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Why do we play?

Having described what play is, William goes on to investigate why we play and how we can use that knowledge in designing games.
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Having spoken about how much fun it is to play, it’s important to investigate why. What is it that we find inherently exciting, engaging, arousing about games and about play? There are a series of different motivational models that people have come up with throughout the last 50, 60 years. These will be games theorists and other academics. The one that I’m going to talk to you about now is Bartle’s four player types.
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He said that all players are one of, or some mixture, of either achievers, who want to do as well as they possibly can, explorers who want to lose themselves in a game world, killers who want to outdo their friends or their opponents, and socialises who want to work as part of a team. Think back to games that you’ve played. Are any of these going to match on to the kind of reasons that you were playing the games or are you maybe some combination of several of them? When we look deeper at player motivation, there are going to be a number of things that we enjoy doing. Typically, you can break those down into one of two areas.
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They’re either going to be intrinsic motivators or extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivation comes from the self. It’s something that we have already inside us. So we’re doing something ultimately because we find it enjoyable. Now, the height of intrinsic motivation would be Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s flow experience theory. When you’re in a flow state, the level of challenge is perfectly matched by your level of skill, and both are high. So I’m doing something that I’m good at, but I’m still being challenged at doing it. So maybe, I’m a surfer that’s very good, and I’ve got a really high wake coming in, for example.
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When you’re in a flow state, you start to have what many people describe anecdotally, as an out-of-body experience, where you’re doing the task at hand and nothing else. You lose focus of time. You lose focus of your bodily needs. Think about maybe you’ve been playing a game for a long time and, suddenly you put the controller down or you stop playing. And you realise you’re incredibly hungry because hours have gone by, and you’ve been focused on just the task at hand. Other people experience flow states doing manual work, like knitting or even driving cars. Some people who are labourers, who work out as highly technical roles experience flow states at work.
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If we can as game designers, we’re going to do our best to try and encourage or at least allow our players to enter a flow state. Because it’s deeply pleasurable, actually, to be in this position where we’re good at something. We have a skill that we’ve learnt, and we’re able to then use that skill in a situation which allows us to prove our own abilities. Extrinsic motivators then come from outside. These are external factors. So this is going to be your carrot or your stick, right. Either– if you do this thing well, I will give you something that you want, points, for example.
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Or if you do this badly, I will take something away from you or I will do give you something that you do not want. Extrinsic motivation is powerful because it’s easy to do as game designers. We can easily just say, oh if you do this, you get points. If you don’t do this in a certain amount of time, you. Lose points or you lose the game. But it’s risky because typically, with extrinsic motivation, what you find is that you take people’s focus away from the task at hand. They stop focusing on the game that they’re playing, and they start focusing on the thing that’s motivating them.
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Have you ever had to do a task, which typically you’d be able to do, but you were doing it under a time pressure and found you were flustered or you couldn’t do it or you didn’t do it very well? This is you being pulled away because of that extrinsic motivation. So when we’re designing games, we need to think of a balance between the two. Ideally, everything is intrinsically motivated. Everything is fun. We’re doing it because it’s enjoyable. We’re doing it because it matches with those player types we spoke about before. But we can’t always have that. We can’t get people to a position where they’re already good at the game straight away.
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We can’t give people a high challenge straight away because they’ve got no experience. So we have to get them there first. And extrinsic motivation is a good way to get them there, to encourage them to learn and to teach them the rules of the game, get them familiar until we can then give them a high level of challenge which will match their high level of skill.

Having described what play is, William goes on to investigate why we play and how we can use that knowledge in designing games.

Thinking about Bartle’s player types; Achievers, Explorer, Killer and socialiser, which best describes you as a player?

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