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The Role of Structural Characteristics in Problematic Video Game Play: An Empirical Study


The research literature suggests that the structural characteristics of video games may play a considerable role in the initiation, development and maintenance of problematic video game playing. The present study investigated the role of structural characteristics in video game playing behaviour within a sample of 421 video game players aged between 14 and 57 years. Players were surveyed via an online questionnaire containing measures of video game playing behaviour, player interaction with structural characteristics of video games, and problematic involvement in video games. The results showed that the reward and punishment features, such as earning points, finding rare game items, and fast loading times, were rated among the most enjoyable and important aspects of video game playing. There was some evidence that certain structural characteristics were stronger predictors of problematic involvement in video games than factors such as gender, age, and time spent playing. This research supports the notion that some structural characteristics in video games may play a significant role in influencing problem playing behaviour. Implications for theory and future research are discussed.

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  1. A full discussion of all five taxonomic categories can be found in King et al. (2010a), but not reported here due to space limitations.


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Correspondence to Daniel L. King.

List of Video Game Structural Characteristics

List of Video Game Structural Characteristics

  1. 1.

    Social interaction, communicating with other players

  2. 2.

    Belonging to a guild, clan or dedicated group

  3. 3.

    Competitive aspects, playing against other people, leaderboard rankings

  4. 4.

    Cooperation, working together to reach goals

  5. 5.

    Sharing tips and strategies about the video game with others

  6. 6.

    Positive comments from other players for skilful play

  7. 7.

    Making friends with other players in the game

  8. 8.

    Needing good reflexes to advance in the game

  9. 9.

    Mastering the controls, learning “combos” or “hot-keys”

  10. 10.

    The tactile sensation or “feel” of controlling the game (including force feedback, button mashing)

  11. 11.

    Managing resources in the game, such as items in your inventory

  12. 12.

    Being able to correct mistakes by reloading a save file

  13. 13.

    Customising in-game features, such as controls, rules, etc.

  14. 14.

    Using cheats to “break” the game

  15. 15.

    Creating your own content for the game, such as making your own maps

  16. 16.

    Taking on a new identity in the game

  17. 17.

    An emotional investment in an in-game character

  18. 18.

    Cut-scenes, extra non-playable story content

  19. 19.

    A complex game story, involving dialogue and narration

  20. 20.

    Different story outcomes based on your player actions

  21. 21.

    Linear story, same events happen every time

  22. 22.

    No endpoint or conclusion to the game

  23. 23.

    “Levelling up” a game character (including non-human characters, like a racing car)

  24. 24.

    Earning points, XP or other rewards

  25. 25.

    Parts of the game based on luck or chance, not skill

  26. 26.

    Being rewarded with rare, unique items for skilful play or playing for a long time

  27. 27.

    Doing the same thing over and over, in order to get a large reward (“grinding”)

  28. 28.

    Getting 100% completion in the game

  29. 29.

    Unlocking meta-game rewards, like “Achievement points” or Trophies

  30. 30.

    Sections of the game that are very difficult and require sustained effort with few mistakes

  31. 31.

    Playing the game on the hardest difficulty, facing very difficult challenges

  32. 32.

    Fast loading times between levels or multiplayer matches, and instant respawning when your character dies

  33. 33.

    Visual aspects, such as high-resolution textures and lighting effects

  34. 34.

    Sound, including music and audio effects

  35. 35.

    Franchise aspects, such as recognisable characters like Mario or Master Chief

  36. 36.

    Adult content, including explicit violence, adult themes

  37. 37.

    Licensed content, including recognisable real-life brands

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King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. The Role of Structural Characteristics in Problematic Video Game Play: An Empirical Study. Int J Ment Health Addiction 9, 320–333 (2011).

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  • Problem video game play
  • Structural characteristics