Role of Uncertainty in Moment-to-Moment Gameplay Motivation with Shringi Kumari

Uncertainty is widely acknowledged as an engaging characteristic of games. Practice and research have proposed various types and factors of game uncertainty, yet there is little work explaining when and why different kinds of uncertainty motivate, especially with respect to moment-to-moment gameplay. We conducted a qualitative study based on episodic and video-aided recall interviews of players tracing links between uncertainty, game features,and motives. Our data supports that uncertainty is indeed a key element in players moment-to-moment (m2m) motivation. We present a grounded theory of seven types of engaging gameplay uncertainty emerging from three sources - Game, Player, and Outcome. We further document links to likely underlying motives, chief among them curiosity and competence.
This work makes three main contributions to the current discourse around game uncertainty: (1) it presents an uncertainty taxonomy that is grounded in naturalistic observation, corroborating and challenging existing theory-led taxonomies; (2) it explicates conditions when uncertainty types become motivating explaining why these types of uncertainty propel players m2m; (3) it identifies novel uncertainty types, especially Content and Outcome uncertainty, which were insufficiently captured in previous models.
The resulting taxonomy has sources grounded in the m2m phenomenal experience of 'going through' a game's core loop in the course of seconds. (1) Players experience Game Uncertainty over novel content and content configurations (2) they then experience Player Uncertainty over their own reaction to the game's new material (3) As the players ponder and perform actions, they experience Outcome Uncertainty about what the outcome of their actions would be. Overall, these three sources of uncertainty work in a tight loop of game prompt, player action, and game reaction.
Our taxonomy partially maps onto existing taxonomies, however, the presented model goes beyond their scope identifying novel uncertainty types like Content, Adaptation and Outcome Uncertainty. The focus on m2m beats of uncertainty, their conditions, and motivations explains why -by tentatively linking different uncertainty sources to corresponding motivational constructs, chiefly curiosity, but also, sense of agency, competence, achievement, mastery, and goal-setting. This arguably advances our ability to guide game designers in affording engaging uncertainty in games by explaining the phenomenon more granularly.

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