I mentioned a while ago that I’d been reading some academic papers about gamer culture, and that I’d share some with you all. I’ve found a few interesting things. Firstly, there is a whole academic journal, Simulation and Gaming, devoted to the topic. Unfortunately academic journals charge massive fees to read the articles unless you’re a student or professor. Behold the free and unfettered exchange of ideas.
But that’s partially why I’m sharing this – my work gives me institutional access. The article I’m going to present and discuss today is At Least Nine Ways to Play: Approaching Gamer Mentalities by Kallio, Mayra and Kaipainen. These Finnish researchers recently (2010) completed a massive three-year survey to discover attitudes to video gaming among people of all ages. The survey they made was restricted to digital gaming, but I think the results can be applied to traditional games too.
OK, now for the fun part. They discover that there are three main attitudes to gaming, with sub-attitudes within each. The authors make sure to state that these aren’t types of gamers – they are ways people play. People do not fit neatly into these categories. Most gamers play more than one sort of game, and they may play one game in one way and another in another sort of way, or even the same game in different ways at different times.
Anyway, here are Kallio, Mayra and Kaipainen’s nine gaming mentalities, as summarized by me:
Gamers with a social mentality toward a game play that game mainly as an excuse to spend time with others. The researchers found three main reasons for social gaming:
- Gaming with Children: Pretty obvious. These sorts of gamers play a game with their kids as a shared activity.
- Gaming with Mates: Party gaming. Gaming of this type tends to be done in a social setting like hanging out and playing the Wii with your friends, or the vodka-shot Street Fighter tournaments I played in high school. People play only until the group gets bored and does something else.
- Gaming for Company: This is when you sit and watch someone else play, helping out with advice and maybe joining in every now and then. I play a lot of games in this way, watching my girlfriend play RPGs or joining in with her on FPS’s.
Casual gamers use games for some other purpose, as a means to some end. Usually it’s one of these three purposes:
- Killing Time: Again, pretty obvious. Playing when you have nothing else to do. Most common among the unemployed!
- Filling Gaps: Playing to move from one kind of activity to another, such as taking breaks from studying or work, or waiting for a program to install or something to download.
- Relaxing: Gamers who play to relax normally play regularly for a set time, like every evening, but not to fill gaps or kill time. They play to wind down, and make time for gaming for this reason. People usually play like this alone or online.
Committed gamers consider the game itself important as a game, rather than as a social activity or to achieve some purpose. These mentalities are probably the most interesting for us. Again, there are three main ways people play a game with commitment.
- Gaming for Fun: Your typical competitive gamer. This approach treats gaming like a sport. In the words of the article (p. 344) “the most important difference between the fun gamers and the other committed gamers is that they do not identify with the characters or immerse themselves in the story so much on an emotional and experiential level. Rather, they enjoy playing as gaming or sports. Speed, progress, flow, skillfulness, and other such characteristics of the game are more important than the story or the characteristics of the personalized game characters.” This mentality reminded me of this post I read the other day on Sons of Sanguinius.
- Immersive Play: The opposite. “Within this mentality . . . games are not typically approached merely as games that offer an opportunity to spend time together or produce entertainment or “things to do.” A caricature of an immersionist dweller is one of a fantasy-driven hobbyist who swears by the name of a genre, game series, guild, team, or all of them. Thus, sharing game worlds with other gamers and gamer communities is the salt and pepper of immersive play. (p. 344)” This sounds to me like a typical fluff player, someone who is loyal to the background and feels an emotional connection to the game. The authors say that this sort of play is most common with RPGs and MMOs.
- Gaming for Entertainment: This one is interesting. This approach treats games like movies or music – you get hold of every new one that looks good and play it, and then move onto the next shiny game. You are a consumer of games as media products. I know people who play like this, and I guess this is the approach the games companies want us to have! Interestingly, this approach reminded me of GMort’s defence of bandwagon jumping on House of Paincakes. Consuming new codexes for advantage or just because they’re new looks to me a lot like this gaming mentality, and is something that was very rare in the 40k community even ten years ago. Maybe this is an example of traditional gaming culture being influenced by digital gaming culture?
So there you have it. Nine ways to play. The categories work really well for digital games – I obviously play Street Fighter to fill gaps and relax (Casual 2 and 3), and RPGs and FPSs mostly as a companion gamer (Social 3).
My attitude to 40k is much more complex, probably because it has more than one dimension. After thinking about it I’d say these categories only apply to the actual gaming aspect of something like 40k, and don’t fit well for describing the hobby aspects. In terms of 40k gaming, I most definitely play socially (Social 2), with some traces of skill-honing and immersion (Committed 1 and 2).
I think it’s kind of funny that the authors label what we in the table-top community call competitive gaming as “Gaming for Fun.” Also interesting is that competitive and narrative gaming would both be kinds of committed gaming, so a competitive player and a narrative player may have more in common than they think. They both think the game is important for it’s own sake, unlike, say, a social gamer like me.
As always, discussion would be great. There’s a lot to think about here, and even more in the original paper if you can access it.
Let me know if you want more of this sort of thing . . .