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  • Mind of the Player: The Motivations for Video Game Use

    - Ethan Levy
  •  Introduction

    In the forty four years since a young MIT student named Steve Russell created Space War, computer and video games have developed into one of the largest sectors of the entertainment industry, exhibiting higher gross profits than the US domestic box office over the past few years. Television viewership in the male 18-35 demographic is decreasing significantly as more and more young men choose to spend their time with dynamic forms of entertainment as opposed to watching static images of a television broadcast. Other sectors of the entertainment industry are running scared of a medium once dismissed as constituting little more than costly and complex children’s toys. 

    In response to this trend, academics are beginning to make probing efforts into the area of video game studies with the establishment of key institutions, from MIT’s Education Arcade, to Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center, to the Institute of Creative Technologies and the Annenberg School of Communication’s (ASC) Games Group at the University of Southern California. Nevertheless, a brief survey of academic research on video games shows that the academic literature is severely lacking, both in quantity and quality. The amount of published research is very minimal and more often than not comes from a rather uninformed perspective on this evolving medium.

    Putting meaning to Connect Four™ Cities.

    I undertook this study as an attempt to help bridge the sizable divide between game academics and game professionals. While working on my undergraduate degree and as a research assistant for the ASC Games Group, I began my career in the games industry by interning and then working at Pandemic Studios, contracting as a game designer for Binary Labs, and developing my own independent games. I was frustrated with the work that the researchers at USC and other universities were doing in video games because I felt that the approach of academics suffered from ignorance; from ivory towers, they looked down their noses at the medium which I loved. I believed that they did not know, understand or care enough to learn about games in order to study them effectively, and were too focused on trying to prove common (and often incorrect) perceptions about games and violence. At the same time, as a scholar I knew that the research methodologies I was learning could be applied to help further the understanding of interactive entertainment and improve the quality of the art form.

    Therefore, in April and May 2005, I had over 200 participants fill out an online survey on what motivated them to play video games. The purpose of this study was to establish a general model for identifying the motivations behind video game use, as well as to create a survey tool which could be used to empirically measure the level of each motivational factor in any given video game. The survey was designed to test twenty different concepts that I identified as motivating users to play video games. Statistical analysis of the results revealed that participants are driven to pick up the controller by seven overarching, key factors. Although the motivational factors may appear obvious to your average gamer, they are found in such a way as to be acceptable to academics on a statistically meaningful level. 


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