Why We Play Games, Part 2
Last week we started to get into the motivation of the gamer. We discussed challenge and its ugly stepsister competition, two of the most common motivators. Today, we look at two more on the way to forming an overall model for what moves us. Perhaps less common than the first two motivators, creativity is nonetheless an important driving force in the gamer psyche. Though at first gaming doesn't seem like a particularly creative act, what with its formalized rules and structured systems, there is much more room for self expression than one might think. Some games play to this directly through unique presentations or artistic themes.
Music games and many of the Sim titles are basically just expressive outlets that happen to be governed by a computerized system of rules. Other creatives find their outlet in multiplayer gaming. The modern MMORPG sports equipment and decorative combinations numbering well into the millions. The Creatively Motivated gamer takes pleasure in designing how their character looks as well as changing how they interact with their environment. Creatively Motivated gamers thrive when outlets are available.
Anything involving a high degree of expression, decoration, or a large abstract component draws them. They wilt in gaming environments governed purely by numbers, and in those where presentation is extremely homogeneous. Though we sometimes don't like to admit it, escapism is a motivation that lives in the heart of every gamer. By design, a game creates an inherently different world. Even games which have as one of their primary goals simulation of some aspect of the real world recast the player into some role they find more exciting than their own. Escaping into the role of adventurer, pilot, quarterback or even zookeeper provides motivation for nearly every gamer. Escapism Motivated gamers seek out games where the environment is rich, comprehensive, real. They thrive in worlds where suspension of disbelief is high, where they can lose themselves in the depth and complexity available to them. They gravitate toward role playing and simulation, environments where the world is rich and believable. They tend to avoid abstract games where the underlying reality is difficult to believe or understand.
It is a strange sort of paradox that MMORPGS, with their incredibly deep histories and expansive worlds, are not as attractive to Escapism Motivated gamers as pure RPGs. This effect arises from the multiplayer aspect. Players talking in a public channel about out of game topics or, worse, about the mechanical and numerical aspects of the game world may well ruin the escapists experience and cause them to seek the company of non player characters or others who share their motivation. Much has been made of the downside of escapism. A gamer who spends too much time in a world not their own can begin to lose touch. This sort of disassociation with reality can, and has, lead to all sorts of problems with work, school and personal relations. This does not mean, however, that escapism is itself an unhealthy thing. It is a basic part of the human experience. The reason we vacation, watch moves, enjoy sporting events or go camping is inherently escapist. As people, we are often unsatisfied with out lot in life.
It's natural to seek out activities that allow us to experience something outside of our day to day. Gaming is no different. However, as gamers, we are an oft misunderstood community. We owe it to ourselves and to the world at large both to fight with information, by spreading the positive realities of gaming and gamer culture, and to fight internally against obsession. No matter how good a substitute for the real world a game may seem it is, in the end, only a pastime. Leave it once in a while. Next week, we conclude with Social Interaction. Then, we'll move on to some sort of unified theory about all this.