December 18, 2007

Why We Play

My friends and I all play a lot of games. But after many an argument between us, we've come to the conclusion that we all play games for very different reasons.

I'm an "experience gamer". I play for the immersion in a fictional game world and the feelings that it produces. I like games that give you a role to play. I preferred Starcraft over Warcraft 3 because the former treated me like a character in the story. I tend to prefer first-person games with interesting settings (Morrowind is my favorite game of all). When I played Call of Duty 4, I turned off all the lights, closed the door, and played straight through from beginning to end. I was so immersed in the game that I nearly came out of it with PTSD.

My friend David (who supplied the name for this blog) is a "skill gamer". He plays through games on the hardest difficulty that he can manage. He preferred Tribes 1 over Tribes 2 because it was harder to play; he wants a game that separates the pro from the noob, not a game that anybody can win. He plays for the satisfaction of doing the best that he can and dominating the competition.

Gabe from Penny Arcade wrote that his reason for playing was to see "new art". "I play to see the next level or cool animation. I don't play games to beat them I play games to see them." The joy of gaming for Gabe, I infer, is in the discovery of new environments. He's an "exploration gamer". I bet he'd like Morrowind as well.

There are probably other styles of play as well; these are just the ones that I've seen so far. From a designer's perspective, this represents a challenging problem. Some people will only enjoy your game if it offers immersion into an interesting role, some will only play if it offers a serious test of skill, and some will only play if your game keeps serving up new and varied material. Satisfying all of these simultaneously is difficult, if not impossible. A constant change of scenery could make a skill gamer lose his edge. A too-difficult game could frustrate an experience gamer. A deep but narrow experience game could bore an exploration gamer. The best games will satisfy all.

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