Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Engagement through play: Investigating the relationship between video games and political engagement

  Hanne Wagner (2013 cohort)   www.nottingham.ac.uk/~psxhw


The main aim of my research is to investigate the relationship between interest and engagement in politics and playing video games with different forms of political content. As such, my research’s primary objective is to enquire whether political engagement can be increased through interacting and playing computer games. To aid this, a sub-objective of my work is also to find a way to describe and categories political content of video games and through this built a framework and language to analyse politics in video games. Additionally, I also seek to identify mechanisms, especially game design elements, that enable a player to become aware, learn or even become engaged in politics. Related to these is also the question whether the same could be used in a non-game setting, e.g. other forms of interactions or ‘real world’ politics.

Research Questions

  • Can computer games help to increase political engagement, knowledge and/or awareness?
  • How can be best describe political content of games? How would an analysis of this look like and how is this related to game design aspects?
  • What aspects of the gaming experience and interaction have which effect on engagement and knowledge?
  • Is it possible to use the way political games can encourage political engagement in a ‘real life’ political setting?


Due to the nature of the subject and the research questions asked, I am using a mixed-methods approach for my research. This way both objective and subjective aspects of my questions and objectives can be considered and a more holistic overall picture can be obtained.

Background and motivation

My research is motivated by the growing disengagement of citizens from institutional politics, which is particularly visible when considering election turnouts, the most traditional form of political engagement[1].

My decision to study engagement through video games is based on a variety of factors. First, there are practical considerations such as the size and outreach of the gaming industry[2], while also being something many voters engage in already. Several previous studies also encourage the existence of a positive effect of games on political awareness[3][4]. Additionally, there is a recent interest in ‘civic games’, with research focusing on how these could foster civil education[5].

There is furthermore also ample literature and discussion on whether video games can change individual’s behaviour, ranging from violent behaviour[6][7] to improving one’s learning experience[8].

Current Studies

I am in the process of preparing a lab based study. Being based upon my own politics in games framework, the study will further investigate the relationship between playing games and players’ interest and engagement into politics.

Future Studies

I am furthermore considering to place a political game experience in a (semi-) public space such as the National Video Arcade in Nottingham. This is to observe people reactions to such games ‘in the wild’ and compare these with the more controlled environment of a lab study.

Supervision Team

Prof. Tom Rodden (CS/MRL)

Dr. Martin Flintham (CS/MRL)

Dr. Anja Neundorf (PolIR)


[1] Sloam, J. (2014). New Voice, Less Equal: The Civic and Political Engagement of Young People in the United States and Europe. Comparative Political Studies, 47(5), 663-688.

[2] Chatfield, T. (2009). Videogames now outperform Hollywood movies. The Guardianhttp://www.theguardian.com/technology/gamesblog/2009/sep/27/videogames-hollywood .

[3] Waddington, D.I., Thomas, T., Davidson, A.-L., Venkatesh, V. and Alexander, K. (2014). Education from inside the bunker: Examining the effect of Defcon, a nuclear warfare simulation game, on nuclear attitudes and critical reflection. Loading… The Journal of the Canadian Game Studies Association, 7(12), 19-58.

[4] Neys, J., and Jansz, J. (2010). Political Internet games: Engaging an audience. European Journal of Communication, 25, 227-241

[5] Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., and Evans, C. (2009). The civic potential of video games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

[6] Adachi, P.J.C., and Willoughby, T. (2011). The effect of violent video games on aggression: Is it more than just violence? Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16(1), 55-62

[7] Sestir, M.A., and Barthlow, B.D. (2010). Violent and non-violent games produce opposing effects on aggressive and prosocial outcomes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(6), 934-942.

[8] Blumberg, F.C., Almonte, D.E., Anthony, J.S., and Hashimoto, N. (2013). Serious Games: What are they? What do they do? Why should we play them? In: The Oxford Handbook of Media Psychology. Edited by Karen E. Dill. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/G037574/1) and by the RCUK’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute (RCUK Grant No. EP/G065802/1).