Though many advances in video game development have focused on creating games that are graphically and technologically sophisticated, advances in User Experience (UX) are only recently beginning to gain attention in development communities. My research, conducted as part of my pursuit of a master’s degree in Emerging Media Design and Development at Ball State University, looks at UX in video games, and specifically seeks to isolate the elements in single player RPGs that motivate players to remain engaged in games for dozens, even hundreds of hours. These games feature sweeping stories, massive environments, and a wide variety of gameplay that allows players to choose their own path and make their own choices within the game to a degree that many other game genres do not typically provide Using the well-established Self-Determination Theory (SDT) as a basis for my research, I am seeking to identify the elements within these games that fulfill SDT’s three psychological needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

SDT measures two different kinds of motivation: extrinsic, which is when a person is motivated to continue an activity due to external rewards, and intrinsic, which is when a person is motivated to continue the activity because they find the activity inherently fulfilling and enjoyable. In addition to these two kinds of motivation, SDT measures motivation via three dimensions. The first, competency, measures how capable a person feels in a situation, and whether or not they feel as if they have clear goals and objectives that allow them to perform the task at hand. The second dimension, autonomy, measures how much freedom a person feels in a situation, and whether or not they feel like they are able to make meaningful choices during an activity. The third dimension, relatedness, measures how much a person feels as if they are welcomed to and belong in the activity. While there are many aspects of relatedness that deal with direct social contact, relatedness is also concerned with how people relate to an environment and how welcomed they feel within that environment.

The result of this research will be an attempt to isolate the specific elements of role-playing games that motivate players to continue playing. The ultimate goal to identifying these elements is to aid in user experience (UX) design in future video games. The research will contribute to the larger conversation of UX in video games, and in making the gameplay experience of players to be more intrinsically motivating and fulfilling of the dimensions of Self-Determination Theory. Research within SDT shows that activities that fulfil these dimensions are more rewarding to the participant, and it is the hope that this research will contribute to allowing designers and developers to create games that reinforce these feelings.

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