The Motivations of Adolescents Who Are Addicted to Online Games: A Cognitive Perspective

By Wan, Chin-Sheng; Chiou, Wen-Bin | Adolescence, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

The Motivations of Adolescents Who Are Addicted to Online Games: A Cognitive Perspective


Wan, Chin-Sheng, Chiou, Wen-Bin, Adolescence


The popularity of the Internet has profoundly influenced and infiltrated many aspects of human life. Even though it brings many kinds of conveniences, some negative effects are gradually emerging. Among them, "Internet addiction" is the most noticeable (Brenner, 1997; Griffiths, 1997; Young, 1998). Young (1996) led the research initiative in this field. Chou and Chou (1999) are important pioneers in exploring this issue in Taiwan, arousing a wave of studies about Internet addiction in recent years. Chen (1998) conducted a survey on the phenomenon among 1,326 college students in Taiwan and forecasted that the rate would reach the range of 5%-10% at the end of 1999 and grow progressively.

Young (1998) claimed online games are one of the most addictive activities of Internet users. The present research focused on the massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Ng and Wiemer-Hastings (2005) also indicate that the player's characters advance by gaining experience points "rising" from one level to the next "leveling up," while collecting valuables and weapons, becoming wealthier and stronger. They state that social interaction in MMORPGs is highly essential, as players must collaborate in the game to succeed in reaching more complex goals and must join a "guild" or "clan" of other players to advance in the game. A significant percentage of teenage online game enthusiasts in Taiwan spend much more time in Internet cafes than they do in school or on school-related activities (Lo, Wang, & Fang, 2005). Chen et al. (2005) shows that in Taiwan the majority of online gaming crimes are theft (73.7%) and fraud (20.2%). Their research found that the age of offenders is low (03.3% are 15 to 20 years of age, 8.3% are under 15 years old). Therefore, why adolescents become addicted to online games is a critical issue worthy of extensive exploration.

In the past, three perspectives were used to explain the Internet addiction: the disease model, the adaptive model, and the way-of-life model (Freeman, 1992). These three models focused on pathology, adaptation, or behavioral type. Past research on Internet or online gaming addiction seldom employs the perspective of cognitive theory. However, online games provide different extrinsic and intrinsic motivators for the players (Elaine, 1997), and due to intrinsic motivation, they had a great driving force as well as sense of satisfaction (Rheingold, 1993). This research was the first to examine online games addiction from the cognitive perspective of human motivation and aimed at exploring the differential motivations between the addicts and nonaddicts. Moreover, the moderators that will impact the interplay of extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation are also addressed. It is hoped that the findings in this article will further our understanding of online games addiction and provide strategic guidelines for the prevention of the players' pathological use.

From a cognitive perspective, psychologists frequently describe motivation as being either intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivators come from within ourselves--we do something because we enjoy doing it. Extrinsic motivators come from outside--we do something because of there are rewards or punishments. When people play the games, they can obtain extrinsic motivators such as praise from others, money, or gifts (Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973), fame (Deci, 1971; Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991). They can also experience intrinsic motivators such as curiosity and exploration, a sense of belonging, autonomy (Deci et al., 1991; deCharms, 1968), competence (Bandura, 1977), and goals and plans (Tolman, 1959). It has been pointed out that addicts rely on and overuse the Internet mainly out of an uncontrollable intrinsic motivation, even though there are negative effects (Chou & Chou, 1999; Young, 1998). Therefore, intrinsic motivation should play a more critical role in online gaming addiction than extrinsic motivation. …

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