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Exploring the relationship between cognitively challenging puzzle video games and resilient behaviours

Pusey, Megan E. (2021) Exploring the relationship between cognitively challenging puzzle video games and resilient behaviours. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

PDF - Whole Thesis
Embargoed until June 2023.


Resilience refers to a person’s mental ability to adaptively deal with challenges in life. Being adaptive and resilient in the face of challenges is a key skill for being successful in life and learning. Previous research has found interactive technologies can be used to effectively increase resilience. However, the use of commercial off-the-shelf video games has not been thoroughly investigated. This thesis investigates the potential link between cognitively challenging video games and resilience. Using surveys, gameplay recordings and interviews, this thesis found that video games can encourage resilient behaviours. Intrinsic motivation and social support both played an important role in encouraging these resilient behaviours.

This thesis uses Self-Determination Theory, from psychology, as a lens to analyse motivation for play. Self-Determination Theory proposes that people are intrinsically motivated to play video games to fulfil our psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Results revealed that when a player’s primary need for playing was frustrated, they quit easily but when a player’s primary need for playing was satisfied, they displayed resilient behaviours. Second, this thesis also explored how the social context impacts resilient behaviours. Results showed that social support from a ‘more knowledgeable other’ while playing a challenging game helped players deal with frustration and persevere. This finding suggests social support (even during single-player games) increases resilient behaviours.

This exploratory work shows that video games could intentionally be used as resilience interventions. Additionally, these results have implications for game design, in particular games that involve cognitively challenging puzzles, which are more likely to be used in educational contexts. Players need to be offered enough support to overcome the challenges presented to improve their resilience. The findings suggest challenging games should contain features that support the psychological needs for autonomy and relatedness as well as competence, in order to be motivating for as many players as possible.

Keywords: resilience; video games; cognitive challenge; social support

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): IT, Media and Communications
Supervisor(s): Wong, Kevin and Rappa, Natasha
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