Applying the self determination theory of motivation in games based Learning

David Farrell, David Moffat

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

17 Citations (Scopus)


Game Based Learning (GBL) is often promoted by those who wish to improve learning by increasing pupil motivation. Playing games is considered to be an intrinsically motivating activity. Unfortunately, many GBL games aren't intrinsically motivating. Better understanding and application of motivational models to GBL design may help both GBL designers as well as educators in general make more enjoyable learning experiences. Self Determination Theory (SDT) is a motivational theory that provides a way of understanding human motivation in any context (Deci & Ryan 2000). SDT suggests that humans are motivated by Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence (ARC). There is a growing body of evidence to support the theory that high perceived support for ARC is related to feelings of high intrinsic motivation (Przybylski et al, 2012, Przybylski, Rigby and Ryan, 2010, Gagne & Deci, 2005). SDT also offers a path from extrinsic, towards intrinsic motivation. If we can apply SDT to games, or education in general, we might be able to improve the experience of the learner such that they perceive activities as enjoyable, interesting and intrinsically motivating. To test whether SDT could encourage and predict engagement in a GBL context, a Serious Game (Career Quest), was designed and implemented. The game taught employability skills to final year "Serious Games" students at Glasgow Caledonian University but the primary purpose of the game was to implement SDT overtly and investigate whether we could measure differences in engagement or motivation for players who had greater or lesser ARC support. 37 students played the game for 10 minutes at the beginning of class over a period of 4 weeks. In addition to this compulsory play session, there was a different, optional challenge daily. Engagement with the daily task was used as an implicit measure of engagement with the intention of validating standard SDT questionnaires that measure engagement. Results indicate that the implementation of the SDT model in this game cannot fully explain levels of engagement. The degree of engagement with the optional Daily Task was not predicted by the either the level of ARC support given to players or a self-report questionnaire that assessed student interest in their Serious Game class. Possible explanations are discussed including the subtle distinctions between objective ARC support and perceived ARC support as well as the idea that SDT may require an additional component such as "Purpose" to predict engagement.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 8th European Conference on Games Based Learning
EditorsCarsten Busch
PublisherAcademic Conferences and Publishing International Limited
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781910309551
ISBN (Print)9781910309551
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2014

Publication series

NameProceedings of the European Conference on Games-based Learning
ISSN (Print)2049-0992


  • extrinsic motivation
  • games based learning
  • intrinsic motivation
  • motivation
  • self determination theory
  • serious games
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Games based learning
  • Motivation
  • Self determination theory
  • Serious games
  • Extrinsic motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Education
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


Dive into the research topics of 'Applying the self determination theory of motivation in games based Learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this