Gamification: The Effect of Avatars on Intrinsic Motivation and the Psychological Need for Autonomy

Anna Tensil

Student thesis: Master thesis


Gamification i.e. the use of game design elements in non-game contexts is growing in popularity. However, applied gamification often does not result in the desired outcome due to its unexpected complexity and dependency on many external factors. Hence, this thesis studies the effect of one individual gamification element to make the forces of gamification more transparent and deepen the understanding of underlying psychological mechanisms. In particular, the study examines the effect of avatars on intrinsic motivation and the psychological need for autonomy. In a deductive, theory-driven empirical study approach an experiment is conducted based on the theoretical framework of self-determination theory. A total of 40 participants completed either a data protection training with or without avatars in two independent groups in a short-term study. Quantitative and qualitative data was collected by means of a survey. The gamification element avatars did not have a statistically significant effect on intrinsic motivation nor perceived autonomy according to the quantitative results of the study. However, the qualitative output indicates that the data protection training was more interesting or enjoyable for the participants due to the avatars element. From this perspective, intrinsic motivation is affected by the use of avatars. With regards to perceived autonomy, the qualitative output does not indicate anything mentionable in relation to avatars. Accurate application of self-determination theory is discussed. While gamification is not a one size fits all solution, the findings of this study serve as theoretical foundation for designers who seek to implement more effective gamified systems.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and E-business, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages82
SupervisorsTorkil Clemmensen