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The central role of stress relief in video gaming motivations and preferences



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Schallock, Jessica Marie 


Video games are played by more than 1.8 billion people and are a pervasive force in society, but despite decades of research there has been little consensus on their effects. Before we are able to model complex outcomes such as excessive engagement, we must first understand how and why people play video games. This dissertation integrates latent factor models with techniques from machine learning and network analysis to develop a holistic picture of gaming style, motivations, and individual differences. It employs diverse sources of data across several studies and a total of 2,143 participants, combining online questionnaires with qualitative analysis of participant responses and objective information about gaming behaviour from the API of the popular gaming network “Steam”, and finds that stress relief is a primary motivation for engaging in the immersive worlds of video games.

Previous research has indicated three underlying factors of Immersion, Achievement and Socialising which replicated across three comprehensive studies of 480 adults, 106 adults and children with an Autism Spectrum Condition, and 961 adults and adolescents. Gamers experiencing more stress in their daily lives were more likely to have Immersion rather than Social or Achievement play styles. Achievement-oriented gamers tended to be lower in stress, higher in conscientiousness and emotional stability, and played more than Immersion-focused gamers.

A qualitative analysis of 54 gamers’ descriptions of why they recently chose to play a game was used to develop the “Reasons for Playing Video Games” items (RPVG), which were administered to independent samples of 243, 299 and 961 gamers. The qgraph R package was used to perform network analyses of the RPVG items and gameplay style factors, employing the machine learning-based adaptive LASSO technique to estimate a partial correlation matrix from a set of variables as a Pairwise Markov Random Field. Gamers higher in Immersion tended to play for escapism, distraction, and fantasy, while social gamers played for excitement, energy, and self-expression. Network analysis and graph theory illustrate the central role of stress relief in the network of Reasons for Playing Video Games and shows that playing when feeling stressed is strongly linked with Immersion.





Rentfrow, Peter Jason


video games, individual differences, stress, personality, network psychometrics, latent variables


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge