Video Game Structural Characteristics: A New Psychological Taxonomy

  • Daniel KingEmail author
  • Paul Delfabbro
  • Mark Griffiths


Excessive video game playing behaviour may be influenced by a variety of factors including the structural characteristics of video games. Structural characteristics refer to those features inherent within the video game itself that may facilitate initiation, development and maintenance of video game playing over time. Numerous structural characteristics that influence gambling frequency and expenditure have been identified in the gambling literature, and some researchers have drawn comparisons between the rewarding elements in video gaming and those in slot machine gambling. However, there have been few rigorous attempts to classify and organise the psycho-structural elements of video games in a similar way to gambling. In order to aid current psychological understanding of problem video game playing and guide further research questions in this area, a new taxonomy of video game features is proposed, which includes: (a) social features, (b) manipulation and control features, (c) narrative and identity features, (d) reward and punishment features, and (e) presentation features. Each category is supported with relevant theory and research, where available, and the implications of these features for excessive video game playing are discussed.


Video game playing Structural characteristics Problematic involvement 


  1. Anderson, C. A., & Dill, K. E. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviour in the laboratory and in life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 772–790. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.78.4.772.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Atkins, B. (2003). More than a game: The computer game as fictional form. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bartle, R. (2004). Designing virtual worlds. New York: New Riders.Google Scholar
  4. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Blaszczynski, A. (2008). Commentary: A response to “Problems with the concept of video game “addiction”: Some case study examples. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 6, 179–181. doi: 10.1007/s11469-007-9132-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blinka, L. (2008). The relationship of players to their avatars in MMORPGs: Differences between adolescents, emerging adults and adults. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 2, article 1.Google Scholar
  7. Brand, J. (2007). Interactive Australia 2007: Facts about the Australian computer and video game industry: Bond University.Google Scholar
  8. Breen, R. B., & Zuckerman, M. (1999). ‘Chasing’ in gambling behavior: personality and cognitive determinants. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 1097–1111. doi: 10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00052-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown, R. I. F. (1989). Gaming, gambling, risk-taking, addictions and a developmental model of a pathology of man-machine relationships. In J. Klabberg, D. Croowell, H. de Jong & W. Scheper (Eds.), Simulation gaming. Oxford: Pergamon.Google Scholar
  10. Castronova, E. (2005). Synthetic worlds: The business and culture of online games. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. Chappell, D., Eatough, V., Davies, M. N. O., & Griffiths, M. D. (2006). Everquest—It's just a computer game right? An interpretative phenomenological analysis of online computing addiction. International Journal Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 205–216. doi: 10.1007/s11469-006-9028-6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chumbley, J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2006). Affect and computer game player: the effect of gender, personality, and game reinforcement structure on affective responses to computer game play. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 3, 308–316. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9.308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cole, H., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). Social interactions in massive multiplayer online role-playing gamers. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10, 575–583. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2007.9988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Crawford, C. (1982). The art of computer game design. Retrieved 28/6/2006, from
  15. de Freitas, S., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). Online gaming as an educational tool in learning and training. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38, 536–538.Google Scholar
  16. de Freitas, S., & Griffiths, M. D. (2008). The convergence of gaming practices with other media forms: What potential for learning? A review of the literature. Learning, Media and Technology, 33, 11–20. doi: 10.1080/17439880701868796.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Delfabbro, P. H., & Winefield, A. H. (1999). Poker-machine gambling: an analysis of within session characteristics. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 425–439. doi: 10.1348/000712699161503.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dill, K. E., & Dill, J. C. (1998). Video game violence: a review of the empirical literature. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 3, 407–428. doi: 10.1016/S1359-1789(97)00001-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dixon, L., Trigg, R., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). An empirical investigation of music and gambling behaviour. International Gambling Studies, 3, 315–326. doi: 10.1080/14459790701601471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E., & Moore, R. J. (2006). “Alone together?” Exploring the social dynamics of massively multiplayer online games. Paper presented at the human factors in computing systems CHI 2006, April 22–27, Montreal, PQ, Canada.Google Scholar
  21. Ferster, C. B., & Skinner, B. F. (1957). Schedules of reinforcement. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fisher, S. (1994). Identifying video game addiction in children and adolescents. Addictive Behaviors, 19, 545–553. doi: 10.1016/0306-4603(94)90010-8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Fisher, S., & Griffiths, M. D. (1995). Current trends in slot machine gambling: Research and policy issues. Journal of Gambling Studies, 11, 239–247. doi: 10.1007/BF02104791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Graham, J., Liyazheng, M. S., & Gonzalez, C. (2006). A cognitive approach to game usability and design: Mental model development in novice real-time strategy gamers. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9, 361–366. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9.361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Griffiths, M. D. (1990). Psychobiology of the near-miss in fruit machine gambling. The Journal of Psychology, 125, 347–357.Google Scholar
  26. Griffiths, M. D. (1997). Computer game playing in early adolescence. Youth and Society, 29, 223–238. doi: 10.1177/0044118X97029002004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Griffiths, M. D. (2008a). Videogame addiction: Further thoughts and observations. International Journal Mental Health and Addiction, 6, 182–185. doi: 10.1007/s11469-007-9128-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Griffiths, M. D. (2008b). Video-game and internet addiction. In Adolescent addiction: Epidemiology, assessment and treatment. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  29. Griffiths, M. D., & Dunbar, D. (1997). The role of familiarity in fruit machine gambling. Society for Study of Gambling Newsletters, 29, 15–20.Google Scholar
  30. Griffiths, M. D., & Davies, M. N. O. (2005). Video-game addiction: Does it exist? In J. Goldstein & J. Raessens (Eds.), Handbook of computer game studies, pp. 359–368. Boston: MIT.Google Scholar
  31. Griffiths, M. D., & Parke, J. (2005). The psychology of music in gambling environments: An observational research note. Journal of Gambling Issues, 13, 1–12.Google Scholar
  32. Grüsser, S. M., Thalemann, R., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). Excessive computer game playing: Evidence for addiction and aggression? CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10, 290–292. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9956.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hussain, Z., & Griffiths, M. D. (2008). Gender swapping and socializing in cyberspace: an exploratory study. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 11, 47–53. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2007.0020.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jacobs, D. F. (1986). A general theory of addictions: a new theoretical model. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 2, 15–31. doi: 10.1007/BF01019931.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Jaffe, J. H. (1990). Trivialising dependence. British Journal of Addiction, 85, 1425–1427. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.1990.tb01624.x. Commentary.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Johansson, A., & Gotestam, K. G. (2004). Problems with computer games without monetary reward: Similarity to pathological gambling. Psychological Reports, 95, 641–650. doi: 10.2466/PR0.95.6.641-650.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Kent, S. (2001). The ultimate history of video games. New York: Three Rivers.Google Scholar
  38. King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., Griffiths, M. D. (2008). The role of structural characteristics in problem video game playing: A review. Manuscript currently under review.Google Scholar
  39. King, D. L., & Delfabbro, P. H. (2009). Understanding and assisting excessive players of video games: A community psychology perspective. Australian Community Psychologist, 21, (in press).Google Scholar
  40. Ladouceur, R., & Dube, D. (1995). Prevalence of pathological gambling and associated problems in individuals who visit non-gambling video arcades. Journal of Gambling Studies, 11, 361–365. doi: 10.1007/BF02108614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Loftus, G. R., & Loftus, E. F. (1983). Mind at play: The psychology of video games. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  42. Moody, E. J. (2001). Internet use and its relationship to loneliness. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 4, 393–401. doi: 10.1089/109493101300210303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Myers, D. (1990). Chris Crawford and computer game aesthetics. Journal of Popular Culture, 24, 17–32. doi: 10.1111/j.0022-3840.1990.2402_17.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Parke, J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In D. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and measurement issues in gambling studies, pp. 211–243. New York: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  45. Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2004). Rules of play: Game design fundamentals. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
  46. Salguero, R. A. T., & Moran, R. M. B. (2002). Measuring problem video game playing in adolescents. Addiction, 97, 1601–1606. doi: 10.1046/j.1360-0443.2002.00218.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Selnow, G. W. (1984). Playing videogames: The electronic friend. Journal of Communication, 34, 148–156. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.1984.tb02166.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Shaffer, H. J., Hall, M. N., & Vander Bilt, J. (2000). "Computer addiction": A critical consideration. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 70, 162–168. doi: 10.1037/h0087741.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Suler, J. R. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7, 321–326. doi: 10.1089/1094931041291295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. VanDeventer, S. S. (2002). Expert behavior in children's video game play. Simulation & Gaming, 33, 28–48. doi: 10.1177/1046878102033001002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Vorderer, P., Hartmann, T., & Klimmt, C. (2003). Explaining the enjoyment of playing video games: the role of competition. Paper presented at the Second international conference on Entertainment computing, Pittsburgh, PA.Google Scholar
  52. Williams, K. D., Cheung, C. K. T., & Choi, W. (2000). Cyberostracism: Effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 748–762. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.79.5.748.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Williams, K. D., Govan, C. L., Croker, V., Tynana, D., Cruickshank, M., & Lam, A. (2002). Investigations into differences between social- and cyberostracism. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research and Practice, 6, 65–77. doi: 10.1037/1089-2699.6.1.65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wolak, J., Mitchell, K. M., & Finkelhor, D. (2002). Close online relationships in a national sample of adolescence. Adolescence, 37, 441–445.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Wood, R. T. A. (2007). Problems with the concept of video game "addiction": Some case study examples. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.Google Scholar
  56. Wood, R. T. A., & Griffiths, M. D. (2007). Time loss whilst playing video games: Is there a relationship to addictive behaviours? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 141–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wood, R. T. A., Griffiths, M. D., Chappell, D., & Davies, M. N. O. (2004). The structural characteristics of video games: A psycho-structural analysis. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7, 1–10. doi: 10.1089/109493104322820057.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wood, R. T. A., Griffiths, M. D., & Parke, A. (2007). Experiences of time loss among videogame players: An empirical study. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10, 38–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Yee, N. (2006a). The labor of fun: How video games have blurred the boundaries of work and play. Games and Culture, 1, 68–71. doi: 10.1177/1555412005281819.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Yee, N. (2006). Motivations for play in online games. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 9, 772–775. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9.772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology DivisionNottingham Trent UniversityNottinghamUK

Personalised recommendations