University of Limerick
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Press start to play: a self-determination theory approach to the relationship  between video games and well-being

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posted on 2023-06-26, 13:31 authored by Yemaya JoEllen Halbrook

Video games have long been studied in association with their hypothesised negative consequences and research on their potential positive effects is relatively recent. A theoretically driven approach was used to determine with more certainty which specific elements of video games are related to positive, rather than negative, well-being outcomes. The purpose of this thesis was therefore to address gaps in literature and demonstrate how and under what conditions video games relate to positive well-being.

The first task of this thesis was to conduct a theoretical literature review (Halbrook et al., 2019). This work analysed how and when video games can be related to positive well-being by examining existing literature (Chapter 5). The findings of the review demonstrated that the way in which video games relate to well-being greatly depends on which aspects are present in the video games themselves. Specifically, the presence of social aspects, violence and physical activity are significant factors in determining this relationship, as well as the type of motivation and playing in moderation. The review concluded, therefore, that video games can be considered neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad.’ From this review, social video games and motivations for gaming emerged as areas which required more research and as such, were the focus of the two empirical studies in this thesis. A theoretical framework was also adapted and applied to these two studies. 

The first empirical study described in this thesis (Chapter 6) examined how the context of social gaming, specifically the gamer’s relationship to the other players, predicts social well-being. In addition, it analysed whether satisfaction of the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, as outlined by self-determination theory, mediated this proposed relationship. Findings indicated that playing with other gamers with whom the individual has a known relationship predicts significantly higher levels of positive social well-being when compared to playing with online acquaintances. Further, high satisfaction of autonomy, competence, and relatedness not only mediated this relationship, but also uniquely predicted positive social well-being. This study thus concluded that establishing a relationship with other players in a game is most predictive of positive social well-being, and that playing games that satisfy needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness may aid this relationship. 

The second empirical study was conducted in order to examine the relationship between type of motivation for gaming and general well-being and whether satisfaction of the basic psychological needs moderate the proposed relationship (Chapter 7). The results of the study indicated that playing for social purposes predicted overall positive well-being, whereas playing for coping purposes predicted overall negative well-being, though enhancement and self-gratification motivations did not predict either positive or negative well-being. High satisfaction of competence also uniquely predicted positive well-being, although autonomy and relatedness were not associated with any facet of well-being. There were no moderation effects present between motivation for gaming and satisfaction of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. This further expands upon the findings in Chapters 5 and 6 that there are indeed many factors that influence how video games relate to well-being including, but not limited to, motivations for gaming and the satisfaction of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. 

In the final chapter in the thesis, key findings are highlighted along with their implications for theory and in practical settings. Directions for future research, the strengths and the limitations of this thesis as a whole are also discussed. The chapter then concludes with a summary of the ways and particular conditions in which video games can positively relate to well-being and the overall contribution that this thesis makes to knowledge. 



  • Faculty of Education and Health Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Aisling T. O’Donnell

Second supervisor

Rachel M. Msetfi

Department or School

  • Psychology

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