Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

It’s Called a “Controller” for a Reason: Sense of Control and Identity in Modding

Student Researcher(s)

Anne Dooley (Masters Candidate); Magdalayna Drivas (Masters Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

This paper was based on a project as part of the " COMM 517: Psychological Aspects of Communication Technology" course.


Video game modding, the act of modifying a game with software tools to perform a function not originally intended by the developer, is an integral part of the gameplay experience for many players. Despite the growing popularity of mods, the behaviors and motivations of mod users are not well understood. The goal of this study was to explore sense of control (SOC) and sense of identity (SOI) as predictors of game enjoyment and attachment among cosmetic and functional mod users.


Research Question/Hypotheses
RQ: For video game mod users, controlling for gender and genre, what is the relationship between preferred mod style and feelings of enjoyment and attachment towards the game?
H1: Preference for functional mod use will increase sense of control, which will positively influence attachment and enjoyment.
H2: Preference for cosmetic mod use will increase sense of identity, which will positively influence attachment and enjoyment.


A Qualtrics survey was distributed in online modding forums. All individuals 18 years of age and older who have installed at least one mod were invited to participate in the survey for a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card. After consenting to participate, respondents were asked about their mod and video game usage. Respondents were then asked to supply the name of the game that they have modded the most and whether they mod this game mainly for cosmetic or functional purposes. Sense of control, sense of identity, attachment, and enjoyment in relation to this game were assessed. Data from 669 respondents (39.5% female; M age = 25.97 years old) were used in the analyses.


A multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was run to examine if enjoyment, attachment, SOI and SOC varied as a function of mod style when controlling for gender and genre. We found significant main effects for mod style, gender and genre. Functional mod users felt a higher SOC and more enjoyment in their game use. To answer our hypotheses, we ran a simple mediation and found SOC was a mediator for the relationship of mod style to both enjoyment and attachment in functional mod users. SOI was not a significant mediator in the relationship between mod style and enjoyment nor attachment. Exploratory findings examined the relationship between mod style and enjoyment as well as attachment through serial mediation of SOC and SOI. We found that SOC still mediated enjoyment and attachment in functional mod users, and that SOI was only present as a mediator on attachment in functional mod users when SOC was present first.

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Using a survey of mod users, our findings suggest that sense of control is a significant predictor of game attachment and enjoyment for functional mod users. This supports our prediction that functional mod users enjoy games more because they have greater control over them. Contrary to our prediction, sense of identity did not mediate the relationship between mod preference and attachment or enjoyment. We predict this may be due to the medium, and that those who play video games seek control even when changing a game aesthetically. Further research is necessary to examine the role of genre and cosmetic mod users. 

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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