Nick Ballou

Nick Ballou

Exploring the Impact of Autonomy-Supportive Design Elements on Need Satisfaction, Identity Formation, and Well-being in Video Games

Self-determination theory research suggests that satisfaction of three basic psychological needs—autonomy, competence, and relatedness—can both explain a significant portion of players’ motivation to play video games and also help account for certain positive and negative effects that games may have on players. While some studies have looked at ways in which entirely different games may succeed or fail to satisfy particular needs, there remains an incomplete understanding of how specific structural elements within games impact need satisfaction. I intend in my research with the IGGI to explore this issue by investigating the contribution of individual game features like dialogue trees, depth of avatar customization, and class choices to satisfaction of the need for autonomy, while placing special emphasis on transparent, robust, and reproducible science. 


Important to my work is always keeping in mind the greater goals of my research agenda, which are 1) to inform developers on game design decisions that promote autonomy and harmonious engagement, 2) to develop and communicate strategies for players and parents that allow each to foster gameplay contexts conducive to well-being, and 3) to help make the world of science and research as accessible, informative, and trustworthy as it can be.


Hi there—I’m from the U.S. and have a background in linguistics, having completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Tulane University and the University of Cambridge, respectively. Over time, however, I felt myself drawn to an area in which I felt my research could have a bigger impact on society, that of games and well-being. Having lived and worked in five countries, I’ve seen a wide range of ways in which people interact with games and technology across all ages, and I hope to use this experience along with my research background to help figure out how people can most successfully navigate the hybrid reality in which we live.


Home institution: Queen Mary

Supervisors: Dr Laurissa Tokarchuk, Dr Sebastian Deterding

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