Adaptive engagement of older adults’ fitness through gamification

Dennis L. Kappen. 2017. Adaptive engagement of older adults’ fitness through gamification. Oshawa, ON, Canada. University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Online:


Older adults are often not physically active because they lack motivation, time, and/or physical ability. Not only does this impact the life of older adults, but it also affects society as a whole, because the cost of healthcare attached to maintaining the health of older adults is continually rising. This thesis addresses the problem by investigating the disenchantment of older adults with physical activity (PA), reasons for their lack of participation in PA, and contributes motivational affordances for PA. This thesis makes three important contributions to human-computer interaction: a) the development of adaptive engagement guidelines for PA technology for older adults. b) the Exercise Motivation Technology Framework (EMFT) - a framework to aid in the design and development of PA technology for older adults, and c) the Kaleidoscope of Effective Gamification (KEG) - a design and analysis tool for helping designers design and develop gamified apps. These contributions were achieved through a phased investigative approach. The analysis of preliminary studies (Phase 1) resulted in the development of the EMTF for older adults PA technology. A survey study (Phase 2) on the preferences of motivational affordances for PA across different age groups suggested that ‘health pressures’ and ‘ill-health avoidance’ were significant exercise motives for PA in different age groups. Age-differentiated guidelines from Phase 2 were used to develop and evaluate Spirit50 (Phase 3), a gamified technology artifact, specifically developed under my supervision for adults over 50 years of age. Phase 4 was a synchronous, three-condition (gamified, non-gamified, and control groups) experimental study over an eight-week period with a total of 30 participants. Expert evaluation (Phase 5) to review technology facilitation of PA using the Spirit50 app also pointed to the usefulness and the applicability of gamification as a behaviour change technology for delivering PA solutions for older adults. The findings of this thesis contribute to understanding PA motivation among older adults on a granular level from a technology facilitation standpoint using gamification strategies. The EMTF model helped to design PA technology by combining desirability, customization, and motivational affordances for older adults. Finally, this thesis contributes to tailoring and personalizing of adaptive engagement strategies using specific gamification elements like goals supported by challenges, selection of quests based on ability, progressive feedback, and rewards validating performance and efforts as potential ways to deliver age-centric PA technology for older adults.