Gamifed Thesis

A year-long thesis investigation examined healthy eating of college males in the context of gamification.  The research identified the Freshman 15, with a focus on the importance to improve eating habits for this age group.  Healthy eating within the framework of Gamification offers interaction to encourage college males to develop food choice strategies as well as motivate.  The investigation guides players through moments of potential contact in a fun and interactive way building positive personal eating strategies.


How can an interactive design using gamification mechanics encourage healthy and sustainable daily decisions in college male’s food choices?


1.) How can design of dynamic information in an interactive platform be used with pattern recognition to help college males better understand their personal food environments?

2.) How can an interactive competitive design encourage motivation for positive food behaviors in college males?

3.) How can the design of a feedback loop link personal value systems and food environments to form critical thinking of healthy eating habit?



The Personal Conceptual Food Model (PCFM) represents a framework (Cornell University, 2006) adapted and redesigned. The model breaks down the kind of food decisions an individual makes.  

The PCFM has three main process mechanics: The life course- Life course contains past and current experiences and environments; Influences- Five values that interact with the Personal Food System; and  Personal Food System- a Mental process by which an individual manages to decode influences and experience based on selected personal food values.

The model was adapted to be a circle that houses the personal food system. The outer ring establishes the influences that surround us, in keeping with the original where a person exists outside the system. Visually the model needed to show the life course at the heart of the issue. In addition, the model indicated the dynamics that occur between the personal system and the influences. PCFM currently indicates the interaction between the influences and personal system. The labels of the influences were modified to be less broad than the original to achieve simplicity.


Research methods

Persona research

Meet one of the personas Bryan Snacks his game handler is OPRAHWINDFURY. He is a sophomore at college. Snacks call himself a typical college student. He plans to study engineering with a minor in math. Most of his time is spent at a part-time job as a waiter. Snacks' school scheduled was planned to take  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, classes. This way he can work afternoons on Tuesday and Thursday. He sometimes works nights on other weekdays. He grabs food from the restaurant most nights with his tip money.

*Based on literature the persona was created for my investigations. In addition, my role as a Teacher’s Assistant gives me the opportunity to observe | interview key student behavior, which aided in developing the college male persona. 


Research methods

Card Sorting 

Using the PCFM, a card sorting method was used to determine how food choices are made. Participants studied each value of each category in the model. Each participant gave a list of 30 food items available from North Carolina States Dining Hall menu.

Then each participant was given influences and personal values from the PCFM. Three rounds of card sorting involved two personal values and one influence value at the end of each round we discussed the choices. Through the group dialogue centered on personal strategies when eating on campus.

The card sorting activity gave a deeper insight into the development of the investigations. The feedback from these sessions guided the crafting of moments of potential contact. The process presented a picture as to what tools first-year college students use in planning for healthier meals. From the discussion, I concluded that my investigation could not be a website but a mobile application. The website tool was available for students, but not highly used. The investigations should guide students to understand what is needed to achieve healthy eating habits.




The moments of potential contact revolve around the day in the life of a college male and contact points. The map details intervention points the designs will live.


Day In The Life

A Day in a Life is a study in which I followed personas through a typical day, observing and recording events to build a realistic picture of what actually happens within the context of a given situation. The process may need to be repeated over a wider span of time in order to gather an objective perspective. Mapping a ‘Day in the Life’ helps illustrate graphically how my design studies live in context.


Bryan heads to a local coffee shop where he decides to get some coffee and a bite to eat. Bryan pursues the menu and orders a banana, breakfast wrap, and a latté. He taps his phone to the smart tag at the register that synchronizes his meal. The smart tag is a Bluetooth wireless communication device, which sends all information to any player’s device. Bryan grabs his order and a couple of packs of sugar for his latté. As Bryan finishes his meal then checks his phone to see if the meal was synchronized.

Bryan sees his meals listed in chronological order. He taps the interface and brings up all the information. He sees the latté and remembers he added more sugar. He clicks the latté icon and drags the word sugar over it. He then drags the slider to confirm how much sugar he added.

To help make the rest of the day go better Bryan creates goals. There is an option for beginners, which he selects. The interface displays within the five values where he should be for the rest of the day. The interface then breaks down the values for each of the remaining meals. Bryan grabs his book bag and heads to the library to grab a book and finish so much needed homework.



After finishing some pages of the book, Bryan stops to check the time. He sees that his avatar face has changed. Bryan uses Face Timer to check when his avatar face changed. He wants to make sure that it was from his morning meal and sets the time back. His avatar faces changes immediately as he orders his meal. The face changes again when he added sugar to the latté. He is shocked at how high the hair value went up. Bryan puts his phone away and continues to work on his studies knowing that he will take a break for lunch.

Noon comes around and Bryan starts to pack up. Before he leaves the library, he checks the map to see if he can battle anyone for his first Face-Off. He sees that someone is near the library and he sends a personal invite to the battle. As he leaves the front doors, he sees that the person has accepted the Face-Off challenge. They meet at the designated spot on the map. The challenge and Bryan bump their phones together to start the Face-Off. Bryan know he is in a strong position since he checked 


Bryan arrives at the Student Union, which has other food environments. As he waits in line, he checks the goals he established. Remembering how the latté affected his values he decides to add a salad to his hamburger and avoid fries. He understands by taking this option, the sugar value will decrease and he can be stronger in the Face-Off. Using his student ID to pay for the meal, Bryan is able to capture and synchronize the lunch meal details.

After the meal, Bryan checks the interface to gain a perspective of where he stands relative to his goal. He sees how adding the salad keeps him on track for the rest of the day. Bryan is still curious about how other items affect the values set-up in the interface (location, the size of the meal, sugar, health value, and mood). Before he leaves to go to his first class, he plays Face the Facts. This game displays the quantified values and how they affect the features on the avatar’s face. Every correct answer earns more points as well as additional time.

A correct answer matches the value affects the facial feature the most. If a player does not answer correctly three times or time runs out the game is over. Bryan correctly matches the latté value and its facial feature changes. Bryan plays Face the Facts in an effort to position himself for the Face-Off so he can acquire more flags on the map.



Bryan makes his way to the Dining Hall, but does not want to focus on the technology. He does not want to worry about the phone interaction right at that moment. This is the social time for him and his friends. The guys want to see who can last the longest without touching their devices. They turn on Lights Up, which is a game to test this ability. His buddy Mike and Jim put their phones on the table. Based on the GPS location the food environment name will display on the screen. The GPS also picks up who is playing the game at the table.

If a player pickups or uses the phone they are penalized a light during the game. The player with the lowest amount of lights wins. The meal is over and the allotted time passed. The game is over. Both Jim and Mike picked up their phone to show the group the latest viral video.

Once back at his dorm Bryan checks the Reflective Pool. This interface points out the Dining Hall station Bryan visited. He confirms the food tracked by the interface for his dinner. Dots on the screen inform him how food covered his plate, reflecting the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The screen prompts him to enter the number of helpings. The information is saved and Bryan checks the interface to ascertain whether he made his food choice goal for the day.