Kevin Hogan

International Speaker

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Kids and adults stay glued to video games because the fun of playing actually is rooted in fulfilling their basic psychological needs.

The Core Drives and Game Playing

A lot of video games are succeeding at taking our core drives and motivations and helping us put them on the screen…all under our control.

A lot of games allow players to create characters or environments and then utilize those characters and environments as they choose. In many cases they are sort of creating “new life” in the sense that these characters interact with other. The characters are often driven by basic and self actualization needs.

Life experience, competitive experience, health, money, negotiation skills, fighting skills (and many more) all come into play in a remarkably vivid and powerful way….and there is a lot to learn watching and playing these games.

We know that people who have played violent video games are influenced toward hostile behavior after playing.

Similarly it appears that it’s not just all bad news. In fact, it might be more good than bad…

…and video games might just help us change ourselves as people create characters and test what works in a virtual world.

Learning, Evolving and Connection

Behaviors are rewarded and punished as they are in the real world. Learning is key in virtual environments. Evolving as a character, growing, thinking, strategic planning, are all important elements of many (but not all) video games.

Psychologists at the University of Rochester, in collaboration with Immersyve, Inc., a virtual environment think tank, asked 1,000 gamers what motivates them to keep playing. The results published in the journal Motivation and Emotion this month suggest that people enjoy video games because they find them intrinsically satisfying.

“We think there’s a deeper theory than the fun of playing,” says Richard M. Ryan, a motivational psychologist at the University and lead investigator in the four new studies about gaming. Players reported feeling best when the games produced positive experiences and challenges that connected to what they know in the real world.

The research found that games can provide opportunities for achievement, freedom, and even a connection to other players. Those benefits trumped a shallow sense of fun, which doesn’t keep players as interested.

“It’s our contention that the psychological ‘pull’ of games is largely due to their capacity to engender feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness,” says Ryan.

What did the researchers find?

Video Game Playing and Psychological Wellness

The researchers believe that some video games not only motivate further play but “also can be experienced as enhancing psychological wellness, at least short-term,” he says.

Ryan and coauthors Andrew Przybylski, a graduate student at the University of Rochester, and Scott Rigby, the president of Immersyve who earned a doctorate in psychology at Rochester, aimed to evaluate players’ motivation in virtual environments. Study volunteers answered pre- and post-game questionnaires that were applied from a psychological measure based on Self-Determination Theory, a widely researched theory of motivation developed at the University of Rochester.

Rather than dissect the actual games, which other researchers have done, the Rochester team looked at the underlying motives and satisfactions that can spark players’ interests and sustain them during play.

Revenues from video games—even before the latest Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox systems emerged—surpass the money made from Hollywood films annually. A range of demographic groups plays video games, and key to understanding their enjoyment is the motivational pull of the games.

Four groups of people were asked to play different games, including one group tackling “massively multiplayer online” games—MMO for short, which are considered the fastest growing segment of the computer gaming industry. MMOs are capable of supporting hundreds of thousands of players simultaneously. For those playing MMOs, the need for relatedness emerged “as an important satisfaction that promotes a sense of presence, game enjoyment, and an intention for future play,” the researchers found.

Though different types of games and game environments were studied, Ryan points out that “not all video games are created equal” in their ability to satisfy basic psychological needs. “But those that do may be the best at keeping players coming back.”

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