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Uses and Gratifications Theory

The basic question sought in uses and gratifications research is “Why do people become involved in one particular type of mediated communication or another, and what gratifications do they receive from it?” (Ruggiero, 2000, p. 29) Concerned with motivations and satisfaction from media use by consumers, this theory no longer regards “mass audiences as passive sponges, but as active users of the media” (quoted in Ivy & Backlund, 2008, p. 99). Focusing on the individual as the primary unit of data collection, uses and gratifications has been used in the analysis of “a plethora of psychological and social contexts including media dependency, ritualization, instrumental, communication facilitation, affiliation or avoidance, social learning, and role reinforcement” (Ruggiero, 2000, p. 26). Individual motivations for utilizing media have been typified into “diversion (i.e., as an escape from routines or for emotional release), social utility (i.e., to acquire information for conversations), personal identity (i.e., to reinforce attitudes, beliefs, and values), and surveillance (i.e., to learn about one’s community, events, and political affairs)” (Ruggiero, 2000, p. 26).

Previous research has focused primarily on television and other media (as mentioned in Ivy & Backlund, 2008), but the onset of the Internet (Ruggiero, 2000) and video game popularity has expanded the theory’s application. The reformulation of uses and gratifications to “stress comparisons between the gratifications sought from a medium with gratifications obtained” (LaRose, Mastro, & Eastin, 2001, p. 396) may be of particular interest regarding video games. Expected (and unexpected) negative outcomes may discourage media use (LaRose et al., 2001). Considering the challenges offered and the goals obtainable by overcoming these challenges (and through repeated failures) that are presented in video games may be an ideal application of uses and gratifications. Recent studies applying uses and gratifications to video games have also sought differences in motivations between genders (Jansz, Avis, & Vosmeer, 2010; Lucas & Sherry, 2004).

Cultivation Theory

Research concerning cultivation theory has primarily focused on television and other medias’ effects on society, suggesting that “media consumption ‘cultivates’ in us a distorted perception of the world we live in, making it seem more like television portrays it, than it is in real life’” (quoted in Ivy & Backlund, 2008, p. 99). Telivision has been found so universally appealing and influential because of “[i]ts drama, commercials, news, and other programs bring a relatively coherent system of messages into every home….Transcending historic barriers of literacy and mobility, television has become the primary source of socialization and everyday information (mostly in the form of entertainment) of otherwise heterogeneous populations” (quoted in Williams, 2006, p. 70).

With the prevalence of media today, research has sought to discover if the violence depicted in media affects violence in reality. While previous research has mostly focused on television portrayals of violence, “worried that all-too-receptive young viewers will imitate aggression on the screen” (Griffin, 2009, p. 349), the onset of video games and their widespread depiction of violence has also brought about concerns. One of the challenges of studying cultivation theory in regards to video games (and in general) is the wide variety of content and the generalizability of research findings (Williams, 2006). Williams’ (2006) study states, “The online database www.allgame.com lists descriptions of 35,400 different games across 93 different game machines plus computers. To collapse this wide variety of content and context into a variable labeled ‘game play’ is the equivalent of assuming that all television, radio, or motion picture use is the same” (p. 70). One particular difference between television viewing and video gaming is the level of involvement and activity; video games are sites of social interaction both face to face and online, and game content is often driven as much by the game design as by player interaction (whether the play is interacting within the game world, or with other players in and out of the game world) (Williams, 2006).

In addition to the much-studied effects of violence in the media, research has also sought to discover what other attitudes media cultivates in those who consume it. Other effects include fear in/of society (as mentioned in Griffin, 2009), attitudes towards women and minorities, and gender effects.