Motivational Design

Lenses and Patterns for Motivational Game Design

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Relatedness is the basic psychological need “to feel connected to others — to love and care, and to be loved and cared for” (Deci & Ryan, 2000, p. 231).Two ways that we satisfy the need of relatedness in everyday life is through romantic love and simple companionship. Games commonly focus more on facilitating companionship. It refers to a state in which we are motivated to engage in mutually enjoyable activities from which we derive both pleasure and a sense of connectedness and shared experience. The main ideas to focus in on are support, cooperation and shared reward, which increase feelings of meaningful connection and in turn companionship.(Rigby & Ryan)

To design for relatedness, you must afford the player a feeling of being meaningful in the game world and real or artificial social interaction. The sense of being meaningful (mattering) in the world, comes from the combination of three main factors. First, acknowledgement from other players or the NPCs you interact with. We want to be listened to and attract other's full attention. Second, is the creation of a supportive environment. As people, we want others to connect with who we are and what we're feeling cognitively and empathically. Support also includes not just an understanding, but that others also facilitate satisfaction of our autonomy and competence. Finally, the last factor is impact. Where the relationship created must provide a feeling that we affected their lives in a non-trivial fashion. The three together creating a feeling of being meaningful in any context, but specifically for our end in games.

Social interaction must be provided to facilitate Relatedness as it is the method that allows the player to develop a connection with other players or NPCs in the game, and creates a situation where the player can become meaningful. Here is where we divide the two types of social interaction, real and artificial. Real referring to social interaction between two real world players, either mediated, over some kind of communication tool, such as video or text chat, or co-located, players being in the same room. Artificial social interaction refers to interaction with non-human opponents, or collaborators, commonly referred to as NPCs (Non-Player Characters).

Lens of Relatedness

By making the player feel relevant to the goals and needs of other players and NPCs, acknowledging the player's support of their needs, and having other players and NPCs support the goals and needs of the player, specifically their Competence and Autonomy needs, we can afford an experience of relatedness and connection in the player.

Connecting with others satisfies our need for relatedness.

Focusing Questions

  • How might others (NPCs, players) depend on the support of the user in their goals and needs?
  • How might others acknowledge the support of the user? How might you communicate that to the user?
  • How might the user depend on the support of others in her goals and needs?
  • How might others support the user in that?
  • How might the game support the communication of experience, goals, needs, empathy, and support between players?

Can be instantiated by




Left 4 Dead

The first person shooter Left 4 Dead is about trying to survive during the zombie apocalypse. The game has both single-player and multiplayer game modes. In the single player mode, the player works alongside 3 AI controlled characters. These characters work to support the player, even going as far as to run to the player's aid if they get knocked down by a zombie.

The multiplayer mode allows for even more opportunities for relatedness experiences. Instead of playing with 3 AI controlled characters, the player plays alongside 3 other human players. By using in game chat, either voice or text, players can communicate with each other to better strategize and aid one another.

World of Warcraft

In the Massively Multiplayer Online Game World of Warcraft players can form what are known as Guilds. These guilds serve various purposes, some of the bigger reasons are to have a group of players that can work together to face bigger enemies, and to socialize. Both of these reasons can lead to relatedness need satisfaction.

Working together with a large group of players can lead to competence experiences for all involved. This is because players can take on tougher challenges than they could alone. This competence experience also leads to relatedness need satisfaction, as the support of the other players is what led to the experience in the first place.

Creating or joining a guild in WoW is a demonstration of our need to connect with others. Having a group of people to socialize with in the game space and share experiences with is another way to satisfy relatedness need in games.


Acknowledging the Player

One of the easiest ways to make a player feel like they matter is to have other characters acknowledge them. To do this, you must design NPCs that interact with the player in a positive manner. You want the illusion of complete attention, as we as people want to be listened to and to be aware that we are listened to.

Supporting Autonomy & Competence

A large part of relatedness is how much we feel supported by others, often in regards to our competence and autonomy. Characters that request the help of the player create a sense of competence in the player, as this character believes that the player has the skills necessary to help. In terms of real interaction for the player, teamwork is a method through which relatedness can be designed for. Teamwork allows the player to overcome challenges that would be impossible alone, extending the range of competence satisfaction that is possible for players. Also of note, facing shared challenges that can only be overcome with teamwork instantly communicates to each player that he or she matters to the others.

The dialogues can also help to foster a sense of autonomy in the player. By providing these quests to the player through dialogue it not only provides the player with more opportunities for action, but it also enables the player to feel that they have a variety of meaningful choices in the actions they take. In addition, in real social interaction, coordinating actions with another player multiplies the possible strategies and paths that can be explored to reach goals

Relaying Impact

The final consideration when designing for relatedness is how to show the impact the player has had on the other characters. It's not enough to just have a meaningful interaction up until the quest is given, there needs to be some reaction or acknowledgement after completion. If the player has to fight a dragon, it would be a lot more rewarding to come back to a town where the townspeople cheer you on and give you the title “Slayer of Dragons”, instead of them just giving you another quest and never talking about the previous ones.





Motivations: Relatedness

Components: Feedback, Challenge


Rigby, S., & Ryan, R. M. (2011). Games and The Need For Relatedness. Glued to games how video games draw us in and hold us spellbound (). Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.

Quandt, T., & Kroger, S. (2014). Console Playing as a Group Experience. Multiplayer: The Social Aspects of Digital Gaming (). New York: Routledge.


motivations/relatedness.txt · Last modified: 2014/10/16 16:24 by codingconduct