Investigating the effects of self/other avatars on exercise motivation among children: theorizing and testing an exergame motivation model
Date of Issue2014
Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information
While the benefits of physically immersive video games, or exergames, have witnessed much research attention, less is known about the psychosocial processes that enable exergames to be an effective digital intervention. An increasing number of exergames feature in-game graphical representations (avatars) of players and other parties, and research shows that these avatars have the potential to influence self-perceptions. This study proposes an exergame motivation model based on the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT; Bandura, 1989) that explores the impact of avatars on exergame players. The SCT suggests that individuals learn through two processes: enactive and vicarious learning. Exergames appear to offer both forms of learning through the presence of the player’s in-game graphical representation (self avatar), and the presence of a virtual coach who guides the player within the game (other avatar). Research on exergame in-game factors has mainly focused on the influence of the self avatar, while the influence of the other avatar has been explored to a lesser extent. There has been a rising interest of exergames, both on the consumer and health practitioner levels, and an increasing number of exergames that feature other parties and entities within the game environment. Therefore, the affordances of these digital tools and their psychosocial mechanisms merit further research. A conceptual framework was introduced leading to the development of a model that explains the influence of self and other avatars in exergames. A total of two preliminary studies and one experimental study were conducted. First, a a meta-analysis of serious health games studies that aimed to increase self-efficacy, enjoyment, and behavioral intention was conducted. There was a significant effect of serious health games on self-efficacy (d = 0.29, 95% CI = 0.19-.38, p < .001), enjoyment (d = 0.53, 95% CI = 0.33–0.74, p < .001), and behavioral intention (d = 0.32, 95% CI = 0.09–0.54, p = 0.007). Age of participants was found to be a significant moderator for behavioral intention (Q = 4.692, p < .05), with adults yielding larger effects than children. The second preliminary study comprised of a secondary analysis to examine the enactive learning route in the exergame motivation model and to validate variables. Analyses using structural equation modeling revealed a good model fit [χ2 = 396.57, df = 165; χ2/df = 2.40; CFI = 0.95; TLI = 0.94; RMSEA = 0.07]. Building upon the positive findings from the preliminary studies, an experimental study was conducted to test the hypothesized model. In an experiment, adolescents were assigned to conditions where the presence of the self and virtual coach avatars were manipulated. Results from structural equation modeling suggested a reasonable fit for the proposed exergame motivation model, with enjoyment as a mediator between enactive and vicarious learning and self-efficacy. The re-specified model included additional paths suggested by modification indices, and produced a good fit to the data [χ2 = 375.18, df = 219; χ2/df = 1.71; CFI = 0.95; TLI = 0.95; RMSEA = 0.07]. The study showed that enactive and vicarious learning are two essential components that can encourage exercise and self-efficacy through an exergame. Through the presence and behavior of the player’s self avatar, the player learns by experiencing for himself/herself the results and consequences of his/her behavior within the exergame as he/she identifies with the character. By seeing a virtual other in the form of a virtual coach onscreen who guides him through the exergame, an individual mimics the actions of the coach and through a process of building up his competence within the exergame, learns through observing the behavior of the coach. Findings of this study suggest that increasing both the level of self-presence and social presence experienced by the player is important in increasing exergame and exercise motivation. The proposed exergame motivation model and the studies that were conducted are likely to contribute to a deeper understanding of avatar and exergame effects and inform future research on health gaming interventions.
Nanyang Technological University