Why We Play Games, Part 2

Why do we play games after all? part 2

Why do we play games after all? part 2

There is an ephemeral quality that separates players from the rest of humanity, something that does us and them, not us. I've never been able to identify it, but it's inescapable. Today, hoping to get closer to that essential quality of gamerosity, we examine some of what motivates us. In particular, we take a look at what attracts different types of players to the game. Each player plays for different reasons, but there are common threads that tie the experience together.

Many players are motivated by the challenge a game can present. Success in a game can be governed by a wide variety of skills. A first person shooter game requires nervous reflexes, a steady hand, and the ability to stay calm under pressure. A word puzzle game may require extensive vocabulary and the ability to rethink the use of old words, but not a measure of speed. A sports simulation might well require in-depth knowledge of the subject in addition to arcade skill, but you're unlikely to care much about linguistic acumen.

The common thread is that all games challenge some subset of a player's skills. This challenge can be a powerful motivator. The Challenge Motivated player is drawn to a game that tests their skills, preferably one that tests them to their limits. The player may also be motivated by the natural improvement that comes from working hard. So, they are motivated, not just to excel, but to improve. Challenge-motivated players thrive whenever a game pushes their skill set of choice, but may not be interested in games that fall too far from target.

The competition is a close cousin of the challenge. Many players are driven by the need to prove they are the best, to face their teammates and rise to the top. Competitive-minded players range from those looking for a challenge in a fair fight to the kind of babies who talk about winning at all costs and give us all a bad name. Competition can be easy to push too far. There is nothing inherently wrong with being driven by competition. To some extent, competition is simply a challenge taken to the extreme. It's only when it leads to mistreating your playmate that it begins to become less of a motivation and more of an unfortunate personality quirk. Players motivated by competition thrive in games in which they play against each other with the outcome dictated by ability to play. They will often decline in environments that require cooperation, such as many MMORPGs, or in games where skill plays a much lesser role, such as less sophisticated dice or card games.