Why do people play video games?
While researchers and psychologists have found many answers — to socialize with others (e.g., form relationships, provide and receive social support, and build collaborations), to gain a sense of achievement (e.g., acquire status, power, or domination over others), or to immerse themselves into a world outside the ordinary — there’s not a lot of consistency in how motives are measured in gaming research.
This means it’s really hard for researchers to compare their data with other scientists’ data in the same field, making broad generalizations about video games and gaming difficult to come by.
Enter a new exploratory study by Graham & Gosling (2013) to help shed some light on the problem.
Given researchers’ past inconsistency, this new study “sought to build on previous research by examining the degree to which game-playing motivations (e.g., socialization, achievement, and immersion) are associated with personality traits in the most popular MMORPG, [World of Warcraft, also known as WoW].”
Not surprising, the study’s subjects were mostly young adult men. About 1,413 (166 women) WoW players participated in this study (mean age=26.04, SD=7.50). On average, participants played WoW nearly 24 hours per week and had played for nearly 20 months at the time of sampling.
Subjects in the study completed two psychological measures — a personality assessment, the 44-item Big Five Inventory, and a 20-item Motivations for Play in Online Games scale developed by previous researcher Yee.
So what did they find?
People high in different personality traits tended to play for different reasons.
As expected, individuals motivated to play WoW for the purpose of socialization tended to be high on extraversion. Additionally, individual’s playing WoW to socialize were relatively high on agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness, but low in conscientiousness. Approximately 10% of the variance in social motivations was accounted for by the Big Five.
Contrary to our hypothesis, achievement motivation was negatively related to conscientiousness. Achievement motivation of WoW players was also negatively related to agreeableness and openness, but positively to extraversion and neuroticism. Approximately 5% of the variance in achievement motivation was accounted for by the Big Five traits.
As expected, individuals playing WoW for immersive motives were relatively high in openness. Those motivated to immerse themselves in the game were also relatively high on neuroticism and agreeableness, but lower on extraversion and conscientiousness. Approximately 10% of the variance in immersion motives was accounted for by Big Five traits.
WoW gamers motivated to play for leadership purposes tended to be extraverted, conscientious, and open, and lower in agreeableness and neuroticism. Approximately 15% of the variance in leadership motivation was accounted for by the Big Five.
Individuals with motives of independence tended to be low in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism, but high in openness. Approximately 3% of the variance in independence motivation was accounted for by the Big Five.
What’s this mean? The researchers explain:
As increasing numbers of people engage in virtual environments on a daily basis, it becomes more important to understand who is spending time in these spaces and why. Individuals select and manipulate their daily environments in the offline world to suit their needs, so it is reasonable to assume that they also do so in the online world.
There are numerous kinds of virtual environments (e.g., social networking sites, blogs, and games) in which individuals spend large amounts of time, each with its own set of goals, possibilities, and norms. Therefore, it is important to examine patterns of findings at a domain-specific level. We focused on WoW because of the high number of individuals interacting in the game.
The present findings demonstrate that individuals not only have different motivations for interacting in WoW, but that their personality traits are associated with those motivations.
Surprised? I’m not really… it seems logical that we’re motivated to engage in the online world in different environments — and use different forms of entertainment, even — based upon our personality, our social skills, and our interpersonal needs. But this research demonstrates this relationship, and that the relationship is based at least in part on our personality.
Graham, L.T. & Gosling, S.D. (2013). Personality Profiles Associated with Different Motivations for Playing World of Warcraft. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 16, 189-193. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0090.