What makes video games so great?

Games that satisfy deep psychological needs keep players wanting more, scientists say

Why is it so hard to leave the computer or TV screen when you're in the middle of your favourite game? According to a recent scientific study, it's not just a simple desire for 'zoning out' and fun that draws us to video games, but deeper psychological factors that could be at play.

The study, which was jointly conducted by the University of Rochester and virtual environment think tank Immersyve, surveyed 1000 gamers about what motivates them to keep playing. Researchers found that the sense of fulfilment experienced during certain games may be satisfying fundamental psychological needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness, hence promoting short-term energy and well-being in some players.

"Most people reduce the drawing power of games to 'fun'," said Richard Ryan, lead investigator and motivational psychologist at the University, "but we found that need satisfaction not only predicts 'fun', but also out predicts persistence and well being effects."

"The work suggests that what makes games fun and engaging is that they [games] can, when well designed, allow people to experience freedom, choice, achievement and connection, and this is what makes a good game so compelling," he said.

With better psychological outcomes for players comes better commercial success for games, Ryan said. And with video game revenues surpassing even the money made from Hollywood films annually, commercial benefits of understanding what makes a good computer game can be very profitable.

Player reactions to four different games were studied, including one MMO (massively multiplayer online) game that revealed players' need for relatedness as "an important satisfaction that promotes a sense of presence, game enjoyment, and an intention for future play".

Besides the fact that not all video games are created equal in their ability to satisfy basic psychological needs, Ryan points out that not all people find games satisfying. Players who don't quickly master controls or contents of a game may not have a positive experience and do not return to games, he said.

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