What’s fascinating about gamers is their complexity, diversity and motivating factors. Massive open world games like Minecraft, DayZ, and World of Warcraft attract users from every demographic one can imagine. It’s the only place you’ll find a middle-school boy, a middle-aged housewife in another country, and a medical student and her boyfriend working together to achieve the same goal.
Nick Yee’s research returns a startling 11-69 year-old age range for gamers, with the average being 30. His data destroys the existing stereotype of gamers. No longer can one claim gaming is exclusively for teenage males. This is empirically not the case. People in their 30s make up the highest percentage of console (XBOX, Nintendo, PlayStation) gamers, six times larger than the amount of teenagers. For computer gamers, the average age is 35, with 26% of the players over 50.
In a three-year study of 30,000 gamers, Yee revealed that only 25% of gamers fit the stereotype of teenagers. To the contrary, 50% of players work full-time and 22% were full-time students. 13% of women were homemakers. 33% were married and 31% had kids. Additionally, professional gamers earn upwards of $100,000 in prize money simply for winning. According to Business Insider, the highest paid gamer is Johnathan Wendel (33), who earned $454,544.98 from 35 first person shooter competitions. Gaming is not just for kids. There’s both a cross-generational and cross-gender appeal.
“On screens big and small, they drive cars, fly fighter planes, sail pirate ships, create city plans or act as hockey players, Kung Fu fighters, and medieval priests. They cooperate, meet, join, quit, explore, laugh, cry, and otherwise immerse themselves in social worlds that pique imaginations and redefine self-concepts,” Reeves and Reed
Gamers dedicate a significant amount of time to interacting and participating in world. Gamers spend roughly half a workweek inside virtual worlds. 8-9% spend more than 40 hours a week in world. Even more astonishingly, nearly 60% admitted to spending a continuous 10 hours interacting in world. Why do people feel so strongly about gaming? The answer is they form emotional attachments through activities that evoke the same reactions as in the physical world.
Studies show that people choose to game for a multitude of reasons, specifically achievement, immersion, exploration, competition, and socialization.
Players who strive for achievement are more interested in gaining power within the context of the game. These types of players like clear rules, hierarchy and recognition.
Those who desire immersion are gamers who are most interested in the fantasy aspect of gaming. These are the characters who try out new avatars, appearances, roles, and personalities. If gaming were high school, these would be the drama kids. They most enjoy complex plots, twists and character development. Simply, these gamers escape reality to engross themselves in the virtual world.
Gamers who are motivated by exploration are those who most appreciate the art, graphics and mechanics behind a virtual world. These players enjoy wandering through the landscapes, galaxies and otherwise infinite virtual worlds. They want to know how things work and why.
Competition certainly is an obvious motivating factor. In virtual gaming worlds, players may engage with each other in a variety of ways, through combat, riddles and duels. These gamers feed off competitive energy and enjoy working against each other.
Finally, socialization is a huge motivating factor for gamers. Social relationships, i.e. establishing friendships, are inevitable because of the cooperative nature of most games. Because these types of games reward players for the more time they spend in world, the activities and goals within these games become much more complex the more experienced the player becomes. Therefore, players benefit from mutual alliances, working through guilds or groups to advance. For more, see the figure on below.
But what does gaming say about people?
In some games, one’s primary enemy is fellow gamers. Assassins, murderers, zombies, and the like controlled by humans threaten gamers on a daily basis. A recent article from Wired poses the query, if these games were real life, those people would be thought of as psychopaths, but they aren’t in the virtual world. Why? What is it about gaming that turns people into psychopaths? It seems that once one’s in the virtual world, all instincts turn to survival, animalistic desires and the mantra better him or me.
Men and women look to gaming for different reasons, but the rewards are the same. Women are typically introduced to gaming later in life through a significant other. Because of this, female players tend to be older. Like modern sociological research implies about females’ real world interactions, women prefer to relate to other players on an emotional level. In contrast, male players begin gaming earlier in life and continue to play into adulthood. Unlike female players who are interested more in relationships and the social aspect, male players prefer to work together for a clear goal. Yee found a high occurrence of men and women in relationships playing together in the same place but on different computer systems, collaborating to the same goal.
“Given the literal reality of “knights in shining armor” and the fact that users can choose to be as attractive as the world allows, users may become more friendly and more sincere with each other because of the heroic attributes their avatars project,” Yee
Some studies suggest that ales under the age of 18 learn leadership skills derived from gaming. This finding further proves the importance of gaming for youths, and the potential virtual environments have for childhood development, education and leadership skills.
Another question raised is the consumption of user data for sociological and psychological research. Gamers more freely make decisions, perform actions and communicate differently in world, perhaps indicating hidden desires, fears and personality traits not noticed in the “real world.”
While the idea of studying someone’s brain and motivating factors seems very much like the plot of Divergent, the idea behind it is intriguing. Society could learn a great deal from studying user data, such as how and why people make decisions, recognize warning signs in troubled individuals, and even to further advance brilliant minds. Whole societies and civilizations exist within virtual environments. How are they successful? What makes them implode? What is the hierarchy? The amount of data living in virtual worlds is infinite. How could one not study it (and learn from it) when it could be beneficial to our society? (okay that sounds like Divergent, for sure).