The Zero-Sum Funomaly pt.2
Tuesday, October 25, 2011 at 10:06PM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Learning, Motivation, & The Mind

Fun is made up of time, engagement, and volition. Volition runs much deeper than the decision to play this game or that one. It is something that's behind every step of a fun gameplay experience. Since interactivity sits at the core of the video game medium, how and why players decide to interact is a core consideration in our investigation of fun. To help us understand the importance of volition we need to understand the concept of play. Using a more sophisticated definition than in part 1, we have from wikipedia...

"Play is a term employed in ethology and psychology to describe to a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment. Play is commonly associated with children, but positive psychology has stressed that play is imperative for all higher-functioning animals, even adult humans."



By this definition we can deduce that all of play is fun, but not all fun is play. Fun can be had passively, while play is active. The other key difference between fun and play is intrinsic motivation. Again wikipedia says:

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself, and exists within the individual rather than relying on any external pressure. Intrinsic motivation has been studied by social and educational psychologists since the early 1970s. Research has found that it is usually associated with high educational achievement and enjoyment by students. Students are likely to be intrinsically motivated if they:

[1] attribute their educational results to internal factors that they can control (e.g. the amount of effort they put in). 

[2] believe they can be effective agents in reaching desired goals (i.e. the results are not determined by luck). 

[3] are interested in mastering a topic, rather than just rote-learning to achieve good grades.


By tapping into the research that's already well supported, we can see how important the freedom of choice is to play and fun. Without the freedom of choice both fun and play are not be possible. After all, fun, play, and intrinsic motivation require no external pressure. Consider the other significant bonuses that are associated with intrinsically motivated individuals. Intrinsically motivated people tend to have an increased of sense of agency, belief that they can reach goals by building skills (practice), and have an interest in mastery. These are important qualities for users to have with any learning environment. Since video games are interactive learning/testing systems, we should never forget that game design is enhanced when designers create teacher-student relationship between the game and the player.

"Social-cognitive models of behavior change include the constructs of motivation and volition. Motivation is seen as a process that leads to the forming of behavioral intentions. Volition is seen as a process that leads from intention to actual behavior. In other words, motivation and volition refer to goal setting and goal pursuit, respectively." ~wikipedia

Games require goals. Gameplay is inherently interactive. Fun, play, and intrinsic motivation require the freedom of choice. Volition is the choice pursuit of a goal. Seems pretty obvious to me if you put all of these concepts together, you'll have the key to creating fun video games.

We can dig deeper still into intrinsic motivation. To explain what intrinsic motivation is made of or where it comes from we must rely on theories. Let's use professor Steven Reiss's theory of the 16 basic desires that motivate intrinsic desires. The following are roughly arranged in order of game design relevance.

The following are more applicable in a social or multiplayer context.

The following are stressed most when role playing in games.


To sum up, it's easy to think of "play" as being a hard to define, child like activity surrounded by innocent intentions, but it's really nothing more than what I've described. The concept of play has not baffled researchers and scientist. Why should we treat it as something we can't wrap our minds around. Also, contrary to commonly held beliefs, play does not require imagination, pretending, or an environment without rules and consequences.


In part 3 we'll look at important features that sustain intrinsic learning and the features that can easily destroy it. Coming up, the dark side of motivation: extrinsic. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (
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