experimental results of two studies that provide insights into the role of avatar customization in fostering engagement in the moment of use and overtime. In Study 1, I examine the effect of avatar customization on experience and behaviour in an infinite runner game. In Study 2, I apply avatar customization to investigate the effects of attrition in an intervention context using a breathing exercise over three weeks. My research shows that avatar customization increases motivation over time and in the moment of use, suggesting that avatar customization is a viable strategy to address the engagement barrier that tends to thwart the efficacy of games for health.