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Mood Management Theory in Videogames: Investigating the Relationship Between Game Selection, Game Switching, In-game Choices, and Mood Repair




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Maintaining a healthy balance between positive and negative moods is important for mental health. One of the primary benefits of playing videogames is its capacity for mood regulation. Recent studies investigating the psychological effect of playing videogames have shown that videogames exhibit greater potential for improving mood and attenuating negative affect, including boredom, stress, and depression, compared to traditional non-interactive media. In addition to the role of media content consumption for repairing mood, it is also known that an individual’s mood affects their choice of media content, an effect known as “selective exposure theory” (SET). SET centralizes on the individual’s tendency to consume certain media content that reduces their negative affective states and promotes positive moods. The effect of SET has been demonstrated for traditional media (e.g., books, movies, music, television) in both manipulated studies and in the wild. For example, bored TV viewers reduce boredom by watching exciting programs, and elevated stress was associated with increased consumption of comedy and decreased consumption of news. Recently, patterns predicted by SET were shown in videogame consumption in a laboratory setting: participants showed different preferences for task demand level in a game in response to induced stress and induced boredom. However, how selective exposure for mood repair occurs in vivo has not been explored. Do players actively choose different games to accommodate different mood states or do they play the same game but choose different game modes to tailor their experience to their present mood? What do players do in the game to cope with negative emotions in real life? Without this knowledge, designers and researchers cannot optimize the design of games and game features for mood repair. To understand the motivations of players in terms of selecting and switching gaming content, specifically what in-game choices or strategies players employ to cope with negative emotions, and subsequently how these choices facilitate their mood management processes, we conducted a study by surveying 194 US players on how their mood influences their gaming behaviors. We used quantitative analysis to find correlations and patterns among participants’ media consumption, gaming habits and demographic data, and used conceptual thematic analysis to look deeper into retrospective reflection of how participants’ gaming experiences affected their mood states, and to generate insights behind players’ daily gaming experience. Our results suggest that “Mood” is the primary reason for players to be actively playing multiple games within the same period of time, and “Mood” is also the primary determinant of game selection and game switching. Besides choosing different games, players also choose different game modes or choose different playstyles to tailor their gaming experience for their moods. Our findings might help game designers to understand how players make gaming decisions based on their mood states and design games with greater affordance for mood repair.



mood repair, selective exposure, video game



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Computer Science


Computer Science


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