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As mentioned earlier, one of the primary assumptions of contemporary theories of motivation is that motivation is not a fixed trait but is changeable depending on the situation or instructional context. Therefore, research on achievement motivation has increasingly centered on identifying the characteristics of environments that facilitate motivation (Perry, Turner, & Meyer, 2006). Much of this work has been framed according to a person-in-context approach that examines the relationship of the person and the impact of contextual factors and how they combine to shape motivation; as such, studies generally focus on the processes by which individuals—whether they are students or teachers—internalize social and contextual influences and how this process ultimately affects their motivation in that context (Nolen & Ward, 2008; Zusho & Clayton, 2011).

Perry and her colleagues (2006) suggest that individual motivation can be greatly affected by choice of task, instruction, and the social interactions that take place within a context. In terms of task, theory suggests that a task can trigger situational interest through variety and novelty, as well as through personal relevance (Hidi & Renninger, 2006; Perry et al., 2006). Both achievement goal and flow theory suggest that tasks that are moderately challenging can also promote deeper engagement in learning and a focus on understanding (Blumenfeld, 1992). Perry et al. (2006) note, however, that perceptions of what students consider being “meaningful,” “challenging,” and “interesting” will likely vary. Thus, tasks must be developed to account for differentiated engagement among learners and provide support where needed, to help students successfully struggle with challenging tasks.

In terms of instruction, research demonstrates that instructional practices that emphasize social comparison can promote a performance goal orientation, which may ultimately impede learning (Maehr & Zusho, 2009). In general, instructional practices, such as public and normative evaluation that emphasizes academic ability or course grades, are believed to promote social comparison. By contrast, students are more likely to adopt a mastery goal orientation when instructors value effort; do not penalize or embarrass students for making mistakes or taking longer to understand a concept; hold students accountable for their learning; support students when they encounter difficulties; relieve anxiety; and provide social support (Perry et al., 2006).

Finally, research demonstrates that when students feel like they belong to “caring communities,” they are more likely to report heightened, adaptive motivational beliefs. This finding relates to SDT, which emphasizes that intrinsic motivation is most likely to flourish when the needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy are met. For example, research by Wentzel (1997) suggests that when students are with “caring” teachers—that is to say, teachers who make class interesting, who talk and listen to students, who are fair and rely on democratic principles, and who consistently offer help—the students are more likely to put forth effort, and report greater internal control beliefs and prosocial goals. Research also finds that students consider teacher autonomy support as an indication of respect for students; not surprisingly, students generally do not like overly controlling policies or teachers who deliberately exert power over them (Perry et al., 2006). Taken together, the research on contextual influences on motivation suggests that environments that promote interest and competence, a sense of internal control, and belonging are most facilitative of motivation.


Against this backdrop of the theoretical and empirical research on achievement motivation, we turn to the general research on video games. In reviewing this nascent body of work, we set several goals. First, we were interested in understanding what general theoretical claims were being made about the motivational benefits of video games, particularly in the context of academic learning. Second, we were interested in exploring what specific motivational frameworks, if any, guided the empirical research on motivation and video games. Third, we sought to investigate how these studies generally operationalized motivation. Finally, we explored whether there was any evidence to suggest that video gaming promoted motivation and learning.

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