The video game has become one of the most popular and pervasive forms of entertainment. On a regular basis, more than half of all Americans age 6 and older play some form of electronic digital interactive video games, including ones played in arcades, on handhelds, on game consoles, on personal computers, and on the Internet. The average game player is 33 years old and the average adult man and woman players play 7.6 and 7.4 hours per week, respectively (Entertainment Software Association, 2004). United States retail sales of video games, including portable and console hardware, software and accessories, reached $10.5 billion in 2005, surpassing motion-picture box-office figures in consumer entertainment expenditures (1) (NPD Group, 2006). This popularity is expected to increase as video games become equipped with enhanced speed, more detailed graphics, and increased online network functionality (Williams, 2002).
The popularity of video games is accompanied by social concerns regarding excessive video game use, sometimes hyperbolically called "video game addiction." Both popular and scholarly articles drew attention to the problem of excessive video game consumption by associating it with psychiatric conditions such as substance abuse dependency (van Grinsven, 2003), the so-called addictive personality (Griffiths & Dancaster, 1995), and pathological behavior (Fisher, 1994; Griffiths, 1992; Griffiths & Hunt, 1998; Phillips, Rolls, Rouse, & Griffiths, 1995).
However, the term "addiction" is problematic, particularly in understanding excessive media use. According to Shaffer, Hall, and Vander Bilt (2000), addiction is a lay term rather than a scientifically defined term, leading to the conceptual confusion surrounding excessive media use. Similarly, Peele (1995) pointed out that the term addiction may be abused in that it tends to generate a sense of urgency about psychological problems with the (often self-serving) purpose of alarming the lay public. Now leading media addiction researchers have adopted the term "problematic" media use (Caplan, 2005, p. 721; Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi, 2002, p. 74) in its stead. Many so-called media "addicts" would not be clinically diagnosed as such because their usage, no matter how excessive it might appear to the casual observer, did not have the dire but necessary consequences of broken families or ended careers attached to it (cf. Shaffer et al., 2000). And, many people overcome the symptoms of media addiction without professional intervention (Hall & Parsons, 2001).
LaRose, Lin, and Eastin (2003) argued that media addiction was overstated and that in many cases its "symptoms" may be understood as benign problems that are within the individual's capability to correct rather than malignant problems requiring professional intervention. Drawing on the social cognitive theory of self-regulation (Bandura, 1991), they proposed a model of unregulated media usage that ranges from normally impulsive media consumption patterns to extremely problematic behavior. Unregulated media consumption may affect any media user to some degree at various times, and may become problematic even at relatively low absolute levels of use while remaining unproblematic at high levels.
From this perspective, the present study explores socio-cognitive mechanisms of self-regulation in a model of video game consumption behavior. It extends previous research by integrating Csikszentmihalyi's (1975) theory of flow experience, which has also been proposed as an explanation of video game consumption (Sherry, 2004). By investigating the linkage between flow experience and self-regulation in decision-making processes in media usage, this study attempts to explicate sociocognitive media consumption mechanisms.
A Social Cognitive Perspective of Video Game Usage
Social cognitive theory is a comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding human behavior. It offers an agentic perspective: human agents intentionally make things happen through their actions by exercising forethought, reflecting on their behavior, and applying self-reactive motivating influences (Bandura, 2001). Social cognitive theory highlights the self-regulatory mechanism through which individuals observe their own behavior (self-observation), judge it in relation to personal and social standard or norms (normative judgmental process), and adjust their own behavior to environment by applying self-reactive incentives (self-reactive influence) (Bandura, 1991). Through the mechanism of self-regulation, individuals use their self-regulatory capabilities to predict, control, and manage their own behavior.
LaRose et al. (2003) conceptualized media attendance along a continuum of unregulated media behavior that lies between normally impulsive and problematically excessive consumption patterns. They proposed deficient self-regulation and habit formation as failures in normal self-regulation of media consumption behavior that often lead to patterns of mounting usage. Unregulated media consumption behavior may be initiated by individuals' conscious desire to regulate their negative psychological states, such as stress, boredom, loneliness, or the like. For example, stressed or bored people are likely to manage their psychological states by playing video games. Such incentives to initiate media consumption patterns parallel "pass time" and "relieve boredom" gratifications in uses and gratifications tradition. However, defining them instead as self-reactive outcome expectations has improved both their conceptual clarity in socio-cognitive terms and their explanatory power (LaRose & Eastin, 2004).
As individuals come to rely on their video game use to counter their psychological states, they are likely to form habits, defined as "situation-behavior sequences that are or have become automatic, so that they occur without self-instruction" (Triandis, 1980, p. 204; see also Bargh & Gollwitizer, 1994). Media habits may be established by past thinking about outcome expectations-cum-gratifications (Rosenstein & Grant, 1997; Stone & Stone, 1990). Through repetition, media consumers become ever less conscious of expected consequences of their media consumption and stop actively reasoning about their media consumption patterns. Individuals become no longer subject to active consideration and the performance of the media behavior may then become a conditioned response triggered by a sensory stimulus or a recurring situation, such as the sight of one's video game console upon returning from class. Consequently, media consumption patterns become automatic over time. Media habits thus may be regarded as a failure of self-observation (LaRose & Eastin, 2004). From this perspective, the automaticity (cf. Bargh & Gollwitzer, 1994) of habitual media consumption may be distinguished from the so-called ritualistic gratifications (Rubin, 1984) which still assume an active media selection process (e.g., to gratify needs to pass the time).
Most media habits are subject to self-control; for example, readers may curtail their morning newspaper "habit" if they notice that they are late to work or if it detracts from family interaction (e.g., Diddi & LaRose, 2006). Deficient self-regulation is defined as a state in which self-control is diminished (LaRose et al., 2003). Media consumers lose control of their habits and become deficient in self-regulation when the other two subprocesses of self-regulation, judgmental process and self-reactive influence, begin to fail. For example, people no longer judge their behavior against acceptable personal or social standards for "normal" amounts of game play and no longer apply self-reactive influences, such as self-administered rewards for moderating consumption or indulging feelings of guilt for excessive play. This is likely to happen when media consumption becomes a conditioned response to negative psychological states. If negative life consequences of excessive consumption, such as playing games so much that one flunks out of school, cause those negative moods, then a downward spiral into what might truly be considered a video game addiction, or more properly, problematic video game usage, may occur (LaRose et al., 2003). Similarly, Lee and Perry (2004) found that college students were more likely to be preoccupied with and lose control of instant message software use as their self-regulation became more deficient.
Although deficient self-regulation may deepen established media habits, it may also help initiate them to have a direct influence on media consumption. Impulsive thoughts, such as those triggered by the excitement of the release of a new video game, may also overwhelm one's judgment, self-reactive influences, and rational consideration of the merits/expected outcomes/gratifications of the game itself. In their study on the Internet, LaRose et al. (2003) found significant relationships among self-reactive outcome expectations, deficient self-regulation, habit strength, and Internet usage. Applying this reasoning to the present context of video game usage, the following hypotheses are proposed:
[H.sub.1]: Video game habit strength will be positively related to video game usage.
[H.sub.2]: Deficient self-regulation of video game consumption will be positively related to video game usage.
[H.sub.3]: Self-reactive outcome expectations will be positively related to video game usage.
[H.sub.4]: Deficient self-regulation of video game consumption will be positively related to video game habit strength.
[H.sub.5]: Self-reactive outcome expectations will be positively related to video game habit strength.
[H.sub.6]: Self-reactive outcome expectations will be positively related to deficient self-regulation of video game consumption.
Social Cognitive Perspective of Flow Experience
Flow is a concept that has been proposed to explain enjoyable experiences that can be produced from one's immersive engagement in everyday...