FC07 – A Series of Interesting Choices: Risk, Reward, and Curiosity in Video Games

Lecturer: Max Birk
Fields: Game-Design / Human-Computer Interaction / Psychology


Civilization’s Sid Meier defined video games as a series of interesting choices. Game-design aims to balance risk and reward for each choice made in a game, with the goal to create compelling experiences that draw people in and keep them spellbound. In this course you will create your own game and explore how modifying formal game elements applying psychological theory affects play experience. 

Each session is a combination of a lecture (45min), applied game-design (30 min), and discussion (15 min). Knowledge about digital games is not required!

In session one, we will learn the basics of game-design, prototype a game, and discuss your experiences with the game. 

In session two, we will discuss how risk and reward a represented in games and how risk/reward trade-offs require player to take action and make decisions. You will modify your game to actively explore the effects of risk and reward design on play experience. 

In session three, we will dive into psychological theories of decision making, biases, and how games leverage our expectations to manipulate play experience. In the game-design session we will change the paradigm of play to explore a different approach to manipulate the outcome of decision moments and the resulting experience. 

In session four, we will have a close look into digital games and how they approach risk and reward and apply our knowledge about game-design, risk and reward, and psychological theories. We will break down design decisions to create tension and recreate the different experiences using play cards. 

Conjure your most playful analytical self to face new challenges and learn about how risk and reward are fundamental to game design.


1. Understand and apply the basics of game-design

2. Gain and leverage psychological knowledge on risk/reward mechanism to modify play experiences 

3. Learn about biases and their application in contemporary game-design; apply your knowledge to consciously manipulate experience

4. Synthesize what you learned by deconstructing digital games and reproduce their risk/reward mechanism using play cards


  • Fullerton, T. (2018). Game design workshop: a playcentric approach to creating innovative games. AK Peters/CRC Press.
  • Weber, Elke U., and Eric J. Johnson. “Decisions under uncertainty: Psychological, economic, and neuroeconomic explanations of risk preference.” In Neuroeconomics, pp. 127-144. Academic Press, 2009.
  • Gutwin, Carl, Christianne Rooke, Andy Cockburn, Regan L. Mandryk, and Benjamin Lafreniere. “Peak-end effects on player experience in casual games.” In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI conference on human factors in computing systems, pp. 5608-5619. ACM, 2016.
  • Wuertz, Jason, Max V. Birk, and Scott Bateman. “Healthy Lies: The Effects of Misrepresenting Player Health Data on Experience, Behavior, and Performance.” In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, p. 319. ACM, 2019.


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. 

Max’ research has been published 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. He has organized well-received workshops across the globe and led research projects spanning multiple continents. 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.

Affiliation: Eindhoven University of Technology
Website: https://research.tue.nl/en/persons/max-birk