Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Video game addiction motivation

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Video game addiction motivation:
What motivates video game addiction?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Online gaming addiction has become the focus of a great deal of attention in recent years. The media often covers stories of people’s lives that have been ruined and, in extreme cases, even deaths that have been linked to video gaming addictions. As with any addiction, video gaming addiction can significantly interfere with other parts of an individual’s life. True addicts can spend exorbitant amounts of time playing their favourite games while their academic, social, and work lives crumble around them. Now recognized as a serious psychological issue a great deal of research is being conducted to discover the underlying motives that cause video game addiction as well as the best way to help sufferers.

With all of the disadvantages associated one would wonder why and how someone becomes addicted to video gaming. This chapter seeks to explain the current understanding of the motives of video game addiction as well as how the disorder is treated to improve the lives of sufferers. In order to achieve this, a number of topics will be covered. Firstly, what actually constitutes as video gaming addiction will be explained. Next, a number of related motivational theories will be explored and linked to the issue. Then what it actually is about video games that motivate individuals to play them. This will be followed by which of these motives are most closely correlated with addiction and why. The neurological basis of online gaming addiction will also be briefly described as well as associated personality traits. Finally methods of prevention and treatment will be outlined.

Definition[edit | edit source]

The term video gaming addiction is often misinterpreted and is consequently frequently misused. Video gaming addiction refers to an inability to control gaming behaviour which results in distress and interferes with other aspects of an individual’s life including academic performance, social interactions, occupation, development and behaviour (Wood, 2007). Despite this, a far greater number of individuals are labelled addicts than is strictly accurate. Excessive play alone does not constitute a gaming addiction, although it should be noted that addicted individuals will certainly display this behaviour (Griffiths, 2010). Most often the use of the term video gaming addiction simply highlights a difference in values between the criticizers and the accused rather than an actual psychological issue (Blaszczynski, 2008).

According to Griffiths (2005) there are six core components that make up an addiction: salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse. Salience refers to the activity becoming the central concern of a person’s life, dominating their actions and thoughts. Mood modification refers to the desired changes in mood an individual experiences when s/he engages in the problem behaviour. In the case of video gaming addictions the type of mood effect that an individual experiences are dependent on their motivation for playing and can range from a form of euphoria or to a numbing effect. The development of tolerance is another symptom of addiction in which an individual must spend more and more time gaming in order to achieve the same mood modifying effect that they desire. When addicted gamers cease or reduce the amount of time that they spend gaming they experience unpleasant feelings and in some cases disagreeable physical sensations. These consequences of reduced gaming are referred to as withdrawal symptoms and are another indicator of addiction. In the case of addictions, conflict is a reference to struggles between the individual in question and those around them, their other activities and themselves which result from excessive playing. The final component of addiction is relapse which is the tendency to return to earlier patterns of play following (often) brief periods of control.

Video gaming disorder is an example of what is commonly referred to as a behavioural addiction. The disorder has been proposed as a potential addition to the DSM[explain?] although more research is needed to establish the diagnostic criteria and course descriptions to be able to classify it as a mental disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). The current literature also frequently compares [missing something?] to compulsive gambling as they share some similarities. In fact many of the treatments that are currently in use for the treatment of video gaming disorder are those that have been successful in dealing with problem gambling (Griffiths, 2008). Video gaming addiction can cause a great deal of suffering to those affected who will often find it difficult, if not impossible, to control their behaviour without some form of external intervention.

Related motivation theories[edit | edit source]

There is currently a great deal of research being conducted into online gaming addiction. A number of motivational theories have been applied to the problem in an effort to better understand the underlying motivations behind this compulsive behaviour.

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

Self-determination theory proposes that an individual’s well-being and their abilities to self-regulate are based on the fulfillment of certain basic psychological needs (Ryan & Deci, 2000). These needs include the need for competence, the need for autonomy, and the need for relatedness. When a person is able to meet these psychological needs in their everyday lives they will experience high levels of well-being. Conversely, if these needs are not met then their well-being will suffer and they will be forced to look elsewhere to rectify the situation (Ryan, 1995). As a result, individuals are more motivated to pursue activities that fulfill these needs.

Studies into online games have revealed that they are capable of fulfilling the needs that are outlined in self-determination theory (Przybylski, Weinstein, Ryan & Rigby, 2009). Consequently, individuals who find it difficult to meet these needs in their everyday lives may turn to video games to satisfy these needs. Within video games competence can be achieved through the completion of in-game goals. The player is autonomous and may choose where they want to go and what they would like to do. In addition, online games in particular allow players to interact with each other which enable them to satisfy their need for relatedness. When these basic psychological needs are met within a game, the motivation to play is strengthened whereas attempts to pursue and fulfill these needs outside of the game may become less common.

Humanistic needs theory[edit | edit source]

Similar to self-determination theory, humanistic needs theory is concerned with the fulfillment of psychological needs. The theory is perhaps best outlined in Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy summarises the needs that individuals want met in order to experience high levels of well-being. The hierarchy includes the basic physiological needs that all organisms need to pursue to survive as well as other higher order needs such as esteem and self-actualization. Studies into video gaming addiction based on humanistic needs theory mainly concentrate on two of the needs categories in Maslow’s hierarchy, namely esteem and belongingness (Wan & Chiou, 2006). These categories are prioritised as they appear to contain the needs that video games are most capable of fulfilling. Additionally these needs are not necessarily as easy to meet as the more basic physiological and safety needs.

Flow theory[edit | edit source]

Flow theory is another motivational theory that is frequently applied to video gaming addiction in an effort to understand the behaviour (Wan & Chiou, 2006). Flow theory is based around having an optimal experience while involved in some activity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975). In order to achieve this “flow state” there are a number of things that the experience must provide. It must have clear objectives, provide immediate feedback on performance, be challenging but not so much as to overcome the individuals skills, immerse the individual and of course be interesting in general. These are all things that video games can provide (Wan & Chiou, 2006). The objectives of games are clear. They provide immediate feedback through levelling and other reward systems. They can provide desired challenge but generally allow the player to match their skill level to the challenge. Finally, certain people find video games to be extremely interesting and immersive. It is believed that most individuals play video games to achieve this flow state as it makes the experience much more enjoyable. Consequently, one would assume that individuals who often achieve this flow state in a particular game would be more prone to becoming addicted. However, Wan and Chiou (2006) found that the frequency of this flow state was actually negatively correlated with addictive tendencies. On the other hand, Hull, Williams and Griffiths (2013) found in their study that certain factors in the flow experience, namely the perceptions of time being altered during play was in fact significant in predicting addiction. It is not entirely clear what the interaction between the flow state and video gaming addiction is and studies are conflicted on the strength and even the existence of this relationship.

Conditioning[edit | edit source]

The principles of operant conditioning tell us that the frequency of behaviour results from the consequences that it causes. Charlton and Danforth (2007) proposed that online games are good at inducing operant conditioning through variable-ratio reinforcement schedules comprised of evolving story lines and events which occur in an unpredictable time frame. This reinforcement schedule has been found to be very resistant to behavioural extinction (King, Delfabbro & Griffiths, 2011). This positive reinforcement that video games provide players is one of the things which encourage them to persist in gaming behaviour. The social aspects of online gaming can also be positively reinforcing for those who lack this in their everyday lives (Wallace, 1999). Not only do the games themselves provide gamers with positive reinforcement but they also exert negatively reinforce on the player. As mentioned previously, one of the major components of online gaming addiction is withdrawal symptoms which arise when play is cut down or ceased. In order to avoid these negative symptoms gamers are encouraged to continue to engage in the problem behaviour.

Motivations[edit | edit source]

What motivates people to play online games?[edit | edit source]

There are a large number of aspects in video games that encourage individuals to play. Some of the more commonly described reasons are fun, the social aspect, relieving boredom, the challenge, excitement, competition, relaxation, escapism, exploring a different identity, and receiving recognition (Poels, Cock & Malliet, 2012; Olson, 2010; Yee, 2006). There are of course many other reasons however they can be grouped into three main categories (Yee, 2006). First would be achievement which encompasses all of the skill related motives such as competition and in-game reputation[grammar?]. Second is the social aspect of making friends and working together to achieve larger goals[grammar?]. The final major facet is immersion which includes exploration, escapist motives, and the exploration of different identities through the in-game character.

Clearly video games can cater to a large number of motivating factors which helps to explain their popularity. While any of these motives can be what drives an individual to play, certain motivations have been found to be more appealing to certain players. One notable phenomenon that often appears in the research is the difference between the playing motives of men and women. Men are often found to be more strongly motivated by achievement than female players, whereas female players are more likely to play due to social motivations (Poels et al., 2012). Age has also been associated with certain play motivations. Park, Song and Teng (2011) found in their study on gaming motivation that age was positively associated with escapist motivations. They hypothesized that this is due to older individuals generally having greater responsibilities and therefore more likely to need a break.

What play motives cause addiction?[edit | edit source]

Generally individuals who become addicted to video gaming do so because there is something missing in their life (Wan & Chiou, 2006). Many of the theories of motivation that are associated with video gaming addiction are concerned with the fulfilment of certain needs. When someone has these needs met in a game and finds it difficult in reality they become much more likely to develop an addiction. As a result any of the motives for playing online games can be and have been linked to addiction (Wan & Chiou, 2006; Kuss, Louws & Wiers, 2012). Individuals who find it difficult to socialise face-to-face may be able to do so through their in-game avatars, thus fulfilling the need for relatedness in self-determination theory and the need for friendship in humanistic needs theory (Przybylski, Weinstein, Ryan & Rigby, 2009; Wan & Chiou, 2006). Those who find it difficult to achieve in other aspects of their life such as academia or their occupation may find that video games give them an opportunity to prove themselves and to be recognized and respected by others (Kim, Namkoong, Ku & Kim, 2008). This can help to satisfy the need for competence in terms of self-determination theory and certain aspects of the needs of esteem and self-actualisation in terms of humanistic needs theory. Finally, individuals who find their lives to be unacceptable or who are just looking for an escape can find that within video games where they can be whoever they want to be and do what they want to do. This can cover the need for autonomy in terms of self-determination theory.

Neurological basis[edit | edit source]

Of course an addiction is not quite as simple as basic compensation for unfulfilled needs. As with any addiction there are also changes within the brain that motivate this behaviour (Han, Bolo, Daniels, Arenella, Lyoo & Renshaw, 2011). Individuals considered as having a video gaming addiction show similar neurological activity and structural change as seen in substance addicts. When online game addicts are presented with game related stimuli neuroimaging reveals that certain areas of their brain become more active than in non-addicts. In particular it is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the orbitofrontal cortex, the thalamus, the amygdala and the hippocampus that are now known to be involved in the desire to play (Han et al., 2011). Most importantly, studies indicate that the brain's dopamine and reward systems are closely linked to behavioural addictions such as video gaming addiction (Kuss & Griffiths, 2012). This suggests that video game addicts would find the act of playing games reinforcing on its own. Fortunately, it is the similarities between video gaming addiction and substance addiction have given researchers a head start on developing solutions to this condition.

Personality traits linked to addiction[edit | edit source]

Another area that has been explored in relation to video gaming addiction is the connection between this behaviour and personality traits. Research would suggest that certain personality traits predisposition individuals to addictive gaming behaviour (Kim, Namkoong, Ku & Kim, 2008). In their study into the relationship between personality traits and online game addiction, Kim, Namkoong, Ku and Kim (2008) found that narcissistic personalities were particularly vulnerable to addictive behaviour. The connection between this personality trait and video gaming addiction is most often seen in MMORPG’s[explain?] as these games emphasise goals and achievements which are often displayed to other players in some manner through level or appearance. Narcissists also generally invest greater amounts of time in these games in order to reach these goals (Kim et al., 2008). The act of advancing in the game naturally reinforces the tendency to play as it can boost these individuals' self-esteem and allow them to achieve the recognition and respect from others that they desire. Consequently it is suggested that narcissists have a higher chance of becoming addicted to online games.

Treatments[edit | edit source]

In treating video gaming addictions it is most important to recognise the fact that there is a problem and to seek help. Like other addictions video gaming addiction can be extremely difficult to resolve without some external help. While video gaming addiction has now become a popular topic of research, the number of studies that have examined possible treatments is somewhat limited at the current time. Currently due to its similarities with other behavioural addictions treatment practitioners generally use the same techniques to treat online gaming addiction that they use to treat compulsive gambling (Griffiths, 2008). This normally involves a combination of psychopharmacology and psychotherapy. The specific treatment methods utilised to help online gaming addicts may of course change as new research is conducted but the currently employed techniques do have some success.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy[edit | edit source]

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been successfully utilised in a number of studies to reduce the amount of time that addicted individuals play (King & Delfabbro, 2014). However, King and Delfabbro (2014) pointed out that the majority of studies did not employ a measure for cognitive change following the treatment period. As a result there is currently little evidence that CBT has an impact on the underlying addiction cognitions. This may limit its usefulness as a treatment. The general CBT strategy that has been employed in the majority of studies involved controlled behaviour plans designed to assist the addicted individuals in avoiding cue triggers (King & Delfabbro, 2014). Other methods include self-monitoring and challenging the gamer’s beliefs about what they actually get out of playing. In one study by Du, Jiang and Vance (2010) an interpersonal skills development program was also offered in addition to the CBT to enable them to better interact with others outside of the game.

Psychopharmacology[edit | edit source]

Besides the use of behavioural therapies, other researchers have trialled anti-depressants as a potential treatment method. Han, Hwang and Renshaw (2011) used sustained release bupropion in their addicted clients over a period of six weeks. By the conclusion of the treatment period the addicted clients were experiencing fewer cravings and were spending less time overall gaming. In addition, the brain activity related to the presentation of gaming stimuli was also found to have decreased. The outcome was thought to be due to bupropion’s inhibition of dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake. That bupropion has been found to have a similar effect on video gaming disorder as it does on other addictions suggests that other similar anti-depressants may also be effective in controlling compulsive gaming.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Online games are not inherently bad. In fact there is a great deal that individuals can get [missing something?] out of them when they are played in moderation. However when an online gaming addiction takes hold it can have significantly negative effects on the lives of the individual in question as well as those closest to them. There are numerous reasons as to why people become addicted to online gaming. However, the main motivation would appear to be some need deficiency that motivational theories indicate are important to well-being. Reinforcement also plays a significant role in online gaming addiction with play being incentivised through the inherent reward systems of the games. Similar to other addictions online gaming addiction is associated with a number of neurological changes that serve to motivate the behaviour. Certain personality traits seem to predispose individuals to addiction as well as strengthen the reinforcement that games provide to play. In terms of prevention and treatment, initially avoiding addiction would be the best course. Failing that there are treatments available that have been shown to reduce the amount of time played including CBT and anti-depressants. Overall, further research is necessary to better determine the underlying cognitions involved in online gaming addiction which should in turn allow the determination of the most effective treatment methods.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

1 What, according to Griffiths (2005) are the six core components of addiction?

Withdrawal symptoms, salience, reinforcement, conflict, flow and relapse
Salience, relapse, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, mood modification and conflict
Autonomy, esteem, motivation, relapse, withdrawal symptoms and flow
Tolerance, mood modification, conditioning, salience, relapse and withdrawal symptoms

2 Which theory is based on optimal experience?

Humanistic needs theory
Flow theory
Self-determination theory

3 Which of the three main categories of game player motivation outlined by Yee (2006) encompasses the motive of escapism?


4 Which five areas of the brain are particularly active amongst video game addicts when they are exposed to video game related stimuli?

The hypothalamus, orbitofrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, pons and hippocampus
The medulla, hippocampus, cerebellum, pons, orbitofrontal cortex and hypothalamus
The thalamus, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala
The orbitofrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hypothalamus and hippocampus

5 True or false, there has been a great deal of research conducted on the treatment of video game addiction?


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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(2), 179-181. doi: 10.1007/s11469-007-9132-2

Charlton, J. P., & Danforth, I. D. W. (2007). Distinguishing addiction and high engagement in the context of online game playing. Computers in Human Behavior, 23(3), 1531-1548. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2005.07.002

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Du, Y., Jiang, W., & Vance, A. (2010). Longer term effect of randomized, controlled group cognitive behavioral therapy for Internet Addiction in adolescent students in Shanghai. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44(2), 129-134.

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Han, D. H., Bolo, N., Daniels, M. A., Arenella, L., Lyoo, I. K., & Renshaw, P. F. (2011). Brain activity and desire for internet video game play. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 52(1), 88-95. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2010.04.004

Han, D. H., Hwang, J. W., & Renshaw, P. R. (2011). Bupropion Sustained Release Treatment Decreases Craving for Video Games and Cue-Induced Brain Activity in Patients With Internet Video Addiction. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 18(4), 297-304.

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Olson, C. K. (2010). Children’s Motivations for Video Game Play in the Context of Normal Development. Review of General Psychology, 14(2), 180-187. doi: 10.1037/a0018984

Park, J., Song, Y., Teng, C. (2011). Exploring the Links Between Personality Traits and Motivations to Play Online Games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14(12), 747-751. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0502

Poels, K., Cock, N. D., & Malliet, S. (2012). The Female Player Does Not Exist: Gender Identity Relates to Differences in Player Motivations and Play Styles. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(11), 634-638. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0164

Przybylski, A. K., Weinstein, N., Ryan, R. M., & Rigby, C. S. (2009). Having to versus Wanting to Play: Background and Consequences of Harmonious versus Obsessive Engagement in Video Games. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 12(5), 485-492. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2009.0083

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Wood, R. (2007). The Problem with the Concept of Video Game “addiction”: Some Case Study Examples. International Journal of Mental Health & Addiction, 6(2), 169-178. doi: 10.1007/s11469-007-9118-0

Yee, N. (2006). Motivations for Play in Online Games. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 9(6), 772-775. doi: 10.1089/cpb.2006.9.772