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Why are video and computer games so fascinating? And how do they keep us engaged? The psychology of gaming is a complex, yet interesting field of study. We try to fathom why we love to spend time playing games and what kind of gamers exist.
The drive to play is an essential part of human nature. It has existed way before the digital era and therefore before we were exposed to millions of different video games. While playing is a leisure activity as old as mankind, the means involved have been in constant change.
Some theories suggest that once a human being’s basic needs are satisfied, they look for new ways of advanced self-fulfillment. Games can set goals for individuals and establish new social structures that give meaning and structure to their lives. But gaming is much more than just an escapist pastime, and if you look closer, motivations may vary.
When making games, developers have to make myriads of choices. What score and soundtracks do they use and which effect will it have on the players? What about the graphics? What kind of reward system or social interaction will there be? Psychology helps us to better understand each of these choices, as games can be carefully crafted to suit the preferences of the audience.
The British researcher Richard Bartle identifies four different types of gamers: there are those who want to explore (e.g. No Man’s Sky), those who want to compete and master games (e.g. League of Legends), those who want to fulfill tasks and quests (e.g. World of Warcraft), and those who want to socialize (all multiplayer games). Each game caters to each of these categories to a different degree.
Each individual gamer has a different taste when it comes to these types of games and will choose their games accordingly. Of course, the lines between genres are blurred and every single game features these aspects to a different extent – but categorizing them helps to understand the motivation behind playing games.
Become one with your game
An interesting phenomenon in the context of gaming is the following: Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is a Hungarian psychologist who describes a mental state of extreme athletes that is often referred to as the “flow” or “zone”. Activities such as sports or gaming can be so immersive and enchanting that players can get into a state of mind in which they are able to completely zone out their environment, investing their whole being into the experience of play.
The level of mental investment into a game can be just as high as that of professional athletes during an important match or that of a jazz musician during an intense performance. In 2008, scientists found that First-Person Shooters (FPS) fit the theory of Csíkszentmihályi almost perfectly. Games can produce such high levels of challenge and tension in individuals that they are one with the game, so to speak.
If you want to fully immerse yourself into an FPS, your gaming setup is key. The better your equipment is suited to the high demands of modern FPS, the better you can dive into the game. The latest generation of AOC monitors, for instance, has many features such as ultra-high resolution rates, low reaction times, shadow control and adaptive sync that can take the immersion to the next level.
Psychology is an extremely interesting aspect of gaming, as it is dependent on so many factors. Next time when you play your favorite game, you might ask yourself what kind of gamer you are and see behind the motivational system it utilizes.