“How game features give rise to altruism and collective action? Implications for cultivating cooperation by gamification” receives ISSIP-IBM-CBA-JST-CISCO Student Paper Award for “Best Industry Studies Paper” at HICSS 53

Cooperation and altruistic action are key prosocial behaviors in our society and pivotal for a number of desirable outcomes, such as engagement in charitable work, social support, increased cohesion as well as increased productivity within teams and better organizational performance [11][17][18][27]. It seems therefore evident why cooperation and altruistic action are in great demand, not only in our society but also in organizational contexts and why explaining such behaviors has been an aspiration of scholars for many years [5][7][9][17][18]. Of late, the seemingly effortless emergence of cooperative and altruistic activity in multiplayer online games has come to the attention of scholars [10][12][13][26] and with that an increasing interest in how cooperative game patterns may be utilized outside of games (i.e. as a form of gamification) [20][22][23][24][25]. Gamification has been a soaring trend in recent years [15][16]. It refers to transforming systems, services and activities to afford similar positive experiences and skills as games do (i.e. gamefulness), often against the backdrop of increasing user engagement or motivating (beneficial) behavioral outcomes [8][14][16].

However, so far, little is known about how and which game features give rise to altruism and cooperation in games and thus there is still a lack of understanding how cooperative potentials of games could be used outside of a gaming context [6][19]. Current gamification literature has pointed out that much focus has been set on exploring individualistic motivations and that considerably less research has been conducted to examine collective perspectives of gamification [6][19][25]. Since games and gamification have become increasingly relevant for organizational contexts [21][32], it seems vital to explore any untapped potentials regarding design characteristics that could support collective activity in settings such as in computer supported collaborative work (CSCW) and learning (CSCL) environments.

One theory that has drawn much attention in terms of explaining cooperation in technological settings and online communities is we-intention theory (e.g. [1][2][3][4][28][29][30][31]). In contrast to the more commonly employed individual intention schemes, we-intention theory relies on the notion that individuals do not perceive themselves as isolated actors contributing to a group performance independently, but rather as a part of a collective acting together to achieve mutually held goals [1][29][30][31]. There have been suggestions in cooperation theory that altruism may play a central role for the formation of we-intentions [1][29], however, empirical evidence of this thesis remains scarce. In addition to closing an important gap by investigating how game features can give rise to altruism and cooperation, it would present a vital contribution to we-intention research to explore the pending theoretical issue pertaining to the role of altruism for the formation of we-intentions.

The purpose of this study is therefore to empirically investigate whether the interaction with cooperative game features leads to the emergence of altruism and if altruism may be responsible for invoking we-intentions in a gaming context.  In addition, based on the results, we seek to provide implications for cultivating cooperation by gamification. In order to answer our research question, we employ data from a questionnaire conducted with players of the augmented reality game Ingress (n=206). This study provides relevant insights by discussing how games give rise to altruism and cooperation and by presenting important implications for the design of gamified systems that seek to increase altruistic and cooperative activity.


How game features give rise to altruism and collective action? Implications for cultivating cooperation by gamification

Marc Riar

Benedikt Morschheuser

Juho Hamari

Rüdiger Zarnekow

Citation: Riar, M., Morschheuser, B., Hamari, J., & Zarnekow, R. (2020). How game features give rise to altruism and collective action? Implications for cultivating cooperation by gamification. In Proceedings of the 53rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS 2020), Maui, HI, 695-704

Please see the paper for full details:



Due to the general gamification of our culture and society as well as the proliferation of games in our everyday activities, people are increasingly looking at games and gamification as a source for cooperation and other prosocial behaviors. However, not all game features lead to increased cohesion, cooperation or collaboration between people. While some games in-deed are geared for cooperation, majority of games also aim toward competition or just non-social activity. Therefore, a prominent research problem exists in understanding how different game and gamification design may lead to altruistic sentiment and collective action. In this study, we investigated how the engagement with cooperative game features relates to the emergence of altruism and whether altruism leads to the formation of we-intentions in a gaming context. We employed data gathered among players of the augmented reality game Ingress (N=206) and analyzed the data using PLS-SEM. The results show that game features can give rise to altruism and that altruism can invoke we-intentions via cooperative goal structures (we-goals) of individuals. In addition to providing important insights regarding how cooperation emerges within games, this study provides implications for cultivating cooperation by gamification.


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