Thursday, December 11, 2008

Gaming maturity

Today we hear from the Games on the Table Psychology Dept once again.

The issue at hand: gaming maturity.

A human begins as a few cells. He grows into a fetus, then into an infant, then into a toddler, a preschooler, a school kid, a teen, an adult, a mature adult, an old timer.

Other things have a process of maturation as well, including gamers. Today, we'll look at some of the fascinating things that take place as a person develops from a board gaming infant (non-gamer, or NG) into a board gaming adult (gamer). (For the sake of this article, we won't delve into the topic of gaming seniors - the wargamers).

One feature of a gaming infant is the amount of information they are able to process. As an infant takes comfort in the familiarity of its mother, so do NGs take comfort in the one eurogame they've played. You're likely to hear a gaming infant say something like, "Can we play the bean trading game again?" or "I liked that train game. Let's play that." That first play of Ticket to Ride was a new challenge for the NG, who until recently had to invest very little mental energy on roll-and-move board games and party games. They were happy just to get through that first play of a light strategy game, and to see that they were able to compete, or even win. In this early stage of development, the gaming infant will either feel overwhelmed and continue to drink the milk they were familiar with (party games and such), or she will realize that some of those solids Mommy and Daddy have been testing on her are actually quite tasty. In fact, she'd like some more.

The gaming toddler/preschooler will be able to handle many more solids - maybe three or four gateway games. They're finding new flavors they enjoy all the time, and they may have even pinpointed a few flavors they don't like. "Well, it looks like she doesn't like auction mechanics. We'll save those for other people."

Some people will prefer to stay in this state for a long time. They just don't like the mental strain of any strategizing heavier than that required for Winner's Circle.

Soon, though, many players will become gaming children and teens, appreciating the knowledge and experience they've gained, eager for more. They are accepting of all types of new experiences, just taking them in with abandon. There's a big gaming world to discover, and nothing is holding them back as they make increasing sense of it.

Finally, we reach gaming adulthood. The gaming adult stands out in a couple of ways. First, the mature gamer has had enough time and experience to recognize the nuances and details of her tastes. She likes dice, but only as used in two certain games. She prefers blind bidding when bidding must be done. She finds that her mind functions best with elegant games like Carcassonne, as opposed to more rules-heavy theme-rich Fantasy Flight games. She's learned how to make sense of all the information available on Board Game Geek to help her make try and buy decisions.

And now we get to the most telling sign of gaming maturity: winning and losing. Gaming children have not yet learned how to deal with conflict and loss. It's personal, hits deep, and can put them in a long-term bad mood. The gaming infant, child, or teen may react in any number of ways. He may be passive aggressive, he may walk quietly away from the table, he may blow up and even yell, he may whine about unfairness and bad luck, and he may even plan for revenge. To the gaming youth, winning is a pride issue. "If I don't win, I'm a failure and the voices in my head will berate me. If I do win, I'm a success and people will love me."

Just as adults learn humility through relationships and a sense of perspective, so does the mature gamer. After a good amount of time and thought, the "adult" gamer realizes that his personal value is not dependent on winning or losing. He learns to appreciate the pleasure of the gameplay itself, the mental exercise, and to appreciate the victories of other players.

Having spent a good many hours surfing BGG, our Psychology Dept noticed that some gamers speak with a certain defining maturity. They will say things like, "For me, the play is the important thing. I don't care if I win or lose. Why should I? Games are about the recreational fun and the interaction with others." They also read horror stories of players flipping tables, throwing game components, and verbally abusing other humans. Additionally, immature gamers are reported to take winning as an opportunity to gloat or talk smack. These, dear reader, are telltale indicators of one's gaming maturity.

For good reason, many gamers have become fond of this famous statement from the board game world's most prolific designer, Reiner Knizia:
When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning.
"Knizia nailed it," says our Psych Dept chair. Mature gamers have learned that winning is the purpose of playing a game only because it's written into the rules as the goal for success. Nowhere do the rules state that one's value as a human person is determined by whether he wins or loses. Thank you, Dr. Knizia.

I will close by once again reiterating our long-time slogan here at GotT: The fun is in the playing, not just the winning.

Now go play like an adult.

1 comment:

Raydancer said...

Love the Knizia quote! I agree that winning isn't what you should be playing for. But playing a four-hour game of Caylus and knowing you've lost it two hours in isn't really a great time...hehe.