Why We Play Games, Part 3

By: Steve Hall


In part 2 of this series we took a look at Creative Expression and Escapism, two significant motivators of the common gamer. The week before that, we covered Challenge and Competition. In the final part of this series we have a look at Socialization and try to tie it all together.

Social interaction is a subject on which we gamers take a fair bit of static from our non-gaming peers. Sometimes this is because they mistake differing priorities for introversion. Wanting to talk about the relative merits of the Western Plaguelands against Winterspring as a post 55 grinding location isn't really any different from wanting to talk about the strength of the Bill's secondary, its just that one of them is relevant to a somewhat narrow audience (give it time.) Sometimes, however, the criticism is merited. We tend to be somewhat socially awkward folk, in part because the hobbies in which we invest a sizeable amount of our time have rigid rules governing most interactions, making them poor training for the free wheeling reality of human discourse. For some gamers, the Social Interaction found in the gaming experience is a primary motivator.

Social activity in gaming occurs on many levels. At a very low level, gaming can be a reinforcer for existing social groups. Think of a group of friends getting together to play a board game or some Half Life. The social activity found in modern online games can be much broader in scope. MMORPGs, to which discussion of the current state of gaming always seems to gravitate, are essentially groups of people that already share some primary common link. The friendships formed through online cooperation and friendly competition can be one of the biggest draws of such games. Anyone who has ever stayed up later than they should because their guild needed them or because someone asked them to has experienced this. These online relationships are no less real, no less significant than their offline analogues. They are, however, different.

The interaction that takes place within a game is structured and often, online gamers see only part of one another. It is difficult for a group formed around a particular activity to bond as deeply as a group of friends that exists solely for the purpose of supporting one another. To avoid turning to diatribe on not forgetting your real loved ones we'll stop following that chain of thought. The important thing is that some game players are purely Socially Motivated. Such individuals thrive online, where other players can be met and interacted with. For these people, the heavier the social component of the game, the better. Interestingly, many games with a high degree of social complexity also have a large amount of the mathematical complexity that may drive away socially motivated gamers. In pure form, this type of gamer is seeking an experience that blurs the line between games and chat environment.

Challenge. Competition. Creation. Escape. Socialization. Five different motivators, all of which combine to make up the motivation of a particular gamer. We could add more, certainly, but these will do for now. So where do we go with this? I'm having to physically restrain myself from drawing a pentagonal map and plotting individual gamers on the five motivational axes. While it would look neat and might be an interesting topic for an esoteric role-playing text, it wouldn't get us anywhere.

A more useful tack, perhaps, is to think about what motivates us individually. Knowing yourself and what drives you can help you figure out what sort of games you should be playing and, more importantly, which will never give you anything but frustration. Understanding the motivations of others can give us insight that will better help us relate. Many arguments over what to do in online games arise because the different party members are motivated differently. A Creative and a Challenger aren't likely to crave the same activities from a night of dungeon delving. Nor are an Escapist and a Competitive going to even speak the same way about a game. For one, a game may be a world waiting for his immersion. For the other, a game is a matrix of numbers waiting to be solved and conquered. We all have a little of each in us and if we can understand what drives us we can both better interact with one another and increase the joy we find in gaming.

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Steve is a member of the GrandMatrix team. They provide a broad range of games, puzzles, articles and reviews. Read more articles, download and play the latest PC games for free plus enjoy thousands of user submitted puzzles, quizzes and word games at GrandMatrix Free Game Downloads

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