Do Video Games Promote Motivation to Learn?

As mentioned earlier, one of the primary claims about video games is that they are, by design, engaging and therefore motivating, and that paying attention to their learning principles could potentially help educators to design better, more engaging learning environments (Gee, 2003; Squire, 2011). However, our review of the extant literature suggests that there is, at present, limited empirical evidence for this claim.

To be more specific, much of the current literature linking motivation to video game play does not take into consideration how these findings can be applied to educational settings (cf. Hoffman & Nadelson, 2010). Rather, most of these studies are ostensibly conducted by scholars who are more interested in: (1) observing how the satisfaction of certain needs and other psychological antecedents leads to enhanced enjoyment and engagement in the game (Przybylski et al., 2009a, b; Przybylski et al., 2012; Ryan, Rigby, & Przybylski, 2006); or (2) identifying different player “types” (Sherry & Lucas, 2003; Yee, 2006). Although this research generally suggests that gamers play video games for a number of cognitive, affective, and social reasons and that video games, by and large, satisfy the three basic psychological needs of competence, autonomy, and relatedness, the generalizabililty of these claims to K-12 populations is not known, considering that most studies focus on college students or adult populations.

There are, of course, a number of scholars who explicitly consider educational outcomes of video game play in their theory and research (e.g., Barab, Gresalfi, & Ingram-Goble, 2010; Gee, 2003; Shaffer, 2007; Squire, 2011). For example, Barab and colleagues (2010) state the importance of video games in helping to provide players with the opportunity to make meaningful decisions and foster skills for critical analysis and appraisal of consequences and risks. As we have demonstrated, such claims are generally supported by theories of achievement motivation and could therefore be considered to be theoretically sound. However, we could not identify any empirical studies conducted by these scholars that were framed explicitly in terms of specific theories of motivation and, moreover, considered how motivational factors such as expectancies and value were related to gains in academic achievement. By extension, then, there is very little evidence to support the claim that video games will lead to transfer of academic skills through motivation.

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