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Doki Doki Dash:

Gaming Your Way to a Stronger, Fitter You

Cindy Wong
Interactive Telecommunications Program
Tisch School of the Arts
New York University

Abstract social play, and an imaginary world set

around a user’s real-world environment.
Doki Doki Dash is a conceptual mobile fitness
app that uses a mystery game to get players The study of persuasion technology and
outdoors, solving crime and getting fit. In the fitness activity routines is a large field
game, players become detectives in accepting populated with researchers studying
crime cases, gathering clues and hunting motivational behavior and user participation.
criminals. Doki Doki Dash’s storyline is However, this paper will survey the field of
propelled by the player’s physical movements exercise gaming, highlight the user experience
– as the players get more active in movement, challenges faced in current fitness
the more the game rewards them by applications, and how that feedback resulted
propelling them down the mystery trail – and in the creation of Doki Doki Dash.
further into the interactive game.
Doki Doki Dash attempts to provide a gaming
interface for personal fitness that rewards
The field of mobile health is exploding with
players for their curiosity and also takes
new devices and applications geared to
advantage of a player’s neighborhood space.
monitoring people’s physical activity. From a
As a proposed mobile application, it would
technology standpoint, there are many devices
utilize smartphone’s sensors to trigger events
and programs geared toward the aspiring
based on the player’s physical activity and
fitness buff. But, what about other users who
location status. Doki Doki Dash proposes
don’t fit that profile? How do we get the non-
using an interactive game narrative to mask
exercisers involved?
exertion for users. The result is a fitness game
application that centers arounds exploration,

From that social perspective, researchers are American adults lead inactive lifestyles. The
studying how persuasion technology may American Heart Association recommends
impact people’s attitudes and instill an active that people do 20 minutes of moderate cardio
lifestyle. Health promotion programs exercise, three days a week to maintain health
designed to increase physical activities have and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
placed a significant emphasis on techniques to However, most people fall short; 34% of adults
maximize a person’s motivation to become are obese. They lead sedentary jobs, do not
active1. However, the research attention has have regular physical activity programs, and
focused on educational concepts are generally inactive around the house4 .
(informational) versus the emotional
compulsion (enjoyability) to desire exercise. A One solution to enrich the exercise experience
few researchers have argued that the “major is gaming. People like to game. Games follow
reason for the very limited success of physical us everywhere from our laptops to our
activity interventions is that they failed to commutes to our work and back.   According
consider the experiential aspects”2 . to a study by the Pew Trust Center, one in four
Americans have downloaded a mobile app5.
In other words, exercise is not viewed as an Out of those figures, 60% of them
enjoyable activity for a majority of the downloaded games. Games are compelling
population. Despite the fact that people are because they are goal-oriented and
informed of the positive benefits that are entertaining in a way that exercise is not.
derived from physical activity, most people According to game designer Jane MacGonigal,
see it as an unpleasant, off-putting chore. games relieve a gamer’s craving for challenges
Social researcher, Steve Amiereault, noted a that can be overcome, battles that can be won,
behavioral gap between what people often and dangers that can vanquished.6
stated versus what they did in regards to Exertion game researcher, Floyd Mueller, has
exercise.The health statistics show the provided a framework to discuss the -physical
quandary in that intentions do not merit challenges posed on these exercise games.
behavior3 . Approximately 25% to 35% of

1Amireault, S., Godin, G., Vohl, M.C., Perusse, L.: Moderators of the intention-behaviour and perceived behavioural
control-behaviour relationships for leisure-time physical activity. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act. 5, 7 (2008). http://
2Dishman, R.K., Motl, R.W., Saunders, R., Felton, G., Ward, D.S., Dowda, M., Pate, R.R.: Enjoyment mediates effects
of a school-based physical-activity intervention. Med. Sci.
Sports Exerc. 37, 478–487 (2005).
3Amireault, S., Godin, G., Vohl, M.C., Perusse, L.: Moderators of the intention-behaviour and perceived behavioural
control-behaviour relationships for leisure-time physical activity. Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act. 5, 7 (2008). http://
4 American Heart Association Recommended Exercise. Livestrong. March 2011.
5Purcell, Kristen. Entner, Roger. Henderson, Nichole.
The Rise of Apps Culture. Pew Research Center. September 4, 2010.
6Mcgonigal, Jane. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Penguin
Press: New York. 2011.

The premise of my thesis centers around the
idea that in order to promote fitness, you have The field of mobile fitness apps and exercise
to make it fun. So, why not turn fitness into a games has risen dramatically in the last four
game that rewards real-world physical years. To better understand the mechanics
activity? Think, Where in the World is Carmen behind these popular tools, I studied what is
San Diego but instead of hunting criminals currently on the market. Fitness apps are
virtually, your detective skills pay off by highly effective for the informational data
pounding the pavement, literally. they provide but don’t provide a fun,
Doki Doki Dash will draw on facets of social experiential environment for added user
persuasion technology, heuristic play, and motivation. Exercise games are limited to
scale to a player’s ability. their indoor environments or are often
marketed to young children which limits their
Motivation scope. By outlining these various projects’
successes and drawbacks, this will help
The purpose of my thesis is to make exercise demonstrate the niche that Doki Doki Dash
more enjoyable for the non-fit by bringing makes for itself.
gaming outdoors. In order to make fitness
effective, make it fun for players. So, why not Case Example: Mobile Fitness Apps
turn fitness into a game that rewards real-
world physical activity?  The explicit goal of For mobile apps, the most popular fitness
Doki Doki Dash is to get players to nab apps I studied were the Nike+ GPS, Run
criminals. The implicit goal is to get players to Keeper Pro, and Couch to 5k. They all share
be physically active. The storyline directs similar features but for the best user
characters to hunt around their neighborhood experience, I’ll cover the Nike+ GPS. It is one
on their running/jogging/walking routes. It of the best known iPhone running apps7 . It
imbues a solitary activity, like running, with a maps a user’s runs, tracks their progress, and
social component to connect others within updates the user’s performance status on their
the circle of friends or neighborhood. social network of choice (Facebook, Twitter).
Throughout the player’s journey, the game is For social encouragement, users can hear in-
helping them build behaviors and routines game cheer sound effects every time their
that slowly increase their physical fitness. By friend likes or comments on their Nike+ run
combining familiar elements like mysteries status on Facebook. The app provides metrics
(Where in the World is Carmen San Diego) to (average pace, total time, total distance,
fitness apps (Nike+ GPS) to geo-location caloric burn) and offers a data visualization of
(FourSquare), Doki Doki Dash could a user’s run history (a map that details the run
introduce a fitness activity that’s more trail and the intensity of pace). A user can
enjoyable for the exercise-adversed because it choose to set a challenge (beat a previous
is a game rather than an exercise tool. This distance or time record) or do a basic run.
paper will highlight the user experience Nike+ GPS also has a social network website
challenges faced in current applications and where users can meet fellow runners, track
how it resulted in the idea, design, and data, and add friends. A recent update has
interaction experience of Doki Doki Dash. included a gaming element (Nike Tag) where
a user can “tag” a friend with the challenge
Research being to out-run the other’s run record.

7 Nike+ GPS. iTunes. March 2011.

While Nike+ GPS succeeds on many user Wii and the Kinect. Both companies have
experience levels, it is clearly geared toward created popular, casual games that are
runners. The app works as an elegant way to categorized as exer-gaming (Nintendo Wii Fit,
track users’ information but does not offer Microsoft Kinect Sports). These games rely on
much motivation to stick to it aside from data simple exercise routines that people can work
logging and the occasional encouragement out to within a short time frame. They
from an in-audio message. For social primarily focus on a solitary exercise mode.
entertainment, it does allow friends to cheer Some exercises do have a multiplayer
users on via Facebook. However, it is, for the environment so you can play with friends,
most part, a solitary exercise. however, that is not necessarily convenient for
most people’s workout schedules. The game
Case Example: Geo-Location Apps designers have succeeded in creating an
entertaining way to get physical fitness
FourSquare and SCVGR are the latest geo- without feeling a sense of burdensome
location apps that influence user behavior to obligation to do so. However, there are
explore establishments in their cities. Both drawbacks in the exercise games since they
apps foster ambient awareness of the people are limited to an in-door environment, the
around an urban environment and passively game world is limited and doesn’t scale in
monitoring it. FourSquare is recognized as network size.
creating the environment that established the
user behavior of checking into location, Case Example: Spatial Games
notifying users of friends in the vicinity, and
rewarding badges for regulars who frequently For large-scale, outdoor games that encourage
returned to check in8 . SCVGR builds on the physical exercise, I looked at Nike’s The Grid
FourSquare model by encouraging users to do and Jane McGonigal’s game, CryptoZoo. Both
scavenger hunts around a list of locations to games existed only in a set time range (with a
earn game badges and unlock prizes9. start and end date) and had an appealing
Motivation-wise, FourSquare’s design public spectacle element. However, the level of
(leaderboard scoring, friend progress) tethers player engagement and collaboration differed.
users to keep playing with its built-in game- While Nike’s The Grid was geared toward
like features. Motivation-wise, SCVGR was an competition and fitness-lovers, Jane
interesting case study to examine whether McGonigal’s CryptoZoo was not. In October
player-submitted scavenger hunts and 2010, Nike debuted its large-scale running
challenges inspire action for other players to game, The Grid10. The game took place over
participate. several days included hundreds of registered
online players. It was a large-scale “King of
the Hill” style game where participants signed
Case Example: Console Games up online to play within London. Runners
would claim certain territory by running from
Nintendo and Microsoft have sold millions of destination to destination, calling into various
their motion-triggered console systems, the Nike-themed telephone booths to claim a

8 CrunchBase: FourSquare. March 2011.

9 SCVGR. March 2011.
10 The Grid: Run Your City. March 2011.

neighborhood. The more runs they made, the user tester was in regards to fitness aptitude
more points a player earned that would be and gaming interests. Questions included:
displayed on a website leader board. Game “How often do you play games?” to “What
badges were also awarded to players who would you consider your exercise routine?” to
demonstrated speed, stamina, and insider “If you want to improve your fitness level,
knowledge of their neighborhood streets. what would help?”.

Jane McGonigal’s CryptoZoo game was a For the two rounds of game testing, I did
collaboration with the American Heart some initial brainstorming about essential
Association and the Future Institute of Play game metrics: Are there tasks that feel fun,
that debuted in June 200911 . The game spark your interest, and make you want to
encouraged players, solo or in teams, to keep playing to see the game progress? Do the
research the game’s story creatures, read their goals change per challenge? What are the
behavioral patterns, and follow a trail of game measurements of success?
creatures’ footprints in 1-mile journeys over
urban environments. Through this scavenger- For the initial game test, I wanted to see
like game, players would be obliged to treat whether audio feedback influence player’s
their urban environments as an obstacles actions. Did assigning mid-run audio
course, getting physical active. commands or comments incite players to keep
Both games relied on tremendous game setup, up with the run? The audio test included an
a large scale of players to feel a sense of in-game character who introduced themselves
solidarity, and organization. to the player nad made announcements
throughout the run from positive
CryptoZoo failed to capture player’s encouragements to issuing speed commands
imagination because of its multiple rules to to the player. The audio test used an MP3 file
play the game and demands on users with its that had a musical soundtrack layered with
in-game tasks. The gaming mechanism wasn’t audio sound effects triggered by time intervals
compelling to keep players playing beyond a (30 seconds, 1-minute mark, 2-minute mark).
day. The audio sound effects also included game
sound effects to indicate speed intensity and
performance achievement.
Project Methodology The three participants in the practice run were
three guys in their mid 20s to early 30s. All
User Research three were in fit shape, into casual gaming,
and did use mobile fitness apps like the Nike+
For user research, I collected surveys, tested GPS. From their feedback, I learned that the
mock-ups with selected participants, and initial test was intriguing to testers because it
captured feedback from users involved in test helped relieve the tedium of running and
mock-ups. First, I gathered information from made the run feel spontaneous and
people to learn more about motivational challenging. One tester commented, “Paying
behaviors regarding exercise and gaming and attention to game/surroundings did make
what played an influence on physical time go faster. Surprised by my [running]
performance. I created an initial question performance.”
survey that gave me a spectrum in where a

11 CryptoZoo. March 2011.

For the second game test, I wanted to present arcade games to mobile games. They are
a visual mock-up of a mobile game interface. motivated by game mechanics to have fun.
If given a choice of exercise decisions (say, to They want the freedom to be social in their
walk or run) , which would a player choose gaming or to work out solo.
and how would that impact their in-game They are the types who either:
progress? Would seeing how their decisions
influence their game progress make them act A) Don’t regularly exercise because they
differently? If seeing an in-game character consider it boring and don’t like the social
that was asking for help, would a player atmosphere of gyms and fitness classes.
voluntarily choose to aid them by performing
bonus tasks? For the game mockup, I created B) Exercise regularly but want something
an interactive Keynote presentation that used different from usual workout and desire a
an iPhone interface. I interviewed four people; change of pace.
the participants were in mid 20s to early 30s,
two guys and two girls. Some regularly Exertion Game Framework
exercised, whereas some did not. Some were
casual gamers whereas others were hardcore For guiding the design development of Doki
gamers. Doki Dash, I was heavily influenced by the
works of Floyd Mueller and his framework of
From there, I drafted initial game design goals user experiences when it comes to building an
that were inspired after game testing and exercise game13.
reading Greg Trefry’s book12 .
Three key indicators, as described by Mueller
• Rules and goals must be clear. and prescribed below, were what I kept in
• Players need to be able to quickly reach mind as I developed the game.
• Casual game play adapts to a player’s life • Awareness of Exertion: Masking the
and schedule. exertion goals with the game interaction to
• Game concepts borrow familiar content and better pace the user in the exercises. This
themes from life. will help prevent burnout and overuse.
• Exertion indicators: Often provoked when a
A pattern emerged from this game test that user thinks, “How long can I keep up?”.How
helped me hone my user personas. Distinct explicit should exercise commands be to
gamer personalities emerged with the mobile keep players acting accordingly (“jog for 5
app mockup. Players who recognized an in- miles/per hour” vs “jog”) versus leaving the
game achievement and status leveling up commands for the players to interpret
immediately went for harder exercise choices. according to their own capabilities.
• Understanding Exertion: How to provide
Target Users the exertion information to give more
feedback or encouragement in the game?
My target users are people who like gaming,
whether it was from playing board games to Game Overview

12Trefry, Gregory. Casual Game Design: Designing Play for the Gamer in ALL of Us. Morgan Kauffman: Amsterdam.
13 Mueller, Floyd. November, 2008.

Figure 1. Player exercise level choice. Figure 2. Motion activity screen.

more advanced as the player progresses in

Doki Doki Dash is designed to accomplish two fitness and game levels. Occasionally, players
main user experiences for players. can set their action pace [Figure 1] or make
1) Make exercise feel approachable, realistic, decisions in the game (interviewing crime
and doable in small steps. witnesses in the game, searching crime scene).
2) Adaptable to player’s performance. Have They can play their music to accompany their
the game grow in challenges as your workout within the game[Figure 2]. Positive
performance improved. reinforcements are built in as game incentives
to keep players loyal and recognize their
The game is intended to be played casually in accomplishments. Motivating a player’s
set amounts of time that encourage a regular exercise behavior will keep them incentivized
routine (20 minutes a time) and that assigned to play more. The more the player plays, the
cases can easily be accomplished for the better the player becomes is the general
beginner exerciser and gradually become practice.

Figure 3. Training case mode. Figure 4. Pulse rate scan.

opportunities to tackle a case together

Doki Doki Dash utilizes several tools to help [Figure 7].
players around the game:
• Audio commands: In-game feedback that Basic Walkthrough & Game Mechanics
cue based on a player’s physical fitness and
location. The game premise is simple. The player find
• Map interface: Shows players where they themselves situated in a detective agency.
are, where their next destinations are, and The boss character tells the player a crime has
where criminals or other in-game characters occurred and the criminal is on the loose. The
may be lurking. criminal’s information is shown (name,
• Social alerts: Players get ambient feedback mugshot). The boss character requests the
in push notifications that let them know if player’s help in apprehending the criminal.
other players in their network are near and They are prompted to fill in a name.
occasionally get alerts for collaborative

Figure 5. Player in-game decisions: Figure 6. Player Profile.
interviewing in-game characters.

Fitness Calibration The fingerprint scan is really just a clever,

subversive way to check a player’s heart rate.
The first step in the game is to see how fit a The iPhone’s camera flash can be pulsed to
player is and calibrate their difficulty level check a player’s pulse [Figure 4].
accordingly. That way, the game can cater to a Doki Doki Dash can then measure a player’s
beginner exerciser or an athletic exerciser. workout intensity along with a fixed metrics
As a first-time user, Doki Doki Dash will ask like time and distance. This is really helpful to
to test a player’s workout skill. It gives a gauge a player’s performance so as it goes up,
training case where players chase after a so does the difficulty of the challenges.
character [Figure 3]. After the player runs as
fast as possible in the training time period, After the initial training mode, the player is
they are assessed. The game asks for players to assigned a criminal case and given specific in-
check in with a fingerprint scan as game tasks that ask them to travel (at different
identification proof. pace intervals) en route to locations that can

be imaginary (rooted only in the game) or real
venues in your neighborhood. Along the
game trail, the player may find clues to the
crime, interview witnesses at crime scenes
[Figure 5], and hunt down the criminal if
nearby. These in-game events are also built-in
methods to get players to take a breath and
rest for a bit, preventing workout burnout and
giving the game a rhythm and pace. After a
player has apprehended their first criminal,
they are then allowed to see their in-game
accomplishments, ranking, and progress
[Figure 6]. As one case is closed, another is
opened and players can advance from being a
rookie detective to the top rank of chief

Social Play

Doki Doki Dash gives players opportunities to

collaborate to fight crime. Occasionally, there
are cases that require multiplayer support so
players can add friends to join them on cases.
Here’s where geo-location is key for
multiplayer play. Players can live in the same
neighborhood. If the game can judge their
home location, it can judge a midway location
for multiple players to assemble for game
tasks in the area.
Figure 7. Multiplayer case.
Game Reward (The Payoff)

Doki Doki Dash rewards players by providing • Meaning: Chance to be part of a larger
them 3 intrinsic rewards as influenced by experience and contribute to the player
McGonigal’s work: community.

• Satisfactory Work: The ability to be User Interface & Visual Design

immersed in tasks that demand player
activity and the direct impact of our actions. The user experience for Doki Doki Dash had
• Successful Experience: Imbue players with to be simple, straightforward, and easy to pick
optimism to succeed, aspire, and self- up for a casual gamer on a touch-screen
improvement. smartphone. The game is built on simple
• Social Connection: Share a common decision trees that ask users to accept tasks or
experience with a community of involved make an A/B decision. The more intuitive the
players game play, the less barriers to have players go
explore the game.

The visual design played a critical part in the testing, I’d like to give special
creation of Doki Doki Dash. The game is acknowledgements to David Phillips,
intended to look friendly, inviting, and Sebastian Buys, Dave Miller, Keng-Fu Chu,
whimsical. Game characters were built to have and Floyd Mueller for their helpful feedback
distinctive, colorful looks paired with silly, during the thesis game testing process.
nonsensical names that gave them a
memorable personality.


Initially, Doki Doki Dash was to be built in

Corona, a mobile app-building program.
However, technical limitations and time
constraints prevented me from being able to
build a fully realized version of the game.
Instead, I chose to focus more building Doki
Doki Dash’s game experience and prototyping
it in Keynote to give users a simple proof-of-
concept. If my efforts succeed early, I will than
focus on producing a simple version in
Corona as an early working concept.


My primary goal for Doki Doki Dash was to

create a compelling reason to go workout
from a gamer’s perspective. By utilizing a
crime game, role-playing as a detective, and
geo-location triggers, Doki Doki Dash is a
mashup of familiar genres to make the game
play feel more familiar to new players. If
players can get in shape while enjoying Doki
Doki Dash, I’d consider my thesis a win-win.
It’s a game that offers a compelling reason to
get someone off their couch and explore their
neighborhood in an active way – especially for
people new to regular workouts.


Many thanks to professors, game designers,

game testers, and fellow classmates for
providing me feedback during my thesis.
Special thanks go to ITP faculty and alum that
include Shawn Van Every, Greg Trefry, Adam
Simon and Michael Dory. For feedback and