Player, know thyself!

OPINION
Player, know thyself!

Have you ever thought about why you actually play the computer games you play? Your game choices may reveal more about your personality than you want them to.

Recently, I couldn’t help but think how the saying: “Show me your pastimes and I’ll tell you who you are” is a very apt observation about human nature. The circumstances of life made me wonder what obsessively playing computer games says about a person (a good deal of quality psychological research has been done on the subject, but I’m not one to take up an academic discussion). I just couldn’t but wonder what playing compensates for, and what the void is that it fills in a person’s life. And where is the point of no return, past which a pleasurable pastime, no strings attached, becomes an outlet for the unrealized parts of somebody’s personality?

In my adult life I have observed several players. With some, the play was innocent, just a thing they do when they have some free time on their hands. However, the playing style of a few people I have come across was distressing, to put it mildly.

Longing for the fake Wonderland

The first factor that I found peculiar is the amount of time players spend in front of a computer. Male players, to be specific, or at least most of them. I wondered what motivates them to spend their free time in virtual worlds instead of the real one. What can one say about people who play shooting games, impersonating special squad soldiers, or lone huntsmen, for hours at a time, in pursuit of a thrill? Or who dedicate their time to meticulously building and strengthening a patch of virtual space? To me, there is one obvious reason: they need to escape reality.

During my research, I stumbled upon an article “Cognitive Flow: The Psychology of Great Game Design,” by Sean Baron at Gamasutra.com. He names four characteristics of an ultimately engaging game. These are (1) concrete goals with manageable rules, (2) goals that fit player capabilities, (3) clear and timely feedback, (4) as few distractions as possible, and preferably none.

However, this list immediately made me think: “Well, that’s everything real life ISN’T”. And then I read the article by a Polish researcher, Wacław Branicki, which disillusioned me to the core and confirmed my theory of the need to lose oneself, no more, no less. In playing, Branicki wrote, man loses the depth of real-life emotions, which are experienced as an empty affectation. Man “turns on/off” feelings whenever he feels like it, Branicki writes. Should authentic feelings emerge, which in the case of computer games are: the desire for joy, followed by boredom – it is all about “not so much experiencing the joy, but rather the emptiness which it covers.”

In short, enter the world of imagination, where you are God. But the world is, in fact, a simulation, and all that relates to it is consequently fake, including the emotions. They are but a cover-up for the inner void. And if that can go on for hours at a time… Well, it’s disturbing, isn’t it?

What you play is who you are?

The second stumper was for me the type of games some people play. To me, a man’s need to shoot and slaughter as you go is the obvious compensation for the unrealized need of “manliness,” but what an inadequate one! After all, in a computer game you don’t really get hurt, or hungry, or dirty, right? So, you get the feeling of domination without the rest of the tough guy package, and to me, that’s far from manly.

And there are the completely twisted games, the ones where you score for killing innocent people, or raping. Or a game in which you are trapped in a WW II ghetto, and will die anyway, but on your way out you need to make the choice who among your family and friends dies first, so you can live longer. What kind of a person pursues thrills such as these?

In my quest for an answer, I was particularly inspired by a text by Scott Taves, “What do the video games you play say about your personality?” at seattlepi.com. He starts here: “Our true natures are revealed by many choices we make,” and that “the games we play may be the most honest expression of our inner lives.” Taves mentions six personality types:

  1. The Decompressor – the person has a high-stress, hectic job and plays to soothe the nerves and let off pent up stress in virtual murder, mayhem and mutilation.
  2. The Latent Sociopath – they come from anywhere, and there is nothing that makes the seamy side of their personality show. Only after they turn on the computer or Xbox can the inner beast roar, demanding the most twisted, constraint-free scenarios.
  3. The Alpha Dominator – the person is stuck in a mundane, thankless job, with no prospect for a promotion, and craves fear and awe from lesser beings. This is found in a virtual world, bringing online opponents to their knees, whether it is through sports or violence.
  4. The Escapist – anyone who feels that nothing seems as good as it could be, and for whom games are the only remedy, and an infinitely more stimulating existence.
  5. The Inner Child – the person is not simple-minded as much as yearning for the happy days and the simpler, shinier world of games instead of a job, responsibilities and bills.
  6. The Control Freak – for such a person only games where he is God can bring much needed order to their lives.

Dare to know yourself

Eric Zimmerman, author of “Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals” and CEO of developer gameLab has pointed out, “Unlike a book, a film, and other forms of prescripted media, a game is more like a set of tools that the player uses to build his or her own experience. The games we choose to play, and the way we play them, reveal a tremendous amount about us – from our creative drives and ambitions to the dark corners of our desires.”

All in all, I would agree with Taves, who concludes that video games are a window to our souls—and the view isn’t always pretty. Let’s face it, it takes balls of steel to openly analyze oneself. But maybe it isn’t too late to embrace the distorted image of oneself, recognize the inner void and, ultimately, fill it – in the real world? I wonder how many of the couch potato ninjas and kings of virtual castles would be brave enough to stand up for an honest review of their gaming choices? Would they wave it away, or accept the challenge?

And how about you? What have you been playing this holiday season?

Grażyna Zawada
Grażyna Zawada
Journalist, copywriter and translator, platonically in love with science and technology. She loves a nerd joke, if she can get it, but as language MA, she feels more comfortable with words and storytelling. Grazyna is currently Content Manager in a dynamic IT company, but also supports tech start-ups in the PR area. In her (scarce) free time she enjoys a good crime story.

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