Posted by: bracehare | September 23, 2011

Why I play games

I have to admit, I am not intensely fond of taxonomies as they are invented for purposes of describing social or psychological phenomenon.  They always seem to me a bit too capricious and a bit too self-referential; you have to take at least one term for granted for the others to be comprehensible.  Yet simultaneously, all they do is frame what generally would have been the same picture regardless of the terms used.  In essence, empty terms are given as reference points for understanding something which could be understood in virtually any terms (including standard ones, hence the feeling of exasperation at having to deal with such contrivances).  That is how I felt when I first read Bartle’s report on player types, and XEODesign’s Why We Play Games.  It might not be entirely fair of me.  I do admit to being a quite impatient female-type-thing and that undoubtedly biases me, but at any rate, now that you know my bias on the subject perhaps that will allow you to make better sense of what I have to say.

I play different games for different reasons, and I have played games in general with differing mentalities over the course of my life.  Using Bartle’s player types, I might say that I have transitioned from wanting to explore games, to wanting to achieve in them, and then back to wanting to explore them again (but also on to using them to socialize).  In terms of XEODesign’s taxonomy, I have transitioned from liking Easy Fun and Altered States to liking Hard Fun, then back to liking Easy Fun and Altered States (but also on to enjoying The People Factor).  It is worth noting that Bartle’s player types is a taxonomy for players, while XEODesign’s taxonomy pertains to games.  Both are limiting, yet both intersect.  After all, you can’t have games without players, so any description of reasons for playing a game qua game are going to translate rather immediately to player motivations.  When you understand that what either taxonomy is measuring is the subjective preferences of the player, it becomes apparent that this could be deduced, even in the absence of either taxonomy, simply by listening to how players respond to any given game.

Enough of that though.  In simple terms (or at least in my own): I enjoyed games as a form of heavy escapism in my early adolescence and teens.  I enjoyed the tournament scene for dance games in my mid teens to young 20’s (most likely a surrogate goal brought on by strong, extremely sublimated energies), and recently I have become largely detached from games in general.  There are some I play simply or primarily to relax (like Beat Hazard, which can very loosely be described as a combination of a music game and a schmup).  Then there are games I play to be social (Left 4 Dead, League of Legends, and Killing Floor are among these).  My competitive days are over, as far as I can tell; I am simply too far out of shape and too impoverished of time and money to ever be good at dance games again; but I do aim for in-game Achievements in most games ( a leftover inclination from my hyper-competitive days, perhaps).  However, there is another reason I play games that seems to have been lost or at least poorly transcribed by the aforementioned taxonomies:  I like to understand them.  Not in the manner of an “Explorer”, mind you, but in a sort of scholarly way.  I like to play games to understand how the mechanics weaken or bolster the narrative.  I like to play them to get an idea for how many techniques of storytelling they can borrow effectively from other mediums, and how many of their own they may be credited for inventing.  I like to play them so that I can critique them, and discuss them critically with other people.  That is to say, some games I play in order to study, rather than to explore, achieve, socialize, cause grief to others through, become immersed in, or challenge myself with.

In recent days, this last motive of mine has been one of the sole reasons driving me to play games.  I am not much of a gamer.  Dance games were a passion, and at the time that they were, all other games seemed irrelevant because they didn’t offer a similar outlet for my competitive inclinations (a brief affair with fighting games notwithstanding).  Once my competitive spirit dwindled, I became more receptive to the idea of other motivations for playing games.  However, no motivation has ever been as strong for me, and hence I have always maintained a sort of distance or layer of abstraction between myself and games ever since I underwent this personality shift.  Perhaps I have simply cultured an unnatural level of deliberateness into myself and it can’t be made to go away, but at any rate, that now follows me into games.

– Jessica Evans


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