The role of passion on the costs and benefits of online video gaming (Lafrenière et al., 2009)

This post is what I picked at the 2009 CPA convention in Montreal.


I am quite surprised that there are psychological studies on video games in Canada, but none have a passionate focus as do the Americans, IMO. Speaking of passion, Marc-André Lafrenière and colleagues from UQAM have applied their theories of passion unto massively multiplayer online gaming. Lafrenière presented at the symposium and also had this study published in Cyberpsychology & Behavior.


The dualistic model of passion defines passion as a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that a person likes and values and in which he or she invests time and energy. The model proposes two distinct types of passion: harmonious and obsessive passion that predict adaptive and less adaptive outcomes respectively. In the present research, we were interested in assessing both the negative and positive consequences that can result from gaming. Participants (n¼222) were all players involved in massively multiplayer online games. They completed an online survey. Results from a canonical correlation revealed that both harmonious and obsessive passion were positively associated with the experience of positive affect while playing. However, only obsessive passion was also positively related to the experience of negative affect while playing. In addition, only obsessive passion was positively related to problematic behaviors generally associated with excessive gaming, the amount of time spent playing, and negative physical symptoms. Moreover, obsessive passion was negatively related to self-realization and unrelated to life satisfaction. Conversely, harmonious passion was positively associated with both types of psychological well-being. This general pattern of results suggests that obsessive passion for gaming is an important predictor of the negative outcomes of gaming, while harmonious passion seems to account for positive consequences. Future research directions are discussed in light of the dualistic model of passion.

I got the abstract from the authors’ pre-press copy of their study from Cyberpsychology and Behavior. I’m really annoyed about not being able to get the latest issue of that journal since I have to wait three months to get the full-text copies and IMO has the highest publishing rate on video game-related studies.

First, I had to object about their background info on the outcomes from internet and video gaming use. Principally, they cited Kraut et al. 1998 which had received extensive publicity (at the time, source not found) from their results that found internet use lead to impoverished social relationships and other negative outcomes. Robert Kraut’s later works and his meta-analysis in 2003 did not support his earlier results. Unfortunately, I don’t know other studies besides Kraut’s that found negative associated outcomes to internet or gaming use.

Anyway, they applied the concept of passion as one of the psychological mechanisms in the motivation towards gaming and other activities. Passion is defined as the “strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that an individual likes, finds important, and in which he or she invests a significant amount of time and energy.” Some might interpret this as similar as addiction, some might find as an appropriate definition of passion and some might find as similar to the concept of flow.

To make their concept of passion clear, they have two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive passion. Harmonious Passion (HP) sounded (IMO) very much like to flow: people with harmonious passion to an important activity have a sense of personal volition, the unconstrained and free willingness to engage, personal investment and identification to such activity (as a gamer) and control over the activity. Moreover, they derive enjoyment from the activity itself and not from any external or internalized rewards attached to it; simply they liked to do the activity. Finally, the authors argued that they (HPers) engage with an open mind that is favourable to positive experiences and this important activity do not interfere with other aspects of one’s life.

In contrast, Obsessive Passion (OP) sounded (IMO) very much like individuals with video game addiction or those with “psycho” attitudes in some gaming instances. (see youtube video): people with obsessive passion to an activity have an uncontrollable urge to engage in it, which comes from external and/or internal pressures (e.g. peers, self-worth), an exaggerated identification with the activity, lack of actual control over the activity. They enjoyed the activity not from the activity itself, but from what’s attached to it, (external or internalized rewards, say, praise from others, or a self-centered, but misguided sense of achievement). From these pressures, the authors argued that they do so with much enthusiasm. However, they argued that such OP leads them to have a narrow-minded experience since they’re so concentrated on those reward pressures and such pressures interferes with others aspects of one’s life.

So they sought in this study the differences between HPers and OPers affective experiences while gaming, the role of passion in video game addiction (they call it problematic gaming, but I’m not going into this renaming/euphemising word game), and the relation with individuals’ well-being, physically and psychologically.


Participants: 222 players (191 males, 31 females) recruited online through ads posted on multiple MMO games forum, no incentives were given. Average age is 23.13 (SD = 8.26), average hours played per week is 22.1 hours (SD = 17.73) on their preferred MMO game and experience with their preferred MMO is average to 2.15 (SD = 2.28). So the sample consisted of a multitude of MMO players. Pretty good.


It’s an online survey. What more?


Passion toward gaming: A shortened and game-specific adapted version of the Passion scale, 6-items answered on a 7-point likert scale. 3 items related to harmonious passion and 3 items related to obsessive passion. I was concerned that the short-version might not be the same as the long-version, but they’ve addressed that and found that both versions were equivalent.

Positive and negative affect: “measures for affective experiences while gaming”, 8 items- answered on a scale of 4-point scale. 4 items related to positive affect and the other 4 to negative affect.

Problematic behaviours: 9-items assessing for behaviours related to excessive gaming.

Satisfaction with life: 5-items from the satisfaction with Life scale. This would fall under psychological and hedonic well-being.

Self-realization: 7-items scale. This also goes under psychological and eudemonic well-being.

Physical Symptoms scale: 5-items that assesses symptoms usually related to excessive gaming (i.e. loss of appetite, dizziness, dry eye, sleep disorders, number or tremors) answered on a 7-point scale.


Using a statistical technique that I never heard of, called canonical correlation analysis, they found results supporting their hypotheses.

Starting with harmonious passion, it is statistically significantly and positively correlated with positive affect, life satisfaction and self-realization. Age and gender were controlled for.

As for obsessive passion, it is statistically significantly and positively correlated with positive affect, negative affect, problematic behaviours, hours of play per week, and physical symptoms. It is negatively correlated with self-realization.

There is no significant correlation between obsessive passion and harmonious passion.


It’s no surprise that both passionate groups have positive experiences while gaming, it’s what they like. However, the obsessive passion group also experienced negative affect. Why? The authors didn’t elaborated extensively besides saying that it’s in line with previous studies; they referred the readers to read their other research papers which I won’t. My interpretation is that negative in-game outcomes (e.g. player death, failed dungeon raid or getting useless loot) are felt more negatively among OPers than HPers. Given that OPers derive positively from rewards (internal and external) than HPers, it sounds about right that the in-game outcomes greatly affect their experiences. Additionally, since they take their identities as gamer much more than the HPers, anything that happens in-game hits their self-concept pretty closely. It’s like, “I lost my best sword, it’s the end of the world!” kind of reaction. The authors argued for future research into what kind of positive affect that HPers and OPers experiences (i.e. relief vs. joy). 

Sorry this just flowed into my mind. The term “rage quit” might be an interested behavioural phenomenon since it’s a negative affective experience, but how does it relate to passion is uncertain, it could be more related to frustration.

Going into video game addiction, given the positive correlations with OPers in regards to number of hours per week, problematic behaviours, and physical symptoms, it just shows more supporting evidence of video game addiction. Nevertheless, it also shows that playing time among HPers isn’t correlated. So it’s possible an HPer can play long hours as an OPers, but don’t really suffer the consequences. The authors argued that OPers uncontrollable urge to play may be a precursor to video game addiction. Another study has also looked into something similar (see Charlton & Danforth, 2007).

Going into well-being, primarily focused on the OPers. The authors argued that the non-significant correlation with satisfaction with life, which is related to hedonic well-being, is due to their affective “roller coaster” in-game experience since they derive from external and/or internal influences. They further argued that this emotional instability might explain the negative correlation with self-realization, which is related to eudemonic well-being. In terms of physical well-being, they argued that the differences in control between HPers and OPers is possibly a factor, since HPers are in control of the activity, they have a (IMO) clear mind in keeping healthy, whereas OPers are too intensely focused on their gaming or neglectful of their other life domains (e.g. healthy, social life, etc.).


This is a correlational study, correlation does not equate causation. We see the links, we can make educated inferences, but there’s always the possibility of alternate inferences. More studies are required. For example, the need for longitudinal studies, correct for gender imbalance in the sample, look into other video game genres (say FPS, RPG), determine if OPers and HPers derive from different kinds of positive experiences, look how passion develops among video game addicts, daily measures of players’ affective experiences, use more objective measures of their well-being, say medical records, financial records (as an indicator for quality of life), criminal records, employment records (looking into stability), cohort reports (family members’ well-being), etc.


This particular study is very useful in video game addiction research, since it helps narrow down and differentiate individuals with clinical levels of addiction from those who are healthy, but highly engaged in gaming. The theory of passion can be particular useful as theoretical base for video game addiction research and hopefully its contribution can lead to a better understanding and appreciation for video game addiction.

Lafrenière, M-A. K., Vallerand, R. J., Donahue, E. G., & Lavigne, G. L. (2009). On the costs and benefits of gaming: the role of passion. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 12 (2),


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