Everywhere in the game journalism/game writing/game coverage world, you’ll hear all about WHAT people are playing. Heck, “what we’ve been playing” is the first (and often the longest) segment of our podcast, and much of what we write about on these pages consists of the particulars of what, when, who with and sometimes even how we play games. What about why?
Over on GameCritics.com, writer Kate Cox conducted a sort of semi-scientific study on the reasons WHY gamers play. It’s a fabulous story, and well worth your time, especially for all of the thoughtful comments she collected from folks on their own reasons. The breakdown was fascinating:
“A full 50% of answers fell into the category I rounded up and called “Goals / Accomplishment / Success.” I decided that the urges to solve problems, accomplish goals, complete quests or missions, or to understand systems were all similar enough to group together.”
Yes, I can dig that.
“Following from real-world impossibilities and the desire for problems with actual solutions, a full third (34%) of the answers also specifically called out gaming for escapism, for relaxation, or as a coping technique.”
Finally, players who are really into storytelling and role-playing (in the traditional sense of actually playing a role, not playing the style of game we all love to acronym-ize into RPG) should find familiar ground in the third major category:
“Narrative gaming, though, is clearly where it’s at. Over 40% of the answers cited stories and storytelling, and of those a high number specifically referenced what makes games different from other media.”
These (obviously cross-pollinated) responses do touch on the “4 keys of fun” theory that’s written about in Game Design Workshop, one of the books I like to use when I’m teaching game design courses.
According to Nicole Larazzo (who wrote the passage in question), posits that there is “hard fun” – think challenge and mastery. “Easy Fun” is enjoying exploration, escapism, goofing around, simply enjoying the possibility space. This is what’s going on when you decide you’d like to find out what happens when you drive off a cliff.
“Serious Fun” consists of playing with a “purpose”, exercising creativity, exploration, building skills, etc. And finally, “people fun” rounds the four, with social interaction and teamwork (or griefing, as the case may be).
Obviously, everyone has their own preferences across all of these kinds of fun – or kinds of experiences, if you’d rather not use the F word here. In Cox’s survey, every respondent had answers that crossed boundaries from serious to hard to easy to social – in fact, plenty of games encompass elements of all four. It all comes down to your own preferred belnd.
We’ve chatted a bit about the games that shaped us as gamers in a previous episode of Jumping the Shark, but I don’t recall ever really hitting this question at the core. I know that I personally play games primarily for escapist entertainment, artistic inspiration, and the ability to really “go” places that don’t exist in real life. For me, game experiences that really transport me to another world have always been my favorites.
Kate Cox’s reasons resonate with me as well – she professed a love of games that make her feel “clever” for figuring things out (I’m big on this as well), and she’s partial to being able to explore and feel like a badass. Her explanation of how awesome she feels when she plays as Shepard in Mass Effect 2 is a good explanation of precisely why I played the ever-loving crap out of that game.
Enough about me. I want to open up the floor and ask why you – yes, you – play games.