4 types of gamer motivation keeping you addicted

Ever pondered your gamer motivation in the context of video game addiction?

In this article, I’ll cite the world’s leading expert on gamer motivation, Nick Yee, to define 4 ways you can get stuck and how to substitute for the void if you want to cut down.

(You can also apply these to other tech addictions, since life is a game.)

gamer motivation Pinterest Pin

(Disclosure: I may be slightly compensated if you purchase items I recommend through links on this page.)

Disclaimer: Nick Yee, founder of Quantic Foundry, is not an addiction scientist. This article is also not a rehashing of his 12 motivations, which he explains in more depth on his site. And lastly, not every one of the 12 will be covered here, because they may not all correlate with addiction... and not everything is addiction.

Gamer motivation and the void

Most of the time, addiction fills some psychological or neurochemical void in you. And you can have more than one (video games and porn, for instance) as a way of soothing that void.


You're not filling a void; you're creating one.

So when you try to cut down or quit, you HAVE TO outwit the pain of that void with a healthy substitute. If you can’t handle urges (your body saying “gimme”) you WILL relapse, sometimes for hours or days. (Likely, your reason why to cut down is to avoid the painful comedown and lack of control.)

Hence the reason for sugar substitutes. And it’s the same for gamer motivation.

“Once we know ourselves, we may learn how to care for ourselves, but otherwise we never shall.”

– Socrates, First Alcibiades

Before you read further, let me emphasize there is nothing “wrong” with any of these. If you want to reduce your time spent, just be aware why you play.

Here are the pertinent motivations from Nick Yee’s original list of 12:


Among Us spaceman standing on a teleportation device

EXAMPLES: Call of Duty, Super Smash Bros., Street Fighter, Rocket League, FortNite, Among Us, racing games, sports games

Nothing wrong with excitement. On its own, it’s not very addicting. The issue is when these hijack it:

  • Competition / leaderboards
  • Unknown intermittent rewards (think gacha games like Genshin Impact)
  • Time-killing

If you’re addicted to Competition, you play to win. Losing might piss you off. This is because at root you have problems with self-worth. (Then you’re like me– see my story at the conclusion)

Leaderboards are similar. There’s a difference between wanting to be the very best, like no one ever was, because it’s fun versus because you desperately want to prove you’re a winner at something!

You’ll have to build self-worth through internal validation to be rid of this type of gamer motivation. One way to do that is with the Signature Strengths Quests in my ebook Quests: Habit Change for Addicted Warriors. (this exact program saved me from suicide due to low self-worth, so I wrote it in hopes it’ll help you)

Gacha games, built on a foundation of variable reinforcement, use the carrot-and-stick approach. Their psychological mechanisms are so complex I’ll cover them in a future article.

And as for time-killing, you’re just trying to run away from obligations or boredom. If this is you, find a blocker or time-limiter. (Parental controls tend to work well.) If you chronically kill time, you can put your controller, mouse, or smartphone in a time-locked safe and go get stuff done.

Then substitute your need for excitement with an activity that generates dopamine and adrenaline like exercise, redirect it into reading a book, or lean into the boredom and just think about things (yes!).

(See Justin Hanagan’s often-cited article Boredom as Broccoli.)


Cartoons avatars of a knight, ranger, wizard, cavalryman, and queen

EXAMPLES: World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy ###, Monster Hunter: World, SW:KOTOR, Dragon Age: Inquisition

Community (and by extension, social interaction) is one of the seven needs in my kintsugi theory of self-repair. This gamer motivation tends to emphasize teamwork and social interaction.

Growing up, I was a socially awkward nerd. To push aside the lonely shame, I escaped into World of Warcraft where I was a team player and an important pillar. I talked to online friends about personal things, and I even owned a small guild at one point.

Cooperation, usefulness, trust, leadership. Where can you use these things in the offline world?

I found mine through this blog.


man holds up trophy triumphantly, colosseum in background

EXAMPLES: The Walking Dead Collection, The Elder Scrolls series, Halo series, The Binding of Isaac

Earning lots of achievements is fine if you’re curious or a longtime player. The only issue is if you do them just to prove your worth… which is something I used to do.

“See! I’m good enough now!”

If you pursue hard-to-get or takes-forever-to-get achievements just to get them, you can apply that same tactic to your real life. You just have to learn to see things like achievements.

This is another thing I teach you to do in Quests: Habit Change for Addicted Warriors, but in a way that boosts your positive affect, self-efficacy, meaning in life, and craving resilience (that is, it’s not motivational speaker fluff).

See also:
How to use achievements to break bad habits


futuristic samurai standing on a building in cyberpunk city at rainy night, illustration

EXAMPLES: Fallout series, Dragon Age series, Fire Emblem series

With this gamer motivation, you seek to escape something stressful in your life. And this is fine in small doses! (‘Cause often emotional exhaustion can lead us to game.)

But the only way I know of to escape escapism is to block it, make it hard to re-download, and build a life that rules out addiction by tackling the hard stuff head-on. Again, this is Quests, specifically chapter 4, “Self-Regulation.”

Because as Dr. Stuart Shanker puts it,

“Self-control is about inhibiting strong impulses; self-regulation is about reducing the frequency and intensity of strong impulses by managing stress-load and recovery. In fact, self-regulation is what makes self-control possible, or, in many cases, unnecessary.”

All gamer motivation is this

soldier riding war robot in middle of laser-gun battlefield

Addiction is the problem, not video games themselves. Even if you spend a lot of time on Minecraft, Cities: Skylines, or realistic engineering games, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your life and you can quit any time, it’s normal and healthy (and creative, in those 3 cases).

If your gamer motivation is to avoid the pain of some unmet need, however, you need to meet that need with some healthy alternative.

See also:
How to quit X? Don’t quit. Substitute.

For instance, the root of my porn and video game addictions was low self-worth caused by comparison. My gamer motivation was to dominate the computer, NEVER to play against others (because they always wiped the floor with me). It made me feel powerful, effective, and good about myself. Same reason I collected nearly every achievement in World of Warcraft 10 years ago.

(However, this makes it very hard for me to learn chess…)

However, at the root of my gamer motivation was perfectionist, unrealistic expectations I could never meet, which is why I was hooked for years. It didn’t fix the self-worth problems, either.

At the core of all video game addiction, and I’d say porn addiction and social media addiction, is the desire to escape some negative emotion.

Quote by Nick Yee: "Sometimes the game is pulling the player in; sometimes a real-life problem is pushing the player in. Oftentimes, it is a combination of both."

Here’s Nick Yee again, results from his 2002 preliminary research into EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, Acheron’s Call, and Anarchy Online players:

Low self-esteemBeing competent and powerful
Poor self-imageBeing beautiful and attractive
Lack of control over their own livesBeing in control
Trapped by circumstancesMaking a difference
UndervaluedValued and needed
Making and sustaining relationshipsSimplifies communication
Stress and real-life problemsEvasion and avoidance

Any of these describe you? Substitute your need.

Meet yours head-on, and urge surf for first-aid.

4 types of gamer motivation keeping you addicted

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