Publication Date

Summer 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Evan Palmer


Autonomy, Customized Aesthetics, Gamification, Self-Determination Theory

Subject Areas



In the past decade, gamification (using game elements in non-gaming tasks to enhance motivation and engagement) has become a popular concept in many industries, but few studies have explored the principles under which it works. Self-determination theory suggests three psychological needs that gamification fulfills: competence, relatedness, and autonomy. Autonomy, a person's perception that they have the ability to act however they choose, has emerged as an important, yet less-studied aspect in gamification. Inclusion of autonomy in gamification should foster engagement, enjoyment, and better performance. An experiment inspired by the above was carried out in which a sample of college students (N = 57) played a video game called Super Mario Bros. Crossover with either the choice to customize the aesthetics of their character and background (autonomy-supportive) or no choice of aesthetics (non-supportive). It was hypothesized that conditions involving more choice would lead to higher perceived autonomy and performance, and that perceived autonomy would be positively correlated with engagement, enjoyment, and performance. The manipulation resulted in no significant difference in perceived autonomy or performance, and perceived autonomy was only significantly positively correlated with enjoyment. Prior Super Mario Bros. experience was also found to positively correlate with perceived autonomy in the autonomy-supportive condition. The choice of aesthetics does not appear to have been sufficiently strong enough to increase perceived autonomy in this context.