Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In And Hold Us Spellbound by Scott Rigby and Richard M. Ryan does in many ways go in the opposite direction of much of the current research on video games. Rather than focusing solely on the content of video games, such as violence, blood and gore, Rigby and Ryan want to understand the psychological and emotional experiences of gamers that contribute to the popularity of video games. In doing so the authors examine the PENS (Player Experience of Need Satisfaction) model. They argue that video games have the ability to satisfy certain basic psychological needs and that this is why video games are so popular.
The needs of the PENS model include competence, autonomy and relatedness. The authors therefore spend three chapters explaining and elaborating the connection between games and the components of the PENS model. They argue that the need for competence is satisfied through the challenge that a game possesses. In order for a gamer to be satisfied during gaming several components are necessary, such as, clarity of goal of the game, challenges that are not overwhelming, and instant feedback on a person's actions. Games such as FPS (First-person shooters) are especially apt at satisfying such needs.
The need for autonomy is satisfied in video games when the player is able to identify with the character, strategize on their own, follow an "open-world" design, which allows more freedom of play, and when "volitional engagement" (endorsing the path one is one, even though choice may be limited) is possible. Games that are exceptionally clever at endorsing autonomy include: RPG's (role-playing games), Sims (simulations) and TBS (turn-based strategy).
The last component of the PENS model, relatedness, is achieved when we experience the support and acknowledgement of other players learning that "we matter" in the game. Relatedness can be achieved both in single-player games with characters from the game, or during multi-player experiences such as "couch play" or "cooperative play" that extends the feelings of connectedness. Games that are particularly useful at satisfying the relatedness need include MMO's (Massively Multiplayer Online) such as World of Warcraft and EverQuest. Games that have the ability to satisfy more than one or all of the PENS needs are more appealing than games that only satisfy one. There are however also other aspects of games that contribute to players being "glued to games".
Another reason why video games are so popular is because of the ability of players to become immersed in the game. Immersion relates to feelings of being relevant and effective, and video games more so than books and movies make us feel and believe that we are engaging in an authentic interaction. But the same characteristics and psychological aspects that are engaging about video games can also be problematic. Rigby and Ryan spend two chapters discussing gaming addiction and the presence of violence in video games. The authors state that those players who become addicted often experience an absence of or lower levels of satisfaction in daily life than other gamers. Because video games can be so powerful in meeting the psychological needs of players, overuse (or addiction) is therefore more common among gamers who are less satisfied with their lives. Even though the authors state that the research on violence and video games is inconsistent, games that feature much violence or blood and gore are part of a "Hollywood model" of games in which stories of combat, war and violence are often incorporated because they work and because they sell.
Chapter 8 and 9 take a different turn, focusing on learning through the use of video games and how we can relate to games as parents, players, policy makers and researchers. The authors believe that video games have the opportunity to assist people in learning by satisfying the PENS needs and that these learning experiences should be based on similar methods of video games played for leisure. The authors also state that more research focusing on methods and testable hypotheses should be incorporated so that we can continue studying the effects of video games.
What is interesting about this book is that it includes, but also explains many different types of games, such as Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Sims, Diablo and Pong, but also different variants of game play, such as FPS, RPG's, Sims, TBS, and MMO's. In doing so, the authors include both experienced gamers as their intended audience, but also anyone who is either interested in the psychological pulls of gaming, or gaming as a whole. The book is also suitable for parents, spouses, friends or relatives who may be worried and concerned about addiction, overuse of, or violence in video games. The level of technicality of the writing is consistent and easily understood and therefore appropriate for many readers.
At the same time, the authors could have elaborated more on two particular issues, present in most FPS games. First, even though the authors do mention the role of completing challenges and reaching accommodations in games, they did not elaborate on the fact that other incentives of increasing game play are available through random jackpots and extra credits given in certain variants of maps and game play. Second, even though the authors focus on the positive psychological experiences of relatedness through teamwork, collaboration and support in FPS games, the interactive nature of such games also foster negative communication in which gamers belittle and demean each other.
© 2012 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss is a graduate student in Sociology at California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.