eHealth Junior

Gaming for a healthy mind

For the development of serious games that support young people with chronic illness, the eHealth Junior consortium, funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) has started an eight-year research programme. HKU’s lecturer Micah Hrehovcsik and his students are now exploring which game mechanics are best suited for this purpose.
Project duration: 1 June 2021 to 30 May 2029

eHealth Junior
Micah Hrehovcsik has been involved with HKU as game designer, researcher and lecturer for fifteen years. In 2021 he joined the consortium eHealth Junior: a large collaboration between the domains of healthcare, science and education and companies. eHealth Junior is led by Manon Hillegers: professor in child and adolescent psychology at Erasmus MC hospital. Their goal: developing high-quality apps for children and adolescents with chronic illness. Yet these are not to monitor their physical health, but to support their mental strength and help them avoid psychological issues.

Motivating and analysing

Many young people with illness also struggle with anxiety, stress and sadness, which affects their social development and healing process. ‘People are generally able to have some influence over their own health’, Hrehovcsik explains, ‘but it is often hard to find the motivation to actually do this. My research is focused on interventions that can help in this respect. How can apps play a role in getting children to go out in the real world and do the things that benefit their health, even though they don’t want to?’ Hrehovcsik’s expertise lies in the field of gamified apps, which motivate their users to work on personal improvement in a playful way, while collecting data for the researchers in the background.

Grow it!

The mission of eHealth Junior for the coming years is to develop such apps, scientifically validate them and broaden their application. Primarily to help patients, but also to relieve the pressure on the healthcare sector. The good news is that the research team can start from an already solid basis: Hrehovcsik already worked with Erasmus MC and app developer IJSfontein on Grow It!. This serious game was already used by young people in times of corona, by patients at Sophia children’s hospital and by children of parents with mental illness. Grow It! motivates players to complete assignments and gain points as a team.

Positive peer pressure

Go outside and take a picture of a chicken. Draw yourself as a superhero. Bake a treat for someone and photograph it. Mention three funny experiences you had today. These offline and online challenges stimulate children to get active in ways they would otherwise not think of. These actions reward them with points for their team which they can use to make their tree grow together. In between the assignments, players receive question lists that help young children to better control their behaviour and emotions. ‘Motivating the target group by offering rewards, turns out to be an effective way to influence behaviour’, says Hrehovcsik. ‘Belonging to a team of other peers who have the same problems, creates a positive peer pressure.’ The app is also very useful for the researchers, who – with consent from the players – can learn from all the collected data.

Game mechanics

The Grow It! app is one of the tools currently under further developed at the eHealth Junior consortium. Another tool Hrehovcsik is working on is PROfeel, developed by UMC Utrecht hospital for teenagers with chronic fatigue. November 2021 saw [MOU1] the kick-off of HKU’s research programme, joined by students of Games and Interaction. They are now exploring if variations of the app can be created to motivate the target group even more directly, which game mechanics work best for this, and how to measure their effectivity. ‘We are looking for new gamification concepts, so I ask my students to design innovative prototypes. And meanwhile I am looking for ways to integrate the lessons learned into the design-based research of gamified apps.’

Project website eHealth Junior (Dutch)


Erasmus MC, Universiteit Utrecht/UMC Utrecht, IJsfontein

Lecturing researchers HKU

Micah Hrehovcsik

Supported by

Dutch Research Council (NWO)