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Why do we play video games?

Online survey offers useful insights into gamer motivations

Battlefield 5 played by fans at E3 2018
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Online psychological tests are generally to be avoided. But I took one this morning that feels useful and entertaining. It comes with a set of pleasing illustrations that demonstrate a certain level of professionalism and seriousness.

Piwag’s “gamer psychographic profile” asks a few dozen questions about your gaming preferences and habits. Based on a six-point scale, it wants to know if you enjoy games with big stories, or tons of challenge, or a hint of nostalgia, or a romantic edge. By the end, it builds up a picture of why you play games.

My profile is below. Compared with other people, it did not surprise me to learn that I love games loaded with narrative, history and feelings. Nor did it surprise me that I don’t much care for games about finicky control, ultra competition or social bragging rights.

Piwag gamer psychographic profile for Colin Campbell
Colin’s gamer profile, according to Piwag.

I was surprised to find out that I value social cooperation more than the average player, and that I’m the sort of person who prefers games with clear boundaries and narrative corridors. I’ve always thought of myself as an open-world kind of chap.

The overall results for all participants offer useful insights into our collective motivations for playing games. Immersion comes at the top, with players seeking “distinctive atmosphere, polished, coherent, immersive” worlds. This feels like a fairly vague catch-all, so it’s not too great a surprise for the number-one slot.

Next up is diversity of gameplay, which is interesting. Most games cleave to a fairly limited set of actions, so it’s instructive to see that people say they want “numerous mechanics, preventing routine,” according to the survey’s website.

Third is a desire to relive real historical events. I find this astonishing, given that historical fiction is nowhere near the most popular genre in games. Even top-selling historical series Assassin’s Creed has only the most cursory relationship with actual history.

At the end of the top 10, I’m surprised to see “oblivion” and “incarnation,” which allow us to “forget the hustle and bustle of daily life,” and “embody someone or something else,” respectively. It seems to me that these would be higher on the list. So too, the notion of “progression,” in eighth — showing that simply hitting achievements such as “game levels, character levels, talent trees and objectives” — is not as big a deal as I’d assumed. The full list is available here.

Obviously, online surveys have their limitations, but this one is fun to take and offers plenty of food for thought. You can take the test here.

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