Official course description:
Full info last published 15/11-20

Psychology of Play and Games

Course info
ECTS points:
Course code:
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Offered as a single subject:
Price (single subject):
10625 DKK (incl. vat)
MSc. Master
MSc in Games
Course manager
Associate Professor
Teaching Assistant
Teaching Assistant (TA)
Course semester
Forår 2021
1 February 2021
14 May 2021
Exam type
ekstern censur
Grade Scale
Exam Language

The objective of the course is to provide students with ways of understanding, articulating and thinking critically about some of the fundamental assumptions about the psychology of games, play and players, both human and non-human.


The course introduces the student to classic psychological theory and ideas about games and play. The course relates these to research into contemporary issues and debates such as:

  • Gambling versus gaming and ‘loot boxes’
  • Dark design patterns
  • Addiction
  • Violence and social learning
  • The psychology of esports
  • Player types
  • Biases
  • Social dynamics in online spaces

These topics will be discussed against the backdrop of the main schools of thought in psychology: behavioral, cognitive, social, and existential-humanistic psychology. 

The course is designed to help students think critically about how games and play in a broad sense can be understood in a psychological framework; but also, how specific game elements might or might not influence players. 

Furthermore, the course will explore the affordances of the virtual worlds that have come to be the backdrop of a lot of play in the 21st century. 

The students will be tasked with not only learning about various psychological approaches to human play, games, and motivation in general, but also to implement these in playful interactions. How might one approach a design task based on the tenants of e.g. behavioral psychology as opposed to humanistic psychology?

Formal prerequisites

There are no formal prerequisites for the course. Prior academic experience with psychology is advantageous. However, teaching and learning activities are aimed at students with no prior knowledge of the field. 

Intended learning outcomes

After the course, the student should be able to:

  • Identify and account for select key questions and theoretical positions in the psychology of games and play.
  • Account for relevant theoretical perspectives on games and play.
  • Analyze and discuss a select issue within the subject area of the psychology of games and play. Discuss any broader implications the phenomenon might have for design, politics, ethics, society at large, etc.
  • Present relevant concepts from the curriculum precisely, and use these concepts in a well-argued manner in an investigation of a problem related to the understanding or analysis of games.
Learning activities

The course is organized around the standard format of lectures and exercise sessions. Lectures are typically teacher-driven, but still interactive sessions wherein students are presented with the main theoretical concepts of the course. 

Exercise sessions vary in their format. They may feature class discussions, Oxford-style debates, student-driven seminars, and student driven workshops. In student-driven seminars students, in groups or alone, read and prepare a presentation of a part of the course literature for class discussion (all students will have to prepare at least one seminar). In student driven workshops the class as a whole attempt to apply psychological theoretical insight to concrete, game-related problems.

It is expected that students prepare a minimum of one seminar for fellow students, in which they work with selected readings from the syllabus.

Course literature

The course literature is subject to change and input from students.

Psychology of Games and Play Spring 2020 Curriculum

Required readings are marked with an *, all other readings are supplementary. 

Readings from the three first lectures:
*Best, J. (1998). Too Much Fun: Toys as Social Problems and the Interpretation of Culture.

Symbolic Interaction, 21(2), 197–212. *Elkins, D. N. (2008). Why Humanistic Psychology Lost Its Power and Influence in American

Psychology: Implications for Advancing Humanistic Psychology. Journal of Humanistic

Enevold, J., Thorhauge, A. M., & Gregersen, A. (Eds.). (2018). What’s the problem in problem

gaming?, Nordic research perspectives. NORDICOM.
*Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral Study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social

Psychology, 67(4), 371–378. Motivation

Canossa, A., Martinez, J. B., & Togelius, J. (2013). Give me a reason to dig Minecraft and psychology of motivation. 2013 IEEE Conference on Computational Inteligence in Games (CIG), 1–8.

*Fogg, B. (2009). A behavior model for persuasive design. Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Persuasive Technology, 1–7. Fogg, B. J. (2002). Persuasive technology: Using computers to change what we think and do.

Ubiquity, 2002(December), 5:2.

page1image7423872 page1image7376832 page1image7380672page1image7380480 page1image7386048 page1image7386240

Kato, P. M., Cole, S. W., Bradlyn, A. S., & Pollock, B. H. (2013). A Video Game Improves Behavioral Outcomes in Adolescents and Young Adults With Cancer: A Randomized Trial Pamela M. Kato , Steve W. Cole , Andrew S. Bradlyn and Brad H. Pollock The online version of this article , along with updated information and s.

Lewis, C., Wardrip-Fruin, N., & Whitehead, J. (2012). Motivational game design patterns of ’ville games. Proceedings of the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games, 172–179.

*Przybylski, A., Rigby, C., & Ryan, R. (2010). A motivational model of video game engagement. Review of General \ldots, 14(2), 154–166.

Sunstein, C. R. (2014). Nudging: A Very Short Guide. Journal of Consumer Policy, 37(4), 583–588.

Tanenbaum, J. G., Antle, A. N., & Robinson, J. (2013). Three perspectives on behavior change for serious games. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 3389–3392.

Wood, W., & Neal, D. T. (2016). Healthy through habit: Interventions for initiating & maintaining health behavior change. Behavioral Science & Policy, 2(1), 71–83.

Behavior and Learning:

Baranowski, T., Buday, R., Thompson, D. I., & Baranowski, J. (2008). Playing for Real: Video Games and Stories for Health-Related Behavior Change. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 34(1), 74-82.e10.

*Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S. (2006). Overview of research on the educational use of video games. Digital kompetanse, 1(3), 184-213.

page2image7430592 page2image7430784 page2image7430976page2image7431360 page2image7431168 page2image7431552page2image7431744

*Gee, J. P. (2005). Learning by Design: Good Video Games as Learning Machines. E-Learning and Digital Media, 2(1), 5–16.

Boyle, E. A., Hainey, T., Connolly, T. M., Gray, G., Earp, J., Ott, M., ... & Pereira, J. (2016). An update to the systematic literature review of empirical evidence of the impacts and outcomes of computer games and serious games. Computers & Education, 94, 178-192.

Mayer, I., Bekebrede, G., Harteveld, C., Warmelink, H., Zhou, Q., Ruijven, T., ... & Wenzler, I. (2014). The research and evaluation of serious games: Toward a comprehensive methodology. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(3), 502-527.

Garris, R., Ahlers, R., & Driskell, J. E. (2002). Games, motivation, and learning: A research and practice model. Simulation & gaming, 33(4), 441-467.

Barab, S., Thomas, M., Dodge, T., Carteaux, R., & Tuzun, H. (2005). Making learning fun: Quest Atlantis, a game without guns. Educational technology research and development, 53(1), 86-107.

Kato, P. M., Cole, S. W., Bradlyn, A. S., & Pollock, B. H. (2008). A video game improves behavioral outcomes in adolescents and young adults with cancer: a randomized trial. Pediatrics, 122(2), e305-e317.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cognition and Perception

*Feng, J., & Spence, I. (2018). Playing Action Video Games Boosts Visual Attention. In C. J. Ferguson (Ed.), Video Game Influences on Aggression, Cognition, and Attention (pp. 93– 104). Springer International Publishing.

page3image7488256 page3image7488448

Boot, W., Blakely, D., and Simons, D. (2011). Do action video games improve perception and cognition? Frontiers in Psychology-

Spence, I., Feng, J. (2010) Video Games and Spatial Cognition. Review of General Psychology Vol. 14 No. 2, 92-104 -

Roque, N., Boot, W. (2018) Playing Action Video Games DO NOT Boosts Visual Attention in Video Game Influences on Aggression, Cognition, and Attention (p. 105-118)

McManus, Freda., & Butler, Gillian. (2000). Psychology: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press. Chapter 4: How do we use what is in the mind? Thinking, reasoning and communicating.

Kahneman, Slovic & Tversky. (1982). Judgement under Uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. University Press. Part I: Introduction.

Celia Hodent. (2018). The Gamer's Brain - How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design. CRC Press. (pp. 12 - 16)

Dunbar, N. E., Miller, C. H., Adame, B. J., Elizondo, J., Wilson, S. N., Lane, B. L., ... & Lee, Y. H. (2014). Implicit and explicit training in the mitigation of cognitive bias through the use of a serious game. Computers in Human Behavior, 37, 307-318.

Allen, R. B. (1997). Mental models and user models. In Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction (Second Edition) (pp. 49-63).

Bavelier, D., Green, C. S., Han, D. H., Renshaw, P. F., Merzenich, M. M., & Gentile, D. A. (2011). Brains on video games. Nature reviews neuroscience, 12(12), 763.

Kerous, B., Skola, F., & Liarokapis, F. (2017). EEG-based BCI and video games: a progress report. Virtual Reality, 1-17.

Holmgård, C., Togelius, J., & Henriksen, L. (2016). Computational intelligence and cognitive performance assessment games. In Computational Intelligence and Games (CIG), 2016 IEEE Conference on (pp. 1-8). IEEE.

Weaver, A. J., & Lewis, N. (2012). Mirrored morality: An exploration of moral choice in video games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15(11), 610-614.

Donchin, E. (1995). Video games as research tools: The Space Fortress game. Behavior Research Methods, 27(2), 217-223.

Dunbar, N. E., Miller, C. H., Adame, B. J., Elizondo, J., Wilson, S. N., Lane, B. L., ... & Lee, Y. H. (2014). Implicit and explicit training in the mitigation of cognitive bias through the use of a serious game. Computers in Human Behavior, 37, 307-318.

Thompson, J. J., Blair, M. R., & Henrey, A. J. (2014). Over the hill at 24: persistent age-related cognitive-motor decline in reaction times in an ecologically valid video game task begins in early adulthood. PloS one, 9(4), e94215.

Defence Against the Dark Arts

*Zagal, J. P., Björk, S., & Lewis, C. (2013). Dark patterns in the design of games. In Foundations of Digital Games 2013.

Nielsen, R. K. L., & Grabarczyk, P. (2019). Are Loot Boxes Gambling? Random Reward Mechanisms in Video Games. Transactions of the Digital Games Research Association, 4(3), 171–207.

Games and Aggression


*Drummond, A., Sauer, J. D., & Garea, S. S. (2018). The Infamous Relationship Between Violent Video Game Use and Aggression: Uncharted Moderators and Small Effects Make It a Far Cry from Certain. In C. J. Ferguson (Ed.), Video Game Influences on Aggression, Cognition, and Attention (pp. 23–40). Springer International Publishing. 95495-0_3

*Scharrer, E., Kamau, G., Warren, S., & Zhang, C. (2018). Violent Video Games Do Contribute to Aggression. In C. J. Ferguson (Ed.), Video Game Influences on Aggression, Cognition, and Attention (pp. 5–21). Springer International Publishing. 95495-0_2

Ferguson, C. J. (2015). Do angry birds make for angry children? A meta-analysis of video game influences on children’s and adolescents’ aggression, mental health, prosocial behavior, and academic performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(5), 646-666.


*Caillois, R. (2005). The definition of play and the classification of games. In The game design reader: A rules of play anthology (pp. 103-124). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Huizinga, J. (2005). Nature and significance of play as a cultural phenomenon. In The game design reader: A rules of play anthology (pp. 87-102). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Bekoff, M. and Pierce, J. (2009). Wild justice: Honor and fairness among beasts at play. American Journal of Play 1(4), 451- 475.

Caillois, R. (2001). The Definition of Play. in Man, Play and Games (pp. 3-10). The Free Press of Glencoe, Inc.

page6image7504640 page6image7505600 page6image7505984 page6image7505408

Huizinga, J. (1949) NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF PLA.Y AS A CULTURAL PHENOMENON. In Homo Ludens (pp. 1-27). Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., London

Zimmerman, E. (2012). Jerked around by the magic circle: Clearing the air ten years later. Gamasutra. Retrieved January 8, 2018, from 135063/ jerked_around_by_the_magic_circle_.php

Suits, B. (2005). Construction of a definition. In The game design reader: A rules of play anthology (pp. 136-148). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

*Granic, I., Lobel, A., & Engels, R. C. M. E. (2014). The benefits of playing video games. American Psychologist, 69(1), 66-78.

*Roque, N. A., & Boot, W. R. (2018). Action Video Games DO NOT Promote Visual Attention. In C.

J. Ferguson (Ed.), Video Game Influences on Aggression, Cognition, and Attention (pp. 105–

118). Springer International Publishing. McCloud, S. (1993). Understanding comics: The invisible art. (pp. 60-93) NY: Harper Collins

Norman, D. (2013). The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition. (p. 10-31)

Johnson, J. (2013). Designing with the mind in mind: simple guide to understanding user interface design guidelines. Elsevier.

Green, C. S., & Bavelier, D. (2003). Action video game modifies visual selective attention. Nature, 423(6939), 534-537.

Rosser, J. C., Lynch, P. J., Cuddihy, L., Gentile, D. A., Klonsky, J., & Merrell, R. (2007). The impact of video games on training surgeons in the 21st century. Archives of surgery, 142(2), 181-186.


Boot, W. R., Blakely, D. P., & Simons, D. J. (2011). Do action video games improve perception and cognition?. Frontiers in psychology, 2.

Ramachandran, V. S. (2004). The Artful Brain In: The Internet and the University: Forum 2004 (pp. 169-198).


Montola, M. (2010). The Positive Negative Experience in Extreme Role-Playing.The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp.

*Eladhari, M., & Lindley, C. A. (2003). Player Character Design Facilitating Emotional Depth in MMORPGs. In DiGRA ’03 - Proceedings of the 2003 DiGRA International Conference: Level Up. Retrieved from

Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Russell, J. A. (1980). A circumplex model of affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(6), 1161-1178.

Vieira, L. C., & da Silva, F. S. C. (2017). Assessment of fun in interactive systems: A survey. Cognitive Systems Research, 41, 130-143.

Lazzarro, N. (2015). The four fun keys. In Game usability: Advancing the player experience.

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Poels, K., Hoogen, W. V. D., Ijsselsteijn, W., & de Kort, Y. (2012). Pleasure to play, arousal to stay: The effect of player emotions on digital game preferences and playing
time. Cyberpsychology, behavior, and social networking, 15(1), 1-6.

Petersen, F. W., Thomsen, L. E., Mirza-Babaei, P., & Drachen, A. (2017, October). Evaluating the Onboarding Phase of Free-to-Play Mobile Games: A Mixed-Method Approach. In Proceedings of the Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play (pp. 377- 388). ACM.

Lopes, P., Yannakakis, G. N., & Liapis, A. (2017). RankTrace: Relative and Unbounded Affect Annotation. In Proceedings of the International Conference on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction.

Isbister, K. (2011). Emotion and motion: games as inspiration for shaping the future of interface. interactions, 18(5), 24-27.

Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., & Damasio, A. R. (1997). Deciding advantageously before knowing the advantageous strategy. Science, 275(5304), 1293-1295.

Yannakakis, G. N., Spronck, P., Loiacono, D., & André, E. (2013). Player modeling. In Dagstuhl Follow-Ups (Vol. 6). Schloss Dagstuhl-Leibniz-Zentrum fuer Informatik.

Isbister, K. (2016). How games move us: Emotion by design. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. (pp. 1-42)

Norman, D. A. (2004). Emotional design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things. Basic Civitas Books.

Picard, R. W. (2000). Affective Computing. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


*Canossa, A., Badler, J. B., El-Nasr, M. S., Tignor, S., & Colvin, R. C. (2015). In Your Face(t) Impact of Personality and Context on Gameplay Behavior. In FDG.

Canossa, A., & Drachen, A. (2009, September). Patterns of Play: Play-Personas in User-Centred Game Development. In DiGRA Conference.

*Yee, N. (2006). Motivations for play in online games. CyberPsychology & behavior, 9(6), 772-775. Tekofsky, S., Van Den Herik, J., Spronck, P., & Plaat, A. (2013). Psyops: Personality assessment

through gaming behavior. In: Proceedings of the International Conference on the

Foundations of Digital Games. FDG.
Short, T. X. (2017, February 22). Maximizing the Impact of Procedural Personalities. Retrieved

January 6, 2018, from ct_of_Procedural_Personalities.php

Vahlo, J., Kaakinen, J. K., Holm, S. K., & Koponen, A. (2017). Digital Game Dynamics Preferences and Player Types. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 22(2), 88-103.

Tychsen, A., & Canossa, A. (2008). Defining personas in games using metrics. In Proceedings of the 2008 Conference on Future Play: Research, Play, Share (pp. 73-80). ACM.

Bartle, R. (1996). Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades: Players who suit MUDs. Journal of MUD research, 1(1), 19.

Borsboom, D. (2006). The attack of the psychometricians. Psychometrika, 71(3), 425.

Lankveld, G. van, Spronck, P., Herik, J. van den, & Arntz, A. (2011). Games as personality profiling tools. 2011 IEEE Conference on Computational Intelligence and Games (CIG’11), 197–202.

Games and addiction

*Nielsen, R. K. L., & Kardefelt-Winther, D. (2018). Helping Parents Make Sense of Video Game Addiction. In C. J. Ferguson (Ed.), Video Game Influences on Aggression, Cognition, and Attention (pp. 59–69). Springer International Publishing. 95495-0_5

*Pontes, H. M. (2018). Making the Case for Video Game Addiction: Does It Exist or Not? In C. J. Ferguson (Ed.), Video Game Influences on Aggression, Cognition, and Attention (pp. 41–57). Springer International Publishing.


Calleja, G. (2007). Digital game involvement: A conceptual model. Games and culture, 2(3), 236- 260.

Murray, J. H. (1997). Immersion. In Hamlet on the Holodeck: The future of narrative in cyberspace (pp. 123-158). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Jenova Chen (2007). Flow in games (and everything else). Communications of the ACM, 50(4), 31- 34.

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Jennett, C., Cox, A. L., Cairns, P., Dhoparee, S., Epps, A., Tijs, T., & Walton, A. (2008). Measuring and defining the experience of immersion in games. International journal of human- computer studies, 66(9), 641-661.

Calleja, G. (2011). In-game: From immersion to incorporation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Student Activity Budget
Estimated distribution of learning activities for the typical student
  • Preparation for lectures and exercises: 30%
  • Lectures: 20%
  • Exercises: 20%
  • Exam with preparation: 30%
Ordinary exam
Exam type:
C: Submission of written work, External (7-point scale)
Exam variation:
C11: Submission of written work
Exam submisson description:
For the final exam students are required to submit an a traditional academic paper. Exam papers are written individually and have to be between 10 and 12 normal pages.

One normal page is defined as 2400 characters. Including spaces, footnotes, and endnotes. Excluding front page, table of contents, references, and appendices.

Time and date