Skip to main content

The Motivational Pull of Video Games: A Self-Determination Theory Approach

Abstract

Four studies apply self-determination theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, 2000) in investigating motivation for computer game play, and the effects of game play on well-being. Studies 1–3 examine individuals playing 1, 2 and 4 games, respectively and show that perceived in-game autonomy and competence are associated with game enjoyment, preferences, and changes in well-being pre- to post-play. Competence and autonomy perceptions are also related to the intuitive nature of game controls, and the sense of presence or immersion in participants’ game play experiences. Study 4 surveys an on-line community with experience in multi-player games. Results show that SDT’s theorized needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness independently predict enjoyment and future game play. The SDT model is also compared with Yee’s (2005) motivation taxonomy of game play motivations. Results are discussed in terms of the relatively unexplored landscape of human motivation within virtual worlds.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Anderson, C. A., & Bushman, B. J. (2001). Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal and prosocial behavior: A meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychological Science, 12, 353–359.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bartle, R. (1996). Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs. Journal of MUD Research, 1 (1). Retrieved October 3, 2006, from http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm

  • Bartle, R. A. (2004). Designing virtual worlds. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bostic, T. J., Rubio, D. M., & Hood, M. (2000). A validation of the subjective vitality scale using structural equation modeling. Social Indicators Research, 52, 313–324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bryk, A. S., & Raudenbush, S. W. (1992). Hierarchical linear models: Applications and data analysis methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow. New York: Harper.

    Google Scholar 

  • Deci, E. L. (1975). Intrinsic motivation. New York: Plenum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A Meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627–668.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1980). The Empirical exploration of intrinsic motivational processes. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (vol. 13, pp. 39–80). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

    Google Scholar 

  • Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Diener, E. & Emmons, R. A. (1984) The independence of positive and negative affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 1105–1117.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Frederick, C., & Ryan, R. M. (1993). Differences in motivation for sport and exercise and their relations with participation and mental health. Journal of Sport Behavior, 16, 124–146.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frederick, C. M., & Ryan, R. M. (1995). Self-determination in sport: A review using cognitive evaluation theory. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 26, 5–23.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillian.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gentile, D. A., & Anderson, C. A. (2003). Violent video games: The newest media violence hazard. In D. Gentile (Ed.), Media violence and children (pp. 131–152). Westport, CT: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hagger, M. S., Chatzisarantis, N. L. D., Culverhouse, T., & Biddle, S. J. H. (2003). The process by which perceived autonomy support in physical education promotes leisure-time physical activity intentions and behavior: A trans-contextual model. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95, 784–795.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Healy, J. M. (1990). Endangered minds. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, S. (2005). Everything bad is good for you. New York: Riverhead Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jones, G. (2002). Killing monsters: Why children need fantasy, super heroes, and make-believe violence. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kirsch, S. J. (2006). Children, adolescents, and media violence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koster, R. (2005). A theory of fun for game design. Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • La Guardia, J. G., Ryan, R. M., Couchman, C. E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Within-person variation in security of attachment: A Self-determination theory perspective on attachment, need fulfillment, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 367–384.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lombard, M., & Ditton, T. (1997). At the heart of it all: The concept of presence. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 3(2). Retrieved October 3, 2006, from http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol3/issue2/lombard.html

  • Lombard, M., Ditton, T. B., Crane, D., Davis, B., Gil-Egui, G., Horvath, K., Rossman, J., & Park, S. (2000). Measuring presence: A literature-based approach to the development of a standardized paper-and-pencil instrument. Presented at the Third International Workshop on Presence, Delft, The Netherlands.

  • Malone, T. & Lepper, M. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations in learning. In R. E. Snow & M. J. Farr (Eds.)Aptitude, learning and instruction: vol. 3. Conative and affective process analyses (pp. 223–253). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

  • O’Brien, E. J., & Epstein, S. (1988). The Multidimensional self-esteem inventory: Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

    Google Scholar 

  • Raudenbush, R. W., Bryk, A., Cheong, Y. F., & Congdon, R. (2000). HLM5: Hierarchical linear and nonlinear modeling. Chicago: Scientific Software International.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rigby, S. (2004). Player Motivational Analysis: A model for applied research into the motivational dynamics of virtual worlds. Presented to the Motivation Research Group, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY.

  • Ryan, R. M. (1995). Psychological needs and the facilitation of integrative processes. Journal of Personality, 63, 397–427.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ryan, R. M. & Brown, K. W. (2005). Legislating competence: The motivational impact of high stakes testing as an educational reform. In C. Dweck & A. E. Elliot (Eds.), Handbook of Competence (pp. 354–374) New York: Guilford Press

    Google Scholar 

  • Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000a). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54–67.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000b). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68–78.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A Review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. In S. Fiske (Ed.), Annual Review of Psychology (vol. 52, pp. 141–166). Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ryan, R. M., & Frederick, C. M. (1997). On energy, personality, and health: Subjective vitality as a dynamic reflection of well-being. Journal of Personality, 65, 529–565.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ryan, R. M., Mims, V., & Koestner, R. (1983). Relation of reward contingency and interpersonal context to intrinsic motivation: A Review and test using cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 736–750.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Setzer, V. W., & Duckett, G. E. (2000). The risks to children using electronic games. Retrieved October 3, 2006, from http://www.ime.usp.br/∼vwsetzer/video-g-risks.html

  • Vallerand, R. J., & Reid, G. (1984). On the causal effects of perceived competence on intrinsic motivation: A test of cognitive evaluation theory. Journal of Sport Psychology, 6, 94–102.

    Google Scholar 

  • White, R. W. (1959). Motivation reconsidered: The Concept of competence. Psychological Review, 66, 297–333.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yee, N. (2005, March 15). A model of player motivations. Retrieved October 3, 2006, from http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/archives/001298.php?page=1

  • Yee, N. (in press). Motivations of play in online games. CyperberPsychology and Behavior.

  • Yi, M. (2004, December 18). They got game: Stacks of new releases for hungry video enthusiasts mean its boom time for an industry now even bigger than Hollywood. San Francisco Chronicle, p. A1.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Richard M. Ryan.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ryan, R.M., Rigby, C.S. & Przybylski, A. The Motivational Pull of Video Games: A Self-Determination Theory Approach. Motiv Emot 30, 344–360 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-006-9051-8

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-006-9051-8

Keywords

  • Computer games
  • Motivation
  • Self-determination theory