Self Determination Theory and Games

Humans are driven by motivation. Our society is built upon rules and regulations that impact our decisions. We work to get paid, we study to pass exams and we instagram our meals for a sense of greater belonging. Yet, do all these things bring us genuine happiness? Given the chance, I assume most of us would prefer a life of playing and exploring, rather than working.

I want to point out here that, work that you enjoy, is not work anymore. The student who studies because they love learning or the Doctor that works well beyond retirement does not do it because they are externally motivated. They behave this way because they are intrinsically motivated. It is what they love.

[ , Intrinsic motivation: how can it play a pivotal role in changing clinician behaviour?]

The actions described in the first paragraph, are driven by external forces like money, fame and praise. This is known as extrinsic motivation. This type of motivation comes from an individual’s environment. The opposite of external motivation is intrinsic motivation. This is behaviour that we perform because it feels good to.

What makes us motivated to do the things we do? Is there a reason that in any moment, we would prefer to be doing one thing over another? Researchers have been looking for the answer. There is a theory of motivation called Self-Determination Theory (SDT). SDT posits that human motivation can be externally or internally focussed and relies on three basic psychological needs that are vital to harmony.

  • Autonomy: The feeling of being able to do what you want.
  • Competence: The feeling of being good at doing something.
  • Relatedness: The feeling of belonging to our environment.

When these three needs are fulfilled, a person feels intrinsically motivated. I would like to tell you about how we can use these three needs to look at player motivation in games and how we applied it to our own game.


I want finish by asking you all to think about why you are here tonight. What is the motivation behind you coming to this event. Are you here to support a friend, to network for new opportunities, or to - I would like to ask everyone to turn that motivation inwards, to look at everything with curiosity and wonder. to break things, play laugh and learn.

Thank you.