2014 - Experiences of Hobby Game Players: Motivations Behind Playing Digital and Non Digital Games | GrogHeads

by Victoria Jesswein published 2022/11/12 09:28:18 GMT-7, last modified 2022-11-12T09:28:18-07:00
Central to our understanding of why people play digital games (either video or computer games) is to understand the reason people want to “play” a game in the first place. Playing, once reserved for only real-life interactions among people, is now the venue for interacting with digital manifestations of reality; but the question remains, is this digital-based playing different than real-based playing? The purpose of this study was to investigate the patterns of motivation and usage by card, role-playing, computer, and board game players, known in this study as hobby game players. Through an online survey, we measured the reasons people play these games, as well as the milieu in which they play these games are played. What does the game player like in a game? Why does the gamer like this? What motivates continued game play and preferences for types of games? The results indicate that digital game playing shares several underlying motivations with its pre-digital predecessors, but in ways that are still different than tabletop gaming.

Experiences of Hobby Game Players: Motivations Behind Playing Digital and Non-Digital Games | GrogHeads

April 18, 2014 

Experiences of Hobby Game Players: Motivations Behind Playing Digital and Non-Digital Games

Based on a large online data collection effort back in 2006, the collaboration of GAMA, Ohio State University, and that other website, resulted in a pretty robust dataset that yielded a variety of interesting explorations.

By: CarrieLynn Reinhard and Brant Guillory, 18 April 2014


Central to our understanding of why people play digital games (either video or computer games) is to understand the reason people want to “play” a game in the first place.  Playing, once reserved for only real-life interactions among people, is now the venue for interacting with digital manifestations of reality; but the question remains, is this digital-based playing different than real-based playing?  The purpose of this study was to investigate the patterns of motivation and usage by card, role-playing, computer, and board game players, known in this study as hobby game players.  Through an online survey, we measured the reasons people play these games, as well as the milieu in which they play these games are played.  What does the game player like in a game?  Why does the gamer like this?  What motivates continued game play and preferences for types of games?  The results indicate that digital game playing shares several underlying motivations with its pre-digital predecessors, but in ways that are still different than tabletop gaming.



Anthropologists, sociologists, and most recently communication scholars, have sought to understand this activity children are encouraged to engage in by their parents and society at large: playing.  Whether it be by themselves with an imaginary companion, in a group of children playing a sport, or online with a virtual opponent, a unifying conception of what is play has been sought.  While this research in no way portends to have the answer to this underlying phenomenon, our goal was to investigate playing across a variety of types of structured play.  We also do not profess a level of expertise on play theory, and only mention it to structure the foundation on which this study resided.

Within the realm of “play” our specific area of interest is “games.”  Delineating “play” from “games” is a set of parameters defined by Costikyan (1994), culminating in this definition: “A game is a form of art in which participants, termed players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal.”  Costikyan even separates the idea of a “toy” from a “game”:

According to Will Wright, his Sim City is not a game at all, but a toy. Wright offers a ball as an illuminating comparison: It offers many interesting behaviors, which you may explore. You can bounce it, twirl it, throw it, dribble it. And, if you wish, you may use it in a game: soccer, or basketball, or whatever. But the game is not intrinsic in the toy; it is a set of player-defined objectives overlaid on the toy.

Games exist in a variety of forms.  In order to better understand the reasons why gamers choose to play games, it is helpful to look beyond the relatively new digital gaming world, and consider the tabletop games that preceded the computer and console. When comparing digital to non-digital, some of the more direct comparisons are those within the realm of hobby games, many of which have been ported almost directly into computer/console-based games.  Playing a board game with a computer is much closer to playing a board game around a table than, for instance, playing a football game on the computer and playing a football game in the front yard.

Digital games research, whether it be focused on computer or video games, must give accords to the previous work done on playing in non-digital arenas, such as role-playing, and card and board games, from which initial research on game play arose.  While the level and quality of engaging with the game be different given the technology involved in creating the digital game, with the ramifications this engaging with a virtual playground may have on the experience, there remain underlying fundamentals that can be said to constitute playing (Myers, 2006; Murray, 2006).  As we move towards understanding more about what impact certain game features, such as realistic graphics and sound or first-person perspective, can have on outcomes of the engagement with the game, we should not be so hasty in our dissecting digital games to neglect the holistic picture that may be understood as constituting the fundamentals that digital games share with non-digital games.

One potential avenue for understanding the underlying fundamentals may be to step away from interrogating the technology and content features, and focus instead on the game player and what the player brings into the game — namely, the expectations for gratification that the player has when engaging with the game.  Research has been done from a uses and gratifications (U&G) perspective to understand what motivates a person to play a digital game, resulting in a number of categories.  The study applied these categories, found across previous research, to not only a player’s engagement with a digital game, but their engagement with non-digital games.  Our goal is to understand if each type of game would have a specific pattern of gratifications that is unique to that game, or, if there are fundamentals underlying these games, would the comparisons of gratifications be more complex as to not create unique distributions for each game type.  To explore this question, we studied not just those players who self-identified as playing digital games, but hobby games overall.

Extensive studies of digital game players have exploded in the academic research over the past 20 years.  However, studies of non-digital hobby gamers have not kept pace.  Focused on demographics and generally conducted by game companies seeking better marketing data, investigations into the choices made by hobby gamers and their motivations are neglected.  Why do certain players choose card games over board games, and why choose either over reading a book or flying a kite?  How are either of these game players different than computer game players?  Why play board games when digital games have proliferated in the marketplace and are the focus of so much attention?

“Hobby games” as a category have thus far lacked a formal definition.  It has typically included a wide variety of board games, and card games, as well as role-playing games, and games involving miniature figures.  However, the field of hobby games has typically excluded such mass-market games as Twister, or Monopoly, or Jenga.  The dividing line is not simply one of commercial success – Dungeons & Dragons has been a worldwide phenomenon for over 30 years.  It seems that hobby games can be described as “niche topics” regardless of their overall commercial success: military combat, fantasy kingdoms, pirates at sea, space explorers, or railroad barons.  Separating the digital and non-digital hobby game topics is the oft-used term of “tabletop games” to describe those played in the real, rather than virtual, world.

Mass media portrayals of hobby and computer game players have tended toward negative stereotypes. Of 111 articles in the mass media between 1979 and 1992, only 3 were ‘pro-game’ (Cardwell, 1994).   Following the Columbine High School shootings, the killers were described in the media as having played fantasy games (Shipp, 1999).  Studies have been conducted concerning different socialization aspects of fantasy gaming. Douse and McManus (1993), Rosenthal, Soper, Folse, and Whipple (1998), Simon (1987) and Carroll & Carolin (1989) have all studied socialization and personality within hobby gamers.  However research into hobby game players has centered around social behavior, and much of this area of research has been focused on dis/proving anecdotal reports of hobby gamers and anti-social behavior.

What has not materialized, thus far, is any in-depth study of why hobby game players choose to play the games they do, and what uses and gratifications come from those games. One study attempted to draw correlations between the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and board wargame players (King, 2005).  However, the conclusions drawn were primarily between expected behavior based on the MBTI, and describing how wargame players exhibited that behavior.  The study also excluded many hobby game players simply because they were not wargame players.

There has been substantially more research done investigating the gratifications sought and obtained from digital games.  While focusing on video and computer games, this research has been around for over two decades, beginning with the motivational factors analyzed in regards to educational games (Malone, 1981a, 1981b; Malone & Lepper, 1987).  Designers of ‘educational’ games must sustain their players’ motivation, or the player walks away and nothing is learned.  In these early studies, “motivation” subsumed the player’s expected, sought, and obtained gratifications, as well as their perceptions of, and preferences for, the game’s technological and content features, with the suggestion that the game’s features as perceived and preferred may interact with the player’s expectations and gratifications.

Since this initial work on educational games, numerous studies have followed that studied entertainment games, from the arcade to the home, creating a number of categories of player gratifications and game features indicated as being important to the player in their rationale for choosing to engage with that game (see for example: Greenberg, Sherry, Lachlan, Lucas & Holmstrom, 2005; Jeheil & Samet, 2005; Kiili, 2005; Lazarro, 2004; Rouse, 2001; Sherry, Lucas, Greenberg & Lachlan, 2006; Sweetser & Johnson, 2004).  Similar work has been found in Mitchell & Savill-Smith (2004), who also offer a compelling synthesis of work from Prensky (2001), Becta (2001), and Gee (2003) that describes what games are, why they are engaging, and why computer games in particular, contribute to motivation among their players.  A complete listing of all sources used in this study to understand the extant of work on motivations can be found in Table 1, to be discussed below.


Table 1. Gratifications scale items for each attribute and sources used to generate attributes.
Gratifications Scale Items Sources
Fantasy being able to explore places I normally couldn’t Malone (1981a, 1981b); Crawford (1984); Mudrock (1985); Marlone & Lepper (1987); Myers (1990); Rouse (2001); Lazarro (2004); Yees (2004); Greenberg et al (2005); Sherry et al (2005)
being able to do something I normally can’t
Competition having bragging rights over others Crawford (1984); Griffiths (1991a, 1991b, 1997);Rouse (2001); Lazarro (2004); Yee (2004); Greenberg et al (2005); Sherry et al (2005)
showing off my skill to others
being able to improve my skills over others
Challenge being able to sharpen my skills Crawford (1984); Murdock (1985); Wigand et al (1985); Myers (1990); Griffiths (1991a, 1991b, 1997); Rouse (2001); Kline & Arlidge (2003); Lazarro (2004); Yee (2004); Greenberg et al (2005); Sherry et al (2005)
challenging myself to do better
pushing myself to overcome obstacles
Socializing sharing the experience with others Crawford (1984); Selnow (1984); Griffiths (1997); Kline & Arlidge (2003); Lazarro (2004); Yee (2004); Greenberg et al (2005); Sherry et al (2005)
playing with others (friends, family, etc)
playing as a reason to hang out with others
Solitude being able to spend time alone Selnow (1984); Rouse (2001)
being able to ease loneliness
Mood Management that playing reduced any stress I feel Wigand et al (1985); Mehrabian & Wixen (1986); Griffiths (1991a, 1991b); Phillips et al (1995); Lazarro (2004); Yee (2004); Greenberg et al (2005); Sherry et al (2005)
using the game to cheer myself up
getting pumped up by the game
Diversion being able to make time pass by Griffiths (1991a, 1991b, 1997); Phillips et al (1995); Greenberg et al (2005); Sherry et al (2005)
avoiding doing other things I had to do
being able to prevent boredom


The motivations categories were primarily constructed from qualitative studies that asked players to list the reasons they played, either all games or specific games.  These qualitative analyses were then reconceptualized as categories and given to other players in surveys to validate, expand, or simply test the presence of these gratifications and game feature preferences.  We have taken the results of both the quantitative and qualitative studies from across the spectrum of research and determined seven gratifications and six game features that served as the underlying motivations our study put to hobby gamers to compare their engagement with digital and non-digital games.  The seven gratifications can be found in Table 1 and the six game feature preferences in Table 2, with their scale items used to measure each, which will be discussed in our method section.

Briefly defined, the seven gratifications used in this study are: Fantasy; Competition; Challenge; Socializing; Mood Management; Diversion; and, Solitude.  Fantasy is the desire to experience a world, a life and/or an activity one cannot experience in one’s real life experience, to explore new situations and even escape reality.  Competition is the desire to be better than someone else at the game.  It is the desire to have the higher score, to beat all challengers, and to have supremacy over the game and others who play, so that others recognize one’s talents.  Challenge is the desire to defeat something perceived as difficult for the intrinsic reward of self-satisfaction, knowing that one can over come struggles and frustration.  Similar to Competition, it is defeating a game for the knowledge that one can successfully complete something difficult, resulting in an ego boost and a feeling of pride.  Socializing is the desire to spend time with others while playing the game, with these others being present at the site of play, or virtually present through Internet connections.  Also, this desire could be interpreted as using the game as a substitute or alternative to companionship that cannot be present.

Mood Management is a combination of affect gratifications researched in other UG research (Rubin 2002).  The core concept states that people seek equilibrium in their affective states, and any state of disequilibrium will motivate a person to correct this, such as elevating low affect (such as sadness) and reducing high affect (such as tension). Diversion is the desire to displace one’s responsibilities by engaging in something more enjoyable.  Similar to escapism, it does not require the desire for Fantasy to replace reality, only for the activity of playing the game to replace some other activity, or to just be an engaging activity when there is nothing else to do (Griffiths, 1997).  Solitude at first glance may be just the opposite of Socializing, but the desire with Solitude is more for enjoying one’s time alone without any particular need for others being present, either physically, virtually or by some media surrogate.

Briefly defined, the six game features used in this study are: Control; Immersion; Curiosity; Complexity; Narrative; and, Educational.  Control is an aspect of game/player interaction the player has over the progress of the game.  It begins with how the player perceives the method used for interacting with the game, such as a keyboard or handheld controller.  The aspect then involves game design features that entail how much the player perceives the progress of the game as being contingent on their actions.  Another impact on control is how much of a fit there is between the player’s abilities and the game’s requirements, as a mismatch may make it harder for the player to control the game as is needed for successful completion.  Immersion is an aspect of player/game interaction concerns the ability of the game to keep the player’s attention engaged, and it can be seen as both a feature of game design and as a possible outcome of various features.  Also known as “presence,” it is the extent to which the player feels present in the game and not in the actual physical surroundings.  For some games, this is a built-in feature, while for other games it may be a consequence of content features.  Curiosity is an aspect of player/game interaction that is a desire for the game to surprise the player.  Game design features can influence the level of novelty the game provides, such as the appearance and progress of the game having new and even surprising elements designed into them.

Complexity is an aspect of player/game interaction that is a content-specific feature, and varies between and within genres, and sometimes even within a game, should the game have different difficulty settings.  Various design elements can impact the Complexity of a game, such as the number of and requirements to defeat goals and the amount and type of performance feedback a player receives in striving for the goals, and the method needed to achieving goals; players like things hard, not impossible.  Narrative is oftentimes a key aspect of game design, although genres do exist that have none.  Most games do have stories and characters to some extent, such that there are players who indicate preferring games because of this feature (Kline & Arlidge, 2003).  Characters provide the player with a chance to role-play or express themselves through the selection and/or the customization of the character through appearance and skill level.  The combination of characters and storyline can improve game engagement through identification.  Educational pertains to the game’s ability to teach the player some new information, whether it be historical or scientific, factual or not.  Even a fantasy game may teach the player something new about a new world or new race, or the player may even learn something about the other people s/he plays with.  It’s the ability for the game to answer a question the player may have had, from simple “who” or “what” to “what if” questions.

As we have discussed, our goal was not to add another motivations piece to the literature on why people play digital games.  Instead, we sought to look more at the underlying fundamental drives that makes any person, man or woman, child or adult, wish to play a game, whether it be a board game where they physically move chess pieces or an online fantasy world where they can move entire civilizations.  While digital games may modify and enhance the fundamental reasons for engaging with games (Murray, 2006), in order for these to be termed games there must be an underlying similarity for the reasons people give for their engagement.  However, as this was the first attempt we could find of someone investigating motivations by comparing digital to non-digital games, we could not form any hypotheses as to how these motivations would be similar or different across the types of games.  Would the digital games have one specific distribution of gratifications and game feature preferences that made it wholly unique in comparison to board games or miniature games?  Or would the distribution of these motivating factors show a more complex picture that one would expect if there were fundamental underlying motivations to why we play anything?

Thus, research to date has led down several diverging paths when studying game players.  The first split was between digital and non-digital games.  The next split was between those studying socialization (and predicted behavior based on those measures) and those studying other effects of game play.  Finally, we have those attempting to describe how games are used, but not necessarily why players continue to play them.  This research seeks to converge the digital and non-digital into an analysis of the uses and gratifications of game players overall, and explore whether or not real motivational differences exist between digital and non-digital game players.

RQ: To what extent are the 7 motivational factor and the 6 design features comparable across digital and non-digital hobby games?



This project started as a partnership with The Wargamer[1] to investigate playing preferences and motives of wargame players and later evolved to include the Game Manufacturers’ Association, GAMA.  GAMA requested an expansion of the scope of the research from wargames to all hobby games.  They were willing to offer a wide-ranging distribution of the survey and in return, they wanted to “mobilize the industry” behind the project, rather than fragment it into segments like “wargamers” or “role-players.”

The survey was designed to take knowledge of hobby game players beyond simple demographics and ask more detailed questions about why gamers make the choices they do.  Once a sample of gamers had been developed, it would be possible to divide them into sub-strata for further analysis, allowing comparisons between game players who expressed different preferences of games, such as the type of game (board, card, computer, etc) or genre of game (fantasy, war, sci-fi, etc).  There were challenges trying to cover all potential types of games and genres that could be considered “hobby games.” GAMA also assisted in developing the descriptors of the types and genres of games, and the entire survey was pre-tested by a mixture of GAMA and Wargamer staffers, and graduate students, to ensure the coding operated correctly.


The vast majority, 93%, of survey respondents were male.  The most commonly self-reported ethnicity was white (90%), with Latino at a distant second (2%).  As the survey was online, respondents could have been answering the questions from anywhere in the world.  The majority of them were from within the United States (73%), with Western European residents second (14%), followed by residents in North America outside of the United States (5.5%), and residents of Australia or New Zealand (5%).  The average age of our respondents was between 30 and 50, although we did have respondents younger than 14 and older than 65.

The majority of respondents were well educated, either being in college, having a college degree, in graduate school, or possessing a graduate degree.  The most commonly reported occupation was as a technician, with being in education (either as an administrator, teacher or student) or being in business as also very frequently mentioned jobs.  The sample was largely of a middle class income bracket, with yearly wage earnings of $35,000 to over $100,000 being the most common.  The majority of respondents had no military experience, and of those who did, ROTC was the most common.

Many of our informants indicated they began playing hobby games when they were in their pre-adolescent to adolescent years.  Between the ages of 7 to 16, 74% of our respondents indicated they had already begun playing.  Of the remaining, 9.5% indicated starting earlier than age 7, and another 9.5% indicated they started from between 17 to 21 years old.  When asked how frequently do they play hobby games today, the majority of people (43%) said they play 1-2 times a week, with another 28% saying they play every other week and 13% saying only every other month.  A total of 7.5% said they play daily, and the remaining 8% said they only play 1-2 times a year or


Based on previous uses and gratifications research, we developed a scaled set of 35 items assessing motivations across the seven gratifications and six game features.  While many of these measures have been used before, several were new, to deal with issues specifically expected to be found within hobby games, such as the creation or construction of components and play aids.  Respondents were asked to choose their favorite three type and genre combinations of games, in order.  Players were then asked to picture themselves playing their favorite game for their responses to the 35-item scale.  All 35 items were assessed on a 1-7 Likert scale, with no default options set.  Additionally, an option was included for “does not apply” as some hobby games lack certain features that would have made certain items irrelevant.  Respondents were asked to complete the 35 item scale for their first and second favorite type/genre combinations.  This analysis concerns itself only with the primary answer for favorite game.


The online survey was hosted by Ohio State University and partnered with GAMA and The Wargamer to assist in distribution.  Participants were recruited through a combination of web-based links and posted material in game stores; several game companies also encouraged customers to participate by including information in their email bulletins to subscribers.  The Game Manufacturers Association (GAMA) agreed to use their network of stores and companies to assist in disseminating the survey details and location to the widest possible audience of hobby gamers. We registered a URL used to redirect to the survey (www.gamesurvey.org), to make the web address easier to remember.  Participants were given this URL and a paragraph of detail about the study and its goals.  Greater detail was included at the website before the participant began the survey.  Links from other websites brought the respondents to a web-based appeal with identical text/graphic content to in-store notices.  Ultimately, we received a worldwide response and found over 35 separate unique sites linked to survey.  Our final number of participants was 3550.

Participants were self-selected for the study by their responses to the survey.  The recruitment material contained information about the purpose of the study and the non-sensitive nature of the questions being asked.  It also indicated that by clicking on the link to take the survey, they consented to providing their information to our study.  If the participant did not consent or assent to participate in the study, then s/he did not have to go to the survey.   Participants younger than 18 were instructed to ask permission from their parents before proceeding to the survey. Although we collected some limited demographic information, it was not intended for direct use in any statistical analysis.  The population of interest exhibited a shared behavior of interest and the motivations underlying this behavior.



Within those 3550 respondents, five major groups developed from our request to choose their favorite game type and genre (see appendix 1 for a list of all type/genre combinations offered to respondents).  These five groups were divided into the following categories, showing a combination of the preferred gaming medium and genre: Fantasy RPG, n=841; Miniatures War, n=658; Board War, n=484; Board Euro, 428; Computer/Console, n=289.  All respondents to computer/console game types were grouped together, regardless of preference for genre (war, fantasy, etc).  No other type/genre combination had more than 200 respondents.  Conspicuously absent were the Fantasy Collectible Card game players (ie. Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon).  The purpose of this categorization was not to identify which types of games that players preferred in the overall marketplace.  Instead, the categorization to establish groups of players for intergroup comparisons of the motivational factors.  Thus, the actual group of hobby gamers being tested were those participants falling into one of these five groups for an overall sample size of 2100. From this point forward, all statistics should be assumed to be n=2100, unless otherwise noted.


Motivational Factors and Uses & Gratifications

Finding out what motivates gamers was one of the principle goals we wanted to discover.  Building on some earlier research originally conducted for digital games, we developed our list of motivational factors and broke it into the underlying components (Table 1).  These underlying components were then used in the scaled items gamers responded to in our survey.  When the responses were analyzed, we found that the factors reassembled themselves into different categories than what we started with.

Once the components were reassembled, the factors that we identified were:

. . . . . . . . .
Table 2. New factors, components, and factor loading scores

The Challenge of Playing

answering “what if” questions








ability/likelihood of learning something








overcoming obstacles








challenging myself to do better








easy to learn, hard to master








always something new








chance to succeed or fail








The Discovery Narrative


interesting characters in the game








game’s story








explore places I normally couldn’t








do something I normally can’t








wondering what came next








really getting into the game








The Exciting Alternative


not totally difficult to figure out








easing loneliness








using the game to cheer myself up








avoiding doing other things








make time pass by








prevent boredom








having greater choice over what to do








getting pumped up by the game








Competition with Peers, Self


show off my skill to others








improve skills over others








sharpen my skills








bragging rights








not repeating what’s already mastered








Catalyst for Socializing


playing to hang out with others








share exp with others








play with others (friends, family, etc)








Pleasurable Immersion

reduce stress








playing, not watching








feel immersed








Creative Control


modifying rules/scenarios








design/create part of the game








creating components








Additionally, mean scores were created for each factor, and the individual groups compared against them, to measure how far above or below the mean each group was on any given factor.  These comparisons are shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Presence of motivational factors, measured as percentages and compared across favorite game groups.
Mean percentage across groups p-value comparing groups Board War Games (n=484) War Miniatures Games (n=658) Fantasy Role-Playing Games (n=841) European Board Games (n=428) Computer, Console Games (n=289)
Catalyst for Socializing












Challenge of Playing












Pleasurable Immersion












Competition with Self/Peers












Creative Control












Discovery Narrative












Exciting Alternative












Significant post-hoc results indicated by different letters: a, b, c, d, e. Green highlighted cells indicate percentages furthest above average; yellow cells indicate percentages furthest below average.


Thus we see the relative presence (or absence) of each motivational factor across all of the respondent groups.

Computer game players are below the means on the motivational factors on “catalyst for socializing” and “competition with self/peers” while above the mean on “challenge of playing,” “pleasurable immersion,” and “exciting alternative.”  However, “catalyst for socializing,” is the only motivational measure which computer gamers do not share the same directional value with any other group.



Our goal with this dataset was to determine if there were patterns of similarities or differences in the reasons people play games that could be found across different types of game playings, both the digital and the non-digital.  Clearly there are a variety of reasons for which gamers play their games.  The results from this study provides an initial exploration of how different types of games can share the same importance for a player in terms of the gratifications s/he receives from it.


The motivations for playing their games seem to have similarities in both digital and non-digital gaming.  As noted above, as a catalyst for socializing, computer games are the only group significantly below the population mean.  Their love of the challenge of playing is shared with miniatures wargamers and board wargamers, perhaps due to the large number of computer wargamers in the sample (see table 4).  Their higher level of immersion is shared with fantasy role-players, along with their higher level of seeking an exciting alternative.  Similarly, their rating of competition is below the mean, not unlike fantasy role-players.

One potential reason for the crossover in shared motivations between wargamers and fantasy role-players is the intersection of the two in the digital realm.  While fantasy games are possible on the computer, they tend to often be combat-oriented and share many traits with wargames, showing their pre-digital roots in wargaming in their new form.  Another potential overlap is the presence of the computer war game that takes a first-person perspective, in which the mechanics of the game are very similar to those of digital fantasy role-playing games, but with a different overlying visual theme.

Table 4  Breakdown of Computer Game Players
Computer game preference


Computer/console War


Computer/console fantasy


Computer/console Sci-Fi


Computer/Console Modern Adventure


Computer/console Euro





Of all the groups, on the board wargamers were exclusively significantly above the mean on their motivational measures.  The “challenge of playing” and the “competition with self/peers” were shared with miniatures wargamers and Euro-boardgamers, respectively.  Given the similarities in genre, audience, shared evolution of the games, and subject matter, it is not surprising that board wargamers and miniatures wargamers would share a motivational trait like “challenge of playing.”  And the measure of competition shared with Euro-gamers may be a result of the similarity of the type of game – tabletop board games.

The shared similarity for competition between board wargamers and Euro-boardgamers may come as a result of the similarity of the games in that they are often played in a single sitting, with rules that can be learned in the same sitting.  They are usually self-contained games that allow players to immediately set up and compete in a game in which all the players start on an equal footing.

The term “Euro-game” has only recently gained in popularity among hobby gamers.  The term does not refer to the geographic location of the player, but grew out of a reference to the home countries of the designers, as many of these games were first developed in Germany and Holland.  Euro-games tend to be less thematically abstract than many American board games (such as “Sorry” or “Risk”) but are not as militarily-oriented as pure wargames.  The Euro-games most commonly held up as the archetypes of the genre are “The Settlers of Catan” and “Carcassonne.”  These games involve significant player interaction in thematically specific tabletop game.  Additionally, Euro-games rarely have an “elimination mechanic,” meaning all players are in the game until the end, when final scoring is calculated.  As an example, in Carcassonne, all players continue to lay tiles on the table, and although one player may amass a great deal of points scored immediately in the game, the final scoring after all tile are laid can dramatically alter the results, if players have positioned themselves properly for the endgame.  A Euro-game is unlikely to have a mechanic like “Risk” in which players are eliminated from the game.  Other popular Euro-game themes include exploration of lost cities, building railroad lines, car races, and economic games of buying-selling-trading.

The significantly low measure of creative control for Euro-boardgamers is not surprising in that most Euro-games do not lend themselves well to variants or alternative house rules developed by the players.

“Creative control” is significantly above the mean for the miniatures wargamers.  This is perhaps the least surprising result in the data analysis.  Miniatures wargamers are anecdotally known as very detail-obsessed gamers who spend hours carefully painting each individual figure in a battalion of Napoleonic dragoons.  The large museum-quality dioramas used as the fields of battle on which the games are staged as similarly intricate.  That miniatures wargamers demand control of their creations is not at all surprising.

Fantasy role-players are above the mean on “catalyst for socializing” – an imperative given the conversational nature of the games and the need for multiple players for a enjoyable game.  The other three high measures seem on their face to be similar in their levels of “escapism”: “pleasurable immersion,” “discovery narrative,” and “exciting alternative” all deal with escaping into a story and captivation by possibilities outside of reality.

Overall, it appears as though computer game players draw many of their motivations from their pre-digital counterparts, and the shared reasons for playing the computer games may stem from a mixture of the genre of the game, and the way in which it has been moved into the digital world.  A board game on the computer may not be seen as particularly different than a board game on a tabletop to a wargame player, other than the convenience of playing against a computerized opponent rather than a real one.


With a dataset whose overall n=3550, and with responses varying from frequency of play to location of play to tendency to modify games to suit personal tastes, the possibilities for future analyses are great.  Respondents were asked as variety of questions as to their preferences not only for one type of game over another, but also their overall favorability toward all types and genres of games in the study, as well as specific comparisons between limited sub-sets of types and genres.  Additionally, questions about information-seeking behavior can illuminate the influences on purchase and playing decisions made by gamers.  With all of this data, what future research lies ahead?

First, more detail on the types of games is needed.  Are computer gamers playing tabletop games on their computers?  Or are they taking advantage of the computer’s real-time processing capability to play games that would be difficult, if not impossible, in a non-digital world (ie, first-person shooters).  Are the fantasy computer games MMORPGs (World of Warcraft) or real-time strategy games (Myth)?  A clarification on definitions may help as well, since many board wargamers use computer-mediated-communication to play board games with opponents that are geographically dispersed.  Are these considered digital or non-digital in the minds of the users?  This additional data would allow us to make closer comparisons between digital and non-digital games.

Studying non-digital games is hardly a dead end, given the explosion in available titles over the past 10-15 years.  While computer games such as Halo have spawned huge sales and extensive media licenses, companies such as Days of Wonder and Rio Grande would not continue to publish board games if the market could not support it.  Wizards of the Coast continues to release supplements for the Dungeons & Dragons family of games, and WizKids continues to develop their collectible miniatures game into new markets (superheroes, sci-fi robots, sports).  Clearly there is a large and voracious audience for tabletop gaming.

A factor analysis of overall favorability toward specific types/genres of games, looking for affinity between games of differing types and genres would be interesting in assessing the similarities and differences between gaming communities.  Do game players have a similarly favorable impression of both digital and non-digital fantasy role-playing games, for instance.

Another area of further research is a refinement of factors based on specific audiences.  Conducting a new factor analysis, using the same underlying factor components, but limiting the participants to only those who play board wargames, results in what (if any) changes in the motivational factors?  How different are they? Where might similarities be found between different audiences when this analysis is conducted for all different types/genres?  Can any of the factors be broken down within specific game-playing audiences?  Were factors missed, such as educational or learning factors? This may allow us to get into greater detail in attempting to learn why players choose the games they do.

A comparison can be conducted between first, second, and third choices.  Are players likely to choose the same games as second and third favorites based on first choice?  Which motivational factors might explain some of this variance?  What correlations are there between first, second, third choices as preferences?  How much variance in game type/genre preferences can be accounted for by motivational factors?

Finally there are extensive qualitative analyses that can be conducted with a free-response section that runs approximately 150+ pages at 9-pt type.  There are numerous qualitative analysis possibilities with this segment of the data.

This was a fascinating project to develop, and to watch unfold.  Once the survey went live, the growth over the initial two weeks was amazing.  Although the researchers’ unstated goal for the number of responses was 10,000, 10% of that would have been more than acceptable.  To have 3500+ responses was great.  The survey also generated a lot of chatter on message boards across the web, from RPG.net to The Wargamer to ConSimWorld to TheMiniaturesPage to ENWorld.  The researchers answered as many questions as they could, listened to a lot of complaints, acknowledged a few mistakes, interacted with the respondents after they’d completed the survey,, and marveled at the overall response.

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