Francis Dalisay

Francis Dalisay (PhD, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, Washington State University) is an associate professor of communication at the University of Guam. Dalisay’s research examines the role of digital media in facilitating civic and political engagement, and the impact of communication technologies on health outcomes. His studies have been published in journals such as New Media & Society, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Medical Internet Research, the International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Mass Communication & Society, and Communication Research, among others.

Contact information:
fdalisay at

Matthew J. Kushin

Matthew J. Kushin, (PhD, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, Washington State University) is an associate professor of communication at Shepherd University. Kushin's research examines the civic and political utility of online and digital media. His research has been published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals including Mass Communication & Society, Social Media & Society, New Media & Society, and the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, among others.

Contact information:
mkushin at

Jinhee Kim

Jinhee Kim (Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University) is an associate professor in the Division of Humanities and Social Sciences at Pohang University of Science and Technology, South Korea. Her research interests include media and emotion, the appeal of entertainment media, and cross-cultural mediated communication. Her research appears in journals such as Media Psychology, Computers in Human Behavior, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, and the Asian Journal of Communication, among others.

Contact information:
jinheekim at

Amy Forbes

Amy Forbes (PhD, University of the Philippines-Dilliman) is Associate Professor of Communication and Journalism, and is also Associate Dean, Learning and Teaching for the College of Arts, Society and Education at James Cook University Australia. Her research interests are wide, varied and multidisciplinary in nature. She has written on media censorship, communication and mental health issues affecting migrant and indigenous communities as well as youth crime, rehabilitation and the criminal justice system. As a teaching and learning specialist, she is also interested in digital literacy, emergent technologies and pedagogy in higher education.

Contact information:
Amy.forbes at

Clarissa C. David

Clarissa David (PhD, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania) is a professor at the Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University. She conducts research in public opinion, political communication, public interventions, and communicating policy. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Communication, Communication Theory, Communication Methods & Measures, and Political Behavior, among other journals.

Contact information:
clarissa.david at

Lilnabeth P. Somera

Lilnabeth P. Somera (PhD, Michigan State University) is a professor of communication at the University of Guam. She is interested in health communication, particularly, in community outreach to reduce cancer disparities. Her research appears in journals such as the Journal of Health Communication, Communication Monographs, and Cancer Epidemiology, among others.

Contact information:
someralp at

Motivations for Video Game Play And Political Decision-Making: Evidence from Four Countries

by Francis Dalisay, Matthew J. Kushin, Jinhee Kim, Amy Forbes, Clarissa C. David, Lilnabeth P. Somera


A survey (N = 801) of college students in Australia, the Philippines, South Korea and the U.S. (Guam, Hawaii, Continental U.S.) was conducted to explore the relationships between the achievement, social and immersion motivations for video game play identified by Yee (2006) and three political decision-making variables -- political efficacy, skepticism and apathy. The results indicate that a factor comprising of items measuring the competition subcomponent of the achievement motivation of game play is positively linked with political efficacy, but negatively associated with skepticism. Also, a factor representing the advancement and mechanics subcomponents of the achievement motivation is positively related with skepticism. On the other hand, a factor representing the discovery, role-play and customization subcomponents of the immersion motivation is positively associated with apathy. The findings help extend understanding of the civic potential of video games.

Keywords: Video games, motivations, political decision-making, civics, cross-national survey



Scholars have grown to recognize the civic potential of video games (Kahne et al., 2009; Lee, 2019; Molyneux et al., 2015; Ratan et al., 2010; Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006). Studies have particularly demonstrated a positive association between video game play and indicators of political participation (e.g., Dalisay et al., 2015; Kahne et al., 2009; Stokes & Williams, 2018). Yet there is limited understanding about the underlying psychological mechanisms that may explain this association. One line of research suggests motivations to use games as a possible mechanism (Dalisay et al., 2015; Hassan, 2017). That is, individuals have different motives for playing games (e.g., McCauley et al., 2018; Selnow, 1984; Yee, 2006) -- some may play to socialize with other players, while some may use games to achieve, and still others may play because of a desire to be immersed in a game world (Yee, 2006). These distinct motivations could be differentially tied to political outcomes. Dalisay et al.’s (2015) study, for instance, suggested that the immersion motivation of game play is associated with a greater willingness to participate in politics offline, however, being motivated to play games to achieve and socialize are not related with engagement in politics. One explanation for these mixed findings could be that motivations for game play are tied distinctively to variables known to impact political participation. Three such variables are political efficacy, skepticism and apathy. Political efficacy and skepticism are known positive predictors of political participation (e.g., Pinkleton & Austin, 2001, 2004; Pinkleton et al., 2012). Other research indicates that apathy could keep citizens from engaging in political acts (Austin & Pinkleton, 1995). However, few studies have analyzed whether motivations to play video games impacts political efficacy, skepticism and apathy.

The purpose of the present study is to explore how motivations for video game play are associated with political efficacy, skepticism and apathy. Our study draws from two theoretical lines. The first is self-determination theory (Lilliker & Koc-Michalska, 2017), which broadly explains that motives drive individuals’ choices to act on certain behaviors, such as playing video games (Przybylski et al., 2010; Ryan et al., 2006) and participating in politics (Koestner et al., 1996). The second theoretical line driving our study is the notion of spillover effects, which delineates how attitudes and behaviors developed in one domain in life, such as in video games, can transfer into other life domains, such as in face-to-face interaction (Molyneux et al., 2015).

Our study thus employs cross-sectional data to test causal inferences regarding the associations of distinct motives to use video games with variables known to influence political participation. We employ a cross-national survey of participants living in Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and the U.S. (with samples from the continental U.S., Hawaii and Guam). Despite our use of cross-sectional data, given the popularity of video games, we feel our study is important because it will add further understanding of the potential positive and negative roles of video games for the political process. Consumers in the U.S., for instance, spent more than US$29.1 billion on games in 2017 (Entertainment Software Association, 2018), and the Pew Research Center (Brown, 2017) estimates that more than half of Americans play video games. In Australia, retail sales in the interactive game industry were approximately AU$2.96 billion in 2016 and there were an estimated 67% of Australians who played video games in 2017 (Brand et al., 2017). In South Korea, the game industry was calculated to be worth roughly 10.7 trillion South Korean won in 2015, equivalent to about US$9.6 billion (Korea Creative Content Agency, 2016). In addition, there were an estimated 29.9 million gamers in 2017 in the Philippines (NewZoo, 2017).

Motivations for Video Game Play

Psychologists have defined motivations as dispositional drives that predict human behaviors and actions (Atkinson, 1964; Ryan & Deci, 2000). Bartle (1996) developed four types of motivations that could drive an individual’s use of video games. These motivations included achievement (or having and wanting to pursue game-related goals), exploration (wanting to discover the virtual world), socializing (using video games as a vehicle to interact with others) and imposition (using video games either to help others or to impose distress upon them). Bartle’s conceptualization of these four player types were subsequently extended and systematically examined by Yee (2006), who developed a scale of 40 items to measure motivations for use of video games. Using factor analysis, Yee found that motivations consist of three main components -- social, achievement and immersion. Each component has its own subcomponents, which we will now describe. These components are assumed not to be mutually exclusive, so a player can be categorized as a social, achiever, or immersive gamer.

Social. There are three subcomponents in the social category: socializing, relationship and teamwork. The socializing subcomponent refers to the enjoyment of meeting and being acquainted with other players. Relationship refers to the desire to form deeper and more meaningful relationships with other players (e.g., discussing personal issues and problems with others). Teamwork reflects the collaborative environment inherent in many games, where players prefer to work together with a group rather than alone (Yee, 2006).

Achievement. The achievement motivation consists of three sub-components. The first is advancement, which describes players’ desire to reach goals, level up and accumulate resources within the game. The second is mechanics, which is used to describe the drive to seek game mastery (such as optimizing a character’s performance) by analyzing rules, systems and templates. The third is competition -- i.e., players are motivated to play games because of the satisfaction they get when competing with others or provoking them.

Immersion. The immersion motivation consists of four sub-components. The discovery subcomponent of immersion refers to players’ desire to explore unknown or hidden things, such as characters, artifacts and narratives. Role-playing describes players who enjoy being immersed in a game through the eyes of characters they design. Customization refers to the desire to make or alter the appearances, accessories or colors of their character. Escapism refers to using games to relieve stress and relax from unpleasant realities or avoid problems of the real world.

Subsequently, Yee and his colleagues (Yee et al., 2012) shortened the original scale of motivations for game play (Yee, 2006) from 40 to 12 items. Their intent was to create a briefer scale that would serve as a more direct assessment for just the three main components, and not their subcomponents. However, it is plausible that certain subcomponents of motivations may be related with political outcomes, whereas other may not. For example, in a study briefly discussed above, Dalisay et al. (2015) adapted items from Yee’s (2006) original scale and explored their relationships with offline political participation and other civic indicators. As noted earlier, Dalisay et al. found that only a factor comprising of the discovery/role-play/customization subcomponents of the immersion motivation was related to offline political participation and civic engagement. A factor representing the escapism subcomponent of immersion, however, was not associated with either offline participation or civic engagement. Additionally, none of the factors comprising of items assessing the social and achievement motivations were associated with either offline political participation or civic engagement. In attempt to extend Dalisay et al.’s (2015) study, and to examine a potentially wider number of motivations for game play, the present research will employ items from Yee’s (2006) original scale.

Self-Determination Theory and Spillover Effects of Video Games

As we note above, while researchers have found relationships between game play and civic attitudes (Kahne et al., 2009), greater understanding is needed of the process through which this occurs. Why might motivations to play video games lead to civic indicators, such as political efficacy, skepticism and apathy? There are two theoretical explanations that we will now briefly delineate: self-determination theory and the spillover effect.

Self-determination theory (SDT) is a theory of motivation positing that people do things either for the inherent satisfaction of doing them (behaviors known as intrinsically motivated), or because the act is perceived to lead to an external outcome separable from the act itself (such as rewards from others; behaviors known as extrinsically motivated) (Deci, 1971; Ryan & Deci, 2000). According to this theory, people are intrinsically motivated by a need for autonomy, competence and relatedness (Deci et al., 2001). Self-determination theory explains that the likelihood that an individual chooses to perform an act is increased when intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are combined (Ryan & Deci, 2000), and such would be the case for political acts. Lilliker and Koc-Michalska (2017) theorized and found evidence that, generally, both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, are positively linked with offline and online political participation. Koestner et al. (1996) found that those who internalized their political socialization, a process known as identification, were more likely to seek information about a political issue and vote. Bidee and colleagues demonstrated that autonomously motivated civic volunteers put more effort into their work (Bidee et al., 2013).

Regarding SDT’s application to game play, Przybylski et al. (2010) explained that “video games tap into motivational processes as well as or in some cases better than traditional forms of media entertainment” (p. 155). Based on a SDT framework, intrinsic motivation is the underlying motivation that is relevant to participation in computer games and the effects of such participation on the user (Ryan et al, 2006). Przybylski et al.’s (2010) research indicates that the extent to which a game can satisfy an individual’s needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness determines the game’s potential to enhance enjoyment, and influences player preference toward playing the game again in the future. Research by Ryan et al. (2006) found that the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness are reflected on Yee’s motivations -- the focus of the present study. Specifically, Ryan et al. revealed that the three aforementioned needs are positively associated with Yee's social and immersion motivations for video game play. Yee's achievement motivation was also positively associated with both competence and relatedness, but not autonomy.

Self-determination theory also predicts effects of game activities on players (e.g., a game’s effects on well-being), with beneficial effects coming from video games that meet psychological needs during play (Przybylski et al., 2010; Ryan et al., 2006). Hassan (2017) drew upon self-determination theory to explain that gamification facilitates motivational affordances that could influence both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, which could then enhance civic engagement behaviors. Broadly, gamification involves a three-step process: a) motivational affordances -- or stimuli that produce motivation through one’s psychological state, b) psychological outcomes -- such as enjoyment, attitudes or task involvement -- and c) behavioral outcomes -- such as participation and task completion (Hamari et al., 2014). Our present study focuses on analyzing how the motivational affordances of video games may impact political-psychological outcomes, namely political self-efficacy, skepticism and apathy. However, our study does not examine behavioral outcomes.

The spillover effect (Molyneux et al., 2015) provides a second theoretical explanation for why motivations to play video games may influence civic attitudes. According to the spillover effect, attitudes and behaviors developed in one domain, such as online, can spill over into other life domains, such as offline (Molyneux et al., 2015). Scholars have demonstrated that the spillover effect extends to civic life, finding that informational Internet usage, such as reading online news, can lead to the development of civic attitudes and behaviors online that are then expressed in offline life (Shah et al., 2005). Similarly, virtual worlds, such as those provided by video games, have the potential to serve as testing grounds for attitudes and behaviors that may extend into the real world (Williams, 2010). For example, civic gaming experience is linked with offline civic behaviors (Kahne et al., 2009). Molyneux et al. (2015) found that playing multiplayer video games affords players the opportunity to develop gaming social capital, or a connection to and engagement with a gaming community. This gaming social capital spills over into the real-world in the form of civic participation and real-world social capital (Molyneux et al., 2015). The spillover extends beyond behaviors to motivational domains. For instance, Dalisay et al. (2015) found that Yee’s (2006) immersion gaming motivation was positively associated with civic engagement and political participation, while socialization was associated with neighborliness, an indicator of social capital.

Taken together, the research indicates that what happens in virtual environments, including games, does not stay in virtual environments. Indeed, virtual environments can serve as a launching point for civics. As players become motivated to play games in order to socialize (e.g., to collaborate with other players), to achieve a goal (e.g., to compete with others to win) and immerse themselves in a game world (e.g., customizing the characters they create), they may find it easier to navigate through contentious and problem-oriented social environments such as politics and the political process. As discussed above, social and civic ties and their accompanying behaviors and attitudes that are developed in games spill over into offline communities. For some, video games could help develop a sense of belonging with a gaming community, which predicts offline civic participation (Molyneux et al., 2015). It is thus plausible that motivations for video game play can be linked with variables known to predict political participation, such as political efficacy, skepticism and apathy.

Political Efficacy, Skepticism and Apathy

Self-efficacy is one of the core foundations for motivation, as individuals who are highly motivated also tend to hold beliefs that they are highly efficacious, or perceive that their actions can produce outcomes (Bandura, 1994). Political efficacy, in particular, is the belief that one can influence the political process (Campbell et al., 1954). It is an important indicator of the state of a democracy (Craig et al., 1990). It is commonly studied given its known association with political participation, civic participation, social capital, voting and political expression (Molyneux et al., 2015; Pinkleton & Austin, 2001; Pinkleton & Austin, 1998; Scheufele & Nisbet, 2002). Internal political efficacy, specifically, refers to one’s sense of competence in affecting political outcomes (Craig et al., 1990; Niemi et al., 1991). Internal political efficacy represents an individual’s psychological state and is more appropriate to an investigation of personal political dispositions. Moreover, internal efficacy is a known predictor of first-time voting (Moeller et al., 2013). Use of a variety of types of media has been shown to influence efficacy. Research indicates attention to radio and traditional online news sources are positively associated with efficacy (Kushin & Yamamoto, 2010) and newspaper use and online news sources predict internal efficacy (Moeller et al., 2013). Further, messaging online about civics is positively related to internal efficacy (Moeller et al., 2013). Regarding video games, research has implied that their interactive features (Klimmt et al., 2007) and the game affordance of customization may foster a greater sense of control (Kim et al., 2015), which might equate to increasing one’s perceived efficacy. Dindar and Akbulut (2015) found that all three of Yee’s motivations for game play are positively associated with two other forms of efficacy: general efficacy and academic efficacy. This finding can be aligned with previous research that has revealed that general efficacy is linked positively with voting behavior (Condon & Holleque, 2013). Based on the above reviewed literature, we thus propose that individuals motivated to play video games to socialize, achieve and immerse may also perceive themselves to be efficacious in other non-game domains, such as politics. As we discussed, motivation is one of the core foundations for efficacy. We therefore test the following hypothesis:

H1: The social, achievement and immersion motivations to play video games will be positively associated with political efficacy.

Research shows that efficacy is tied positively with skepticism (e.g., Pinkleton et al., 2012). Skepticism represents disbelief, or questioning of the political process without dismissing it (Cappella & Jamieson, 1997). Pinkleton et al. (2012) explained that “skepticism is a constructive response to political blunders and public affairs news media, representing a critical but open posture toward news media and politicians” (p. 26). Indeed, skeptics recognize the limitations of media coverage and politicians, thus motivating information-seeking in order to evaluate existing knowledge and information (Lau & Erber, 1985; Pinkleton & Austin, 1998). Skepticism, while a representation of frustration with politics and media, does not drive disengagement. Rather, skepticism serves as a motivating side of dissatisfaction that is linked to efficacy, which enhances participation (Pinkleton et al., 2012). Research has demonstrated a positive link between skepticism and online political expression behaviors (Yamamoto & Kushin, 2014). Past research has also shown that active information-seeking of political information goes hand in hand with skepticism. For instance, in a three-wave panel study, Hutchens et al. (2016) found that active information-seeking of political campaign information at time 1 positively predicts skepticism at time 2, and levels of skepticism at time 2 predict information-seeking in time 3.

We propose that individuals who are motivated to play video games because they seek achievement or immersion may also be driven to actively seek out and evaluate information or knowledge in other non-game domains, such as politics. In their landmark study on the civic potential of video games, Kahne et al. (2008) found that teens who most frequently report having civic gaming experiences (e.g., assisting or leading other players, organizing teams, playing games that stimulate political processes or games that cover social issues) also tend to seek out information related to politics or current events and are more interested in politics, than teens who don’t play games that often. As discussed, achievers are motivated to play games because they enjoy analyzing and studying rules and systems, reaching goals and competing with others. They actively seek out game-related information with the hopes that such information would give them an advantage over other players (Yee, 2006). Drawing on the spillover effect (Molyneux et al., 2015), a tendency toward actively seeking out information in the game world could spill over to non-game contexts, such as politics. Moreover, immersive players are motivated to use games to actively discover new things, role-play and customize (Yee, 2006). Evidence suggests that those who are driven to play games for immersion tend to score high in the personality traits of openness to experience and conscientiousness (Jeng & Teng, 2008). Individuals who are open to experience and are conscientious also tend to have a high need for cognition; that is, they have an inclination to enjoy activities that are intellectually challenging or require thinking (Sadowski & Cogburn, 1997). Similar to the above descriptions of players who are motivated to pursue achievement and immersion, people who enjoy high cognitive engagement scrutinize their environment in a sense-making quest (Cacioppo & Petty, 1982), finding it fun to do so (Cohen et al., 1955). A need for cognition is an underlying positive predictor of skepticism (Vraga & Tully, 2021). Furthermore, politics also necessitate high cognitive capacity, communicative ability and the confidence to be able to analyze and present the pros and cons of competing solutions (Cappella & Jamieson, 1997). Games could potentially afford opportunities for individuals to learn or develop skills in problem-solving (e.g., Raphael et al., 2010), information processing (Powers et al., 2013) and critical thinking (Mao et al., in press). Based on the above literature, we thus propose the following hypothesis:

H2: The achievement and immersion motivations to play video games will be positively associated with skepticism.

While we propose that the achievement and immersion motivations would be positively associated with skepticism, we make no predictions about the direction of the association between social motivation and skepticism. Social interaction is a known prerequisite for political engagement (Putnam, 2000). Politics involves the struggle to collaborate with others in often-contentious social environments for the purpose of solving problems (Cappella & Jamieson, 1997). Involvement in politics also necessitates the ability to make informed decisions through exchanging differing opinions. As we note, those categorized as social players are assumed to use video games because games provide them with a space to interact, form relationships and collaborate with others (Yee, 2006). Arguably, however, such social acts may not entail active information-seeking, critical evaluation of information and a high need for cognition. On the other hand, recent research by Lee and Lin (2016) found that the intrinsic motivation of relatedness, which is conceptually similar to Yee’s social motivation, is positively associated with health information-seeking. Yet to date, there is limited understanding of the role relatedness -- or other, similar motivations -- may have with seeking and critically evaluating information in other domains, such as politics. Therefore, we investigate the following research question:

RQ1: How is the social motivation associated with skepticism?

Apathy represents a lack of interest, concern, or attention to politics (Bennett, 1986). It, therefore, represents a psychological disengagement from politics (Bennett, 1986). Apathy represents either a disinterest or reluctance to get involved in politics (Austin & Pinkleton, 1995). Evidence suggests that apathy is negatively related to political efficacy, political involvement, public affairs media use (both offline and online) and voter turnout (Austin & Pinkleton, 1995; Pinkleton & Austin, 2004; Yamamoto & Kushin, 2014). Apathy is conceptually similar to amotivation, a construct from self-determination theory that broadly refers to the absence of an intent to act (Deci & Ryan, 2008); representing a dearth of self-determination (Vallerand et al., 1993). Amotivation occurs when a person does not value the behavior or does not believe that a valued outcome will result from the behavior. Amotivation also occurs when a person fails to believe they are capable of doing the behavior necessary to achieve a desired outcome (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Similar to the lack of political engagement among the apathetic (Austin & Pinkleton, 1995; Pinkleton & Austin, 2004; Yamamoto & Kushin, 2014), those who are amotivated are not likely to participate in politics (Koestner et al., 1996). Both apathy and amotivation are also associated with a lack of information-seeking about politics (Koestner et al., 1996; Pinkleton & Austin, 2004). Moreover, Pinkleton and Austin (2004) found high satisfaction with television as a news source associated with increases in apathy. Similarly, attention to political social media content positively predicts apathy -- but interestingly, attention to traditional online news sources negatively predicts apathy (Yamamoto & Kushin, 2014). However, there is currently a lack of understanding of whether game use is associated with apathy. Given the potential that apathy represents amotivation, it could be surmised that the more motivated a player is, the less apathetic they would be. Yet with the limited research that has examined the roles of motivations for video game play in apathy, we investigate the following research question:

RQ2: How are the social, achievement and immersion motivations associated with apathy?



A survey of college students was conducted between September 2013 and March 2014. The survey included students enrolled in the universities that the coauthors of this study are affiliated with. The research sites included a public university in northeastern Australia (n = 86; females = 21, males = 65; mean age = 26.11), a public university in central Guam (n = 210; females = 141, males = 69; mean age = 20.76), a public university in the Eastern U.S. mainland (n = 77; females = 47, males = 30; mean age = 22.06), a public university in Hawaii (n = 132; females = 71, males = 61; mean age = 22.42), a public and a private university in Metro Manila, Philippines (n = 87; females = 59, males = 28; mean age = 19.60), various private and public universities in Seoul (n = 67) and other areas (n = 148) in South Korea (n = 215; females = 104, males = 111; mean age = 22.78). The surveys were conducted via the Web using Qualtrics. However, pen-and-paper surveys were also conducted in the Philippines due to Web access issues in that country. Surveys were in English in all locations except for South Korea, where it was administered in Korean [1].

Participants who had played a video game within the past year were recruited in communication classes and offered course credit for their participation [2]. This sampling approach was appropriate to our goal because, as we discussed above, our study did not seek out to examine the effects of intensity of playing a specific type of game or the frequency of playing games. Our study was mainly concerned with examining motivations of playing video games as a psychological mechanism that could explain why games can foster political engagement. It was our assumption that these motivations would be present among individuals who had played games within the past year. The final sample size was 801.


Independent variables.

Measures of motivation for playing video games were derived from Yee’s (2006) original 40-item survey that included scales for all of the 10 subcomponents for motivations for game play: advancement, mechanics, competition, socializing, relationship, teamwork, discovery, role-playing, customization, escapism and arousal. Because Yee’s original scale focused on massively multiplayer online role-playing games, we excluded items that were not directly relevant to all types of games (e.g., “Being part of a serious, raid/loot-oriented guild,” “How often do you use a character builder or a template to plan out your character's advancement at an early level,” “Being part of a friendly, casual guild”). This left us with a total of 30 items. A principle component analysis with varimax rotation was performed on the items, resulting in five factors emerging with eigenvalues greater than 1. These factors explained 59.40 percent of the variance. The results of this analysis are reported in our results section and on Table 1 in the Appendix section below. Two of the 30 items initially analyzed in the PCA had high cross loadings with several factors. As such, we did not include these items in our analyses (how important is it to enjoy exploring the game’s world just for the sake of exploring; how important is it to enjoy finding new things in a game that most people don’t know about), resulting in 28 total items analyzed.

Dependent variables.

Political efficacy was measured with the following three items adapted from previous studies (e.g., Craig, Niemi, & Silver, 1990), which specifically tapped into internal efficacy: I consider myself to be well-qualified in politics; I feel I have a pretty good understanding of the important political issues facing our country; I feel that I could do as good a job in public office as most other people. The three items were used to form an averaged index (M = 3.04, SD = .85, a = .70). 

Skepticism was measured with the following items, each on a 7-point Likert-type scale (1=strongly disagree; 7=strongly agree): it’s important to critically evaluate statements made by government officials; I think about the things elected officials say before I accept them as believable; it’s important to critically evaluate what news stories say. These three items, adapted from Cuillier and Pinkleton (2011) and Pinkleton et al. (2012), formed an averaged index (M = 3.98, SD = .75, a = .74).

Apathy was measured by assessing the following three items on a 7-point Likert-type scale (1= strongly disagree; 7=strongly agree): voting takes too much time; participating in elections is more trouble than it’s worth; staying informed about the government is too much trouble. These items, derived from prior research (Austin & Pinkleton, 1995; Austin, Chen, Pinkleton, & Johnson, 2006; Austin et al., 2008; Pinkleton & Austin, 2004), formed an averaged index (M = 2.35, SD = .85, a = .70).

We ran zero-order correlations between efficacy, skepticism and apathy to examine the extent to which these variables are related. We found that efficacy and skepticism were positively related (r = .371, p < .001). However, both efficacy (r = -.235, p < .001) and skepticism (r = -.259, p < .001) were negatively related with apathy.

Covariates and other measures.

Demographic variables including age, sex and location were included as covariates to evaluate the independent associations of the predictor variables with the dependent variables. Age was measured in an open-ended format (M = 22.14, SD = 4.53, range = 17-54). Sex was dummy coded and measured with females as the high value (54 percent) and males as the low value (46 percent). For country, three dummy variables were used, which included Australia, Philippines and South Korea. The three U.S. research sites (i.e., Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland) served as the reference group and thus were not included as controls in the regression models described below. In addition, political interest (1 = not interested, 5 = very interested; M = 3.14, SD = 1.37) and political ideology (1 = very conservative, 5 = very liberal; M = 2.77, SD = .97) were measured respectively with single items.


Factor Analysis for Motivations of Game Play

As Table 1 shows below, the data merged into 5 factors, which we interpreted along the following constructs: (a) achievement factor 1 (M = 1.85, SD = .80, a = .88), (b) achievement factor 2 (M = 2.77, SD = .97, a = .73), (c) social (M = 1.85, SD = .80, a = .89), (d) immersion factor 1 (M = 2.45, SD = 1.07, a = .82) and (e) immersion factor 2 (M = 2.20, SD = 1.04, a = .80). We identified achievement factor 1 as advancement/mechanics and achievement factor 2 as competition. We interpreted and identified immersion factor 1 as discovery/role-playing/customization and immersion factor 2 as escapism.

Results for Research Questions

SPSS Version 22 was used to analyze the data, test the hypotheses and investigate the research questions. Three sets of hierarchical regression models were created with the following respective dependent variables: political efficacy, skepticism and apathy. The predictors in all three of the models included age, sex, country [3], political interest and political ideology added as covariates. Predictors also included the following factors for game play motivations: achievement factor 1 (competition), (b) achievement factor 2 (advancement/mechanics), social, (d) immersion factor 1 (discovery/role-playing/customization) and immersion factor 2 (escapism). Political efficacy, skepticism and apathy were included as covariates in the models for which they were not the dependent variables. The results of the regression analyses are reported in the below Appendix on Table 2.

H1 proposed that the three motivations to play video games will be positively associated with political efficacy. Table 2 shows that among the other motivations for game play, only achievement factor 2 (competition) (β = .160, p < .01) positively predicted efficacy.
H2 predicted that the achievement and immersion motivations to play video games will be positively associated with skepticism. As shown on Table 5, achievement factor 1 (advancement/mechanics) was positively associated with skepticism (β = .232, p < .001). Interestingly, on the other hand, achievement factor 2 (competition) was negatively associated with skepticism (β = -.187, p < .001). The two immersion factor motivations for game play were not associated with skepticism. Taken together, our results showed limited support for both H1 and H2.
RQ1 investigated the relationship between social motivation and skepticism. Regarding the results for RQ1, social motivation was not a significant predictor of skepticism.
RQ2 investigated the relationships between the three motivations to play games and apathy. As shown on Table 2, immersion factor 1 (discovery/role-play/customization) was positively associated with apathy (β = .124, p < .01). The other motivations for game play were not associated with apathy.


Scholars have been interested in the pro-social potential of video games fostering civic behaviors for some time (Kahne et al., 2009; Steinkuehler & Williams, 2006). Self-determination theory posits that humans have a natural tendency towards growth, knowledge and skill development (Bidee et al., 2013). Such motivational affordances predict both engagement in video games and political outcomes (Lilliker & Koc-Michalska, 2017; Koestner et al., 1996; Przybylski et al., 2010, Ryan et al, 2006). What, then, is the overlap between the relevant motivations for playing video games, and the relevant motivations for engaging in politics? The spillover effect demonstrates that attitudes and behaviors developed in one domain, such as video game play, can spill over into real life -- including civics (Molyneux et al., 2015). Video games can serve as proverbial petri dishes such that motivations, which may induce game play, may also produce non-game-related outcomes. There are two plausible explanations: a) the motivations themselves may prove valuable as motivators for engaging in other domains, and b) the attitudes formed while playing video games may translate to other domains. This study explored and found evidence supporting the second plausibility as it relates to the domain of civics. Specifically, our study, which employed a cross-national survey, sought to explore the associations between motivations for video game play and three key political attitudes -- efficacy, skepticism and apathy. Our findings contribute to the current literature in a number of ways, which can be summarized along the “positive” and “negative” role of video games for the political process.

First, we found that playing games in order to achieve in competition is positively linked with political self-efficacy. Broadly, self-efficacy is a sense that one is capable of overcoming obstacles to produce a desired outcome (Bandura, 1994), while political self-efficacy focuses on this sense as it relates to politics. It makes sense that one who is achievement-oriented will draw upon capabilities to achieve in the face of competitive obstacles. Likewise, politics involves the struggle to solve problems in often-contentious social environments (Cappella & Jamieson, 1997). As Schattschneider (1960) wrote, “democracy is a competitive political system in which competing leaders and organizations define the alternatives of public policy in such a way that the public can participate in the decision-making process” (p. 138). The confidence to solve problems and compete in games may spill over into confidence in the “game” of politics. Indeed, research suggests that games could afford opportunities for individuals to learn or develop these problem-solving skills (e.g., Raphael et al., 2010), and the interactive nature of video games may play a role in triggering a greater sense of control (Klimmt et al., 2007). As Bandura (1994) notes: “The most effective way of creating a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences. Successes build a robust belief in one's personal efficacy” (p. 2). Taken together, the testing ground of video games may serve as a place to exercise one’s motivation to compete; thereby developing a greater confidence in one’s abilities. Growing confidence in the domain of video games may extend to increases in confidence to participate in other competitive, “winner take all” environments such as politics. Supporting this reasoning, past research shows that the achievement motivation is also linked to general efficacy and academic efficacy (Dindar & Akbulut, 2015). Our study extends this line of research by suggesting spillover of the achievement motivation into politics.

Second, while the achievement-competition factor was linked with higher levels of political self-efficacy, it was also linked with lower levels of skepticism. This offers mixed support for its political utility. Those who play to achieve in competition may have the characteristics of a person who is self-efficacious in many dimensions of life. Indeed, as we have noted, some evidence suggests a relationship between the achievement motivation and self-efficacy in other realms, including academic performance (e.g., Elias et al., 2010; Yusuf, 2011). Yet while competitive players believe that they can make change (i.e., are efficacious) in different dimensions of life (including politics), they may have less need to critically evaluate information (i.e., be skeptical). A plausible explanation is that competitive players may have a low need for cognition, including as it relates to political information--i.e., they may not find thinking about politics as an enjoyable act. As we explained above, the need for cognition is a known positive predictor of skepticism (Vraga & Tully, 2021). Said differently, confidence in one’s ability to beat others in a game (i.e., efficacy) -- characteristic of the achievement-competition factor -- does not require a propensity for enjoying thinking and analysis (i.e., a need for cognition). Nor does it require a critical evaluation of received information (i.e., skepticism) in a political context. Achievement-competition aligns with social comparison and a winner/loser mentality: both in games and in politics.

Third, on the other hand, our study found that a factor representing the achievement-advancement/mechanics is linked positively with skepticism. Advancement is the subcomponent of the achievement factor that refers to a desire for reaching goals within the game, leveling up and accumulating resources. Mechanics is the achievement subcomponent referring to the desire to seek game mastery (such as optimizing a character’s performance) by analyzing rules or systems. Both advancement and mechanics reflect the drive to engage in tasks that arguably require a high level of cognitive involvement -- processing complex information, seeking out additional information and evaluating information to solve in-game puzzles or problems. Similarly, skepticism involves thoughtful processing of information or seeking out additional information (Pinkleton & Austin, 1998). Thus, those desiring to use games to advance or master the rules or systems of a game may also be skeptical about the information they receive. In this regard, it is also plausible that individuals who are motivated to play games to advance and to analyze the mechanics within a game may also have a high need for cognition. Such gamers are involved thinkers intrinsically motivated to analyze and question, a disposition that may spill over into political life by way of skepticism. Given these findings, we recommend that future studies attempt to delineate whether the need for cognition can explain the distinct findings for the achievement-advancement/mechanics factor and the achievement-competition factor’s associations with skepticism that we found in our study.

Fourth, our study suggests that playing games to immerse oneself in discovery, role-play and customization is linked positively with political apathy. The desire to build, modify and role play characters in exploring the game world, may reflect a tendency to opt for an ideal-self beyond the constraints of one’s actual-self and its accompanying problems and conflicts. Evidence suggests that video games can help ease the discomfort of actual-self and ideal-self discrepancy (Moskalenko & Heine, 2003). Games that promote actual-self and ideal-self convergence have been found to be more intrinsically motivating for highly immersed players, and those players with high actual-self and ideal-self discrepancy are more motivated by games that foster ideal character embodiment (Przybylski et al., 2012). In sum, seeking to explore alternative identities may provide a way to easily experience a better life elsewhere, while one is apathetic to address real-world problems.

Yet, our study also suggested that playing games to socialize and to escape the real world are not associated with any of the three political attitude variables we examined. In terms of the social factor, the non-relationship with political efficacy, skepticism and apathy can be aligned with Dalisay et al.’s (2015) previous study, which found that playing games to socialize is not associated with offline political participation. Chen and Chan (2017) found a social utility motivation for using social media did not predict political self-efficacy. The relationship between socializing and political self-efficacy is further called into question by Kaye and Johnson (2002), who found that self-efficacy did not predict using the Internet for social purposes. While multiplayer video games may help players develop community belonging (Molyneux et al., 2015), socialization alone may not sufficiently influence self-efficacy in mediated realms such as online environments and in video games. This may be explained by the hypothesis of the disengaging potential of entertainment and social-recreational media (cf., Putnam, 2000; Shah et al., 2001). The social motivation of video games may detract from non-game-related goals, such as political outcomes. Evidence suggests that online social gaming is not related to gains in political engagement -- which is predicted positively by political efficacy and skepticism, and negatively by apathy -- whereas gaming socially in the same room is related to gains in political engagement (Kahne et al., 2009). This may be a result of the limited affordances of online game interaction (Kahne et al., 2009).

By definition, the second immersion factor -- escapism -- entails the desire to escape an unpleasant reality into a fantasy world (Yee, 2006). It may be that those motivated towards escapism do not feel prepared or motivated about problems in the real world. Taken together, opting for fantasy realities may reflect high apathy toward problems in one’s actual-self and one’s actual reality. Our understanding of this can be informed by research that shows that positive fantasies about idealized futures have been shown to predict low effort, low energy and low achievement in realizing those idealized futures -- as well as increased depressive symptoms when measured longitudinally (Kappes & Oettingen, 2011; Oettingen & Mayer, 2002; Oettinger et al., 2016). 

Some limitations of our study should be acknowledged, along with directions on how researchers may build upon these limitations to advance this rather recent and emerging area of study. First, because our study was not intended to examine specific types of games used or hours played, it could not be determined whether these factors may be affecting online political participation and the three political decision-making variables examined in our study. For instance, certain types of games may have stronger or weaker relationships with online political participation and political decision-making than other types of games. In other words, the relationships that motivations for game play have on online political participation and political decision-making may have been reduced in our dataset because our participants may have played several different types of games, including both role-playing games and non-role-playing games. In this case, further research should include measures for specific types of games used or hours played, and examine how they may relate to online political participation and political decision-making.

Second, some may argue that our regression coefficients were not that large. Particularly, Ferguson recommends that only regression coefficients above .2 should be considered as “‘practically’ significant effect[s] for social science data” (p. 533). Orben and Przbylski (2019) imply that regression coefficients below .1 should not warrant changes in policy. Regarding our results, only one of our statistically significant findings had a regression coefficient above .2. This was for the association between achievement factor 1 (advancement/mechanics) and skepticism. Two of our other findings that were statistically significant -- that is, the relationship between advancement factor 2 (competition) and political efficacy, and the relationship between advancement factor 2 (competition) and skepticism -- had regression coefficients that seem to have been approaching .2. The relationship between immersion factor 1 (discovery/role-play/customization) and apathy did not appear to approach the .2 cutoff suggested by Fergusson. However, it should be noted that these findings are well above the .1 cutoff suggested by Orben and Pryzbylski. Nevertheless, because it is not uncommon for social science research to yield findings below the cutoffs identified by Fergusson and Orben and Przybylski, we leave it up to our readers to decide on the practical significance of our findings. More than anything else, we hope our findings help separate relationships that are more important than others.

Finally, because our study did not incorporate other variables known to enhance political participation, such as external efficacy, cynicism and political trust, we could not examine whether motivations for game play may be linked with these other variables that are known to predict political participation. We thus recommend that future studies consider examining them. Also, the cross-sectional nature of our study limits our ability to establish that motivations for game play cause changes in political efficacy, skepticism and apathy. Particularly, one can argue that efficacy, skepticism and apathy predict motivations for game play, and not the other way around. Therefore, we recommend that future studies employ experimental designs to confirm our causal claims.

In spite of the above-noted limitations, we conclude that motivations to play video games may have both an upside and a downside when it comes to political self-efficacy, skepticism and apathy. The gamification process consists of three steps: motivational affordances, psychological outcomes and behavioral outcomes (Hamari et al., 2014). This study builds on research examining the political-psychological outcomes of video game use (e.g., Molyneux et al., 2015) by exploring how the motivational affordances of video games influence political self-efficacy, skepticism and apathy. While our study reinforces the growing recognition of the pro-social potential of video games in the civic process (Dalisay et al., 2015; Kahne et al., 2009), our findings also help highlight the politically demobilizing potential of this medium. Our study, therefore, implies the importance for consumers to be aware of the extent to which their motivations to use games might impact their political behaviors and choices. Video games have become increasingly popular among consumers and omnipresent in the lives of citizens. Further, governments, scholars and political participation advocates have sought to leverage the engaging aspects of games, such as their immersive nature and their competitive aspects, by gamifying -- adding game elements -- to political participation to increase involvement (Lerner, 2014; Thiel et al., 2016). It is vital to continue investigating their positive and negative implications for civic processes.



Table 1. Principle component analysis results for measures of motivations for video game play.


Achievement factor 1:



Achievement factor 2:



Immersion factor 1:




Immersion factor 2:


How important is it that your game character is optimized as much as possible for their profession/role?






How important is it that you know as much about the game’s mechanics and rules as possible?






How important is accumulating resources, money, or other in-game items?






How important is it for you to become powerful when you play video games? 






How important is acquiring rare items in games that most players will never have? 






How important is it for you to level up your character as fast as possible?






How important are the precise numbers and percentages underlying a game?






How important is it for you to compete with other players?






How important is it for you to irritate other players?






How important is it for you to dominate other players?






How important is having meaningful conversations with other players?






How important is it to get to know other players?






How important is it to chat with other players?







How important is it to talk to your gaming friends about your personal issues?






How important is it to have your gaming friends offer support to you when you have a real life problem?






How important is it for you to work and collaborate with other players in a group?






When working on a task in a game, how important is it for you to be grouped with others?






How important is it to help other players?






How important is it that your game character's outfit matches in color and style?






How important is it to customize your video game character during character creation?






How important is it that your game character looks different from other characters?    






How much do you enjoy collecting distinctive objects or clothing that have no functional value in the game?






How important is it to enjoy trying out new roles and personalities with your video game characters?






How important is it to roleplay your game character?






How important is it to play games in order to escape from the real world? 






How often do you play games so you can avoid thinking about some of your real-life problems or worries?






When you play video games, how important is it to enjoy being immersed in a fantasy world?






How important is it to play games so you can relax from the day's work?   












Variance explained (%)







Table 2. Hierarchical regression results for predictors of political efficacy, skepticism and apathy.


Political Efficacy

β (VIF)



β (VIF)


β (VIF)


.059 (1.212)

.030 (1.217)

.032 (1.217)

Sex (female)

-.096** (1.202)

.070* (1.210)

-.014 (1.217)


.074** (1.341)

.082* (1.340)

.082* (1.349)


.072* (1.300)

.109** (1.291)

.109** (1.301)

South Korea

.089* (1.528)

-.164*** (1.503)

-.106** 1.527

Political interest

.425*** (1.403)

.129** (1.668)

-.318*** (1.564)

Political ideology (liberal)

-.024 (1.062)

.073* (1.056)

-.022 (1.063)

Political Efficacy


.246*** (1.510)

-.009 (1.596)


.219*** (1.342)


-.182*** (1.377)


-.007 (1.265)

-.162*** (1.228)


Incremental R2





Achievement Factor 1: Advancement/Mechanics

.017 (2.560)

.232*** (2.484)

.008 (2.560)

Incremental R2




Achievement Factor 2: Competition

.160** (1.565)

-.187*** (1.556)

.001 (1.605)

Incremental R2





-.064 (1.786)

.019 (1.792)

.018 (1.792)

Incremental R2




Immersion Factor 1: Discovery/Role-play/


.017 (2.065)

-.012 (2.065)

.124** (2.046)

Incremental R2




Immersion Factor 2: Escapism

-.041 (1.662)

.010 (1.664)

.051 (1.661)

Incremental R2




Total R2




Note: Table presents standardized coefficients, * indicates p < .05, ** indicates p < .01, *** indicates p < .001



[1] A questionnaire in English was translated into Korean by a professional translator who is bi-lingual in English and Korean. Subsequently, one of the authors who is also bilingual in English and Korean examined the translations for inconsistencies and inaccuracies. After the translator and author negotiated the translations, a questionnaire in Korean was finalized.

[2] In the case of South Korea, an online panel sample was used to recruit college students. Specifically, one survey company based in Seoul was commissioned to collect data online. The company had registered approximately 1 million online users as of the end of 2013. All participants received compensation (e.g., cash-equivalent points) from the company.

[3] Three dummy variables were used for country with the U.S. [i.e., mainland, Hawaii and Guam] as the reference group.



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