In 2007, Dr Jonathan Parke (Salford University, UK) and I developed a new taxonomy of structural characteristics related to gambling, listing all the known structural characteristics that have been shown to influence gambling behaviour in some way. All the 60+ structural characteristics were grouped into one of six types of characteristic:
• Speed and frequency characteristics: Factors relating to the frequency, duration and expediency of the game or reward.
• Playability characteristics: Factors that make gambling fun, interaction and/or engaging.
• Payment characteristics: Factors that relate to how one pays to gamble
• Reward characteristics: Factors relating to how one receives financial rewards or winnings.
• Educational characteristics: Factors that educate, protect, or provide information to players.
• Ambient characteristics: Factors that may influence the immediate situation of the game or may contribute to other factors already mentioned (e.g., the use of colour and sound).
Using this typology, Dr Parke and I argued that future research and policy initiatives may be to focus on regulating structural factors relating to payment (spending) and player awareness/education and focus less on structural factors relating to playability (which may also include reward, ambient, and speed characteristics). In this way, slot machines can continue to be fun, exciting, and play inducing, but with the eventual aim of minimizing harm.
It wasn’t until 2010 that I – along with Dr Daniel King and Dr Paul Delfabbro (both at the University of Adelaide, Australia) – developed a separate taxonomy of structural characteristics related to video game playing (published in the International Journal of Mental health and Addiction). We used some earlier empirical work that I had done with Dr Richard Wood (GamRes Ltd, Canada) back in 2004 and published in the journal CyberPsychology and Behavior. We devised a list of structural features by (a) playing a variety of video games, (b) examining and comparing known gambling structural characteristics, (c) discussing these features with players of video games, and (d) examining relevant research in the area of video game design. Our framework included the following characteristics:
• Sound, including sound effects, speaking characters and background music.
• Graphics, including high-quality realistic or cartoon-style graphics and full motion video (FMV).
• Background and setting, including whether the game is based on a story, film, or television program, and the use of realistic or fantasy settings.
• Duration of game, referring to how long the game usually takes to complete.
• Rate of play, referring to how quickly the player “absorbs” or “gets into” the game. & Advancement rate, referring to how quickly the game play advances.
• Use of humour in the game.
• Control options, referring to what the player can control in the game (including sound, graphics, and skill settings, choice of control methods, and physical feedback). &
• Game dynamics, including exploring new areas, elements of surprise, fulfilling a quest, skill development, AI interactions, collecting things, avoiding things, surviving against the odds, shooting, different ending options, different modes of transport, solving puzzles, beating times, cheats/Easter eggs, solving time limited problems, building environments, mapping, and linear/non-linear game format.
• Winning and losing features, referring to the potential to gain or lose points, finding bonuses, having to start level again, and ability to save regularly.
• Character development, referring to character development over time and character customization options.
• Brand assurance, referring to brand loyalty and/or celebrity endorsement.
• Multiplayer features, referring to various multi-player options, communication methods, building alliances, and beating other players.
Using this paper, and the gambling structural characteristics taxonomy, we developed our new video game structural characteristics taxonomy comprising five types of feature. These were: (a)
• Social features (i.e., social aspects of video game playing)
• Manipulation and control features (i.e., the role of user input in influencing in-game outcomes)
• Narrative and identity features (e.g., the role of character creation and interactive storytelling)
• Reward and punishment features (i.e., the ways in which players win and lose in video games)
• Presentation features (e.g., the visual and auditory presentation of video games).
Since developing the taxonomy, we have started to test it out empirically. Dr. King, Dr. Delfabbro and myself recently published a study in the
investigating our structural characteristic taxonomy among 421 video game players (aged between 14 and 57 years). Our results showed that the reward and punishment features, such as earning points, finding rare game items, and fast loading times, were rated among the most enjoyable and important aspects of video game playing. There was some evidence that certain structural characteristics were stronger predictors of problematic involvement in video games than factors such as gender, age, and time spent playing. This included the use of adult content in the game, earning points, getting 100% in the game, and mastering the game. Our latest research supports the notion that some structural characteristics in video games may play a significant role in influencing problem video game playing behavior.