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The Psychology of Achievement In Playing Games 80

A post on Pixel Poppers looks at the psychological underpinnings of the types of challenges offered by different game genres, and the effect those challenges have on determining which players find the games entertaining. Quoting: "To progress in an action game, the player has to improve, which is by no means guaranteed — but to progress in an RPG, the characters have to improve, which is inevitable. ... It turns out there are two different ways people respond to challenges. Some people see them as opportunities to perform — to demonstrate their talent or intellect. Others see them as opportunities to master — to improve their skill or knowledge. Say you take a person with a performance orientation ('Paul') and a person with a mastery orientation ('Matt'). Give them each an easy puzzle, and they will both do well. Paul will complete it quickly and smile proudly at how well he performed. Matt will complete it quickly and be satisfied that he has mastered the skill involved. Now give them each a difficult puzzle. Paul will jump in gamely, but it will soon become clear he cannot overcome it as impressively as he did the last one. The opportunity to show off has disappeared, and Paul will lose interest and give up. Matt, on the other hand, when stymied, will push harder. His early failure means there's still something to be learned here, and he will persevere until he does so and solves the puzzle."
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The Psychology of Achievement In Playing Games

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  • With Project Euler or Sudoku, I *have* to learn something in order to master the game. In more random games like ADOM or Angband, even tactical games like Battle for Wesnoth, I cheat like crazy by backing up save files at random events, in order to get further and see more of the game.

    So which type would that make me?

    • A tool?

    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I do the exact same thing, and I consider myself a "Matt." Perhaps it's more a feeling of having achieved a level of mastery *beyond* the rules of game, in that you mastered Linux enough to do a Ctrl-Alt-F2 and backup your Wesnoth autosaves from the command line.
    • Re:Mixture? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Narpak ( 961733 ) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @04:55AM (#30234914)

      It all comes down to the type of praise you receive. If you perform well on a task and are told, "Wow, you must be smart!" it teaches you to value your skill, and thus fosters a performance orientation. But if instead you are told, "Wow, you must have worked hard!" it teaches you to value your effort and thus fosters a mastery orientation.

      If things are that simplistic what happens with a child that receives no praise? Or different sort of praise for different tasks? Or praise one day and none the other.

      I'm not saying that everybody needs to play on the hardest difficulties they can possibly manage and devote hours to mastering every game they touch. Few of us have that kind of time or patience, and it's better spent developing more useful skills or actually being creative or productive. I don't play on Hard all the time, or always shoot for 100% completion. And I'm certainly not telling you not to play RPGs - I play them occasionally myself now, confident that now I'm enjoying them for the characters and story and not as a source of fake achievement. What I am saying is that you should pay attention to what's going on in your head when you play these games.

      I almost hesitate to ask but what is the difference between "fake achievement" and so-called "real achievement" surely the difference between them are only in your own head. Having RTFA I would say that it appears that someone has had some sort of insight into his own personality and from that have extrapolated some sort of general theory of how people are motivated. No research or objective evaluation of empiric data used as a basis for this claim; pure conjecture. So to answer the question.

      So which type would that make me?

      It makes you the type that your are. Nothing more, and nothing less. Personally I would recommend you continue enjoying games the way you want to enjoy them; have fun and darn anyone that says you shouldn't.

      • Re:Mixture? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by khayman80 ( 824400 ) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @06:21AM (#30235360) Homepage Journal

        No research or objective evaluation of empiric data used as a basis for this claim; pure conjecture.

        Research and data are available in the link to another article [] which makes essentially the same point.

        If things are that simplistic what happens with a child that receives no praise? Or different sort of praise for different tasks? Or praise one day and none the other.

        Yes, the research included a control case. I previously saw this idea in an article [] that is now only available for subscribers. The evidence is clear: praising children based on effort is effective, while praising for intelligence is highly counterproductive.

      • If things are that simplistic what happens with a child that receives no praise?...

        It plays alone in the dark: []

    • Neither. You're not treating it as a game, you're treating is as a story or a discovery process. This isn't wrong, just indicative or your personality. Some people need to impress, other's to master and still other's seek to explore and experience regardless of the skill level they achieve in the process or whom may be paying attention to their activities.

    • The anti-social type?
  • stunning (Score:5, Funny)

    by Muggy7 ( 1526493 ) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @04:13AM (#30234766)
    So the conclusion is that some people perservere with longer than others while others get bored and don't always fini
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by julesh ( 229690 )

      So the conclusion is that some people perservere with longer than others while others get bored and don't always fini

      No, there's more to it than that. Taking TFA's two characters, while Paul may give up quickly when given a task that's too difficult to solve quickly, he may actually try for longer than Matt when given, say, a series of challenges each of which gets slightly harder, but all of which use the same skill, e.g. a series of more and more complex sudoku. Matt will do the first couple, realise th

      • The whole thing reads more like the author just wants to take a cheap shot against "Paul", who just gives up whenever something gets boo hoo hard. I've seen people who absolutely cannot stand sudoku/rpg style games spend DAYS trying to solve fiendishly difficult custom portal maps.

        • I agree with this- TFA read as a "RPG's are time sinks and reinforce a behaviour I don't like and therefore harm THE CHILDREN". It was oversimplified and kind of insulting. Personally, I cannot stand* Sudoku puzzles, yet a good crossword or, as the poster above me stated, Portal are great- I had to solve the challenge puzzles in Portal. And yet, I *gasp* really enjoy a good RPG as well, which often have a time and* a skill component.

          Perhaps some (many?) games and people don't fall into neat "A or B" boxes
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Deliveranc3 ( 629997 )
        I think the example is that Matt will approach the SKILL rather than the game, once he understands what the learning curve looks like (or ideally makes a model of the entire problem that's cohesive [think Tic-Tac-Toe connect four or the miriad other games that aren't worth playing because all the conditions are preset]) or maps the solution space he's bored... giving him victories based on that solution isn't really an enticement.

        Paul on the other hand likes winning and achieving, he cares about points, c
    • No. The conclusion is that they seem to have figured out what drives people that give up and people that persevere. Its about the reason and not about the event on itself.
  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DreamsAreOkToo ( 1414963 ) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @04:39AM (#30234854)

    This seems to have much broader applications than games. I think this speaks volumes in the realm of business management (efficiency) and human psychology in general.

    For Business Management, identifying your "masters" and "performers" would be good for setting up reward systems. Give your masters a tough problem to solve. Give your performers easy repetitive work and ask them to see how quickly they can finish it.

    • by wisty ( 1335733 )

      Not always. "Performers" might want to make the fastest algorithm, or the best looking website. They want to hit it out of the park. They want to win. But they are higher maintenance if it's a difficult task.

      Steve Jobs is a "performer", Steve Woz is a "master".

      Or maybe it's just BS. Most personality characteristics don't have 2 clusters. They are usually on a continuum (and they drift around a bit, depending on how they are feeling), so putting people in one box or another is usually pretty crude.

      It's like

    • I like your analogy. I suppose your "performers" would be people like sales staff - plenty of targets with quick rewards (and tricks they can improve). Your "masters" would be software developers - long-term targets, strategic planning (and a lot of experience to be gained along the way). Just 2 examples...
    • According to the article, it's the other way around. "Masters" value effort, while "performers" value skill. Mapping it the other way around, like what you did, makes more sense though.

      Based on the article's definition, masters are sensates while performers are intuitives. Intuitives loves solving novel and complex problems, but they will easily get bored. Sensates, on the other hand, would dutifully do their job as long as the task is well defined. The majority of Slashdotters are sensates.
  • by NoPantsJim ( 1149003 ) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @04:55AM (#30234912) Homepage
    Seriously, my website pokes fun at people who are not registered members because they are losing "points" for playing the game without being logged in. I find people just get perturbed at losing something intangible and just register to gain what they have lost.

    (I still find the game to be pretty addictive)
  • What do you make of people who are performance oriented until the point inwhich they reach mastery? Eh?
    • I generally put them on one-off tasks with a high level of technical difficulty. They do the job extremely thoroughly once and then never again.

    • I haven't met one (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @06:58AM (#30235574) Journal

      What do you make of people who are performance oriented until the point inwhich they reach mastery? Eh?

      Actually, the problem is that for most actual skills and tasks there is no such thing as mastery. IRL there is no 450 skill points limit, that you can reach and then relax. And most RL problems are multi-dimensional problems where there is no perfect solution, but least worst compromises. And definitely not where you can max one aspect and proclaim that the others don't matter, which is what OCPD cases... err... perfectionists usually do.

      RL "perfectionists" tend IMHO to be one or more of the following:

      A) the real, honest kind: people who never finish. I still remember someone who, on the day before the deadline, was still working on his perfect XML parsing project for that project. (A tiny part of the project's functionality, and one he shouldn't have been doing himself: there's Xerxes.) There's _always_ one more optimization that can be done, one more clever trick that can be tried, one more label that would look better one pixel lower, etc. It's harder than you think, being a real bona-fide perfectionist.

      B) the fake kind, which are basically just arrogant. They do a crap job, and then proclaim it to be perfect, just because they're that good in their own opinion. Often these are actually an illustration of the Dunning-Kruger effect []: the least competent tend to grossly overrate their skills and competence, just because they're not competent to do that judgment. They don't even know what they don't know. And conversely the most competent tend to underrate themselves, because they do have some clue of all the things they don't know.

      C) the kind who'll redefine the problem to get a "perfect" solution. As I was saying RL problems are usually multi-dimensional, and increasing one aspect often loses you another. E.g., making a car engine more powerful also turns it into a gas guzzler. E.g., too many options in a GUI can actually make it less usable, or at least harder to also make it usable. Etc. A lot of OCPD kinds take such a variable and genuinely don't seem able to comprehend that it can take other values than 0 and 100%. Either you hit 100% or you're doing a crap job. But they can't hit 100% in all either. So they basically just pick one aspect and proclaim it the only thing that matters, and proclaim everyone who cares about the other aspects to be a clueless idiot. Unfortunately the actual best compromise for an actual user is rarely that. These guys tend to complain a lot that the users are clueless idiots.

      D) the bitter whiner. These people rarely make something they'd rate perfect, and some don't even produce anything at all for years, but they complain about everyone and everything else. These people aren't as much into achieving perfection, as into just having something to whine about. Their very criteria for what perfection actually means, are fluid and disposable, often to the extent that they're simply the opposite of what everyone else is doing. E.g., I actually worked with one who, after he had converted the whole team to Linux (not that it was hard in a team of complete nerds) and thus lost that reason to complain, promptly switched to BSD and proclaimed both Windows _and_ Linux to be mainstream crap for idiots. He caused an indentation war fighting for the holy cause of _three_ space tabs, he fought to change the directory where the build script left the built executable, etc.

      And a few other archetypes.

      And just so it's not completely off topic: you can see the same in MMOs too.

      A) There are people who are genuinely trapped into the neverending treadmill of needing every single achievement, every single pet, completing every single quest (even if it's 70 levels below them), paying 1000 gold on the Savory Deviate Delight recipe just because they _must_ have all the recipes in game, etc. Not because they actually need them, but because anything els

      • Thanks for that :) I very much enjoyed considering how well some of your archetypes describe many of my colleagues. One in particular is a perfect example of your D type. These people are characterized by dogmatic pursuit of what they think is the best way to do something even if it blinds them to the fact there are better ways.
      • That was an interesting read.

        I've been thinking about 'difficulty' in MMOs and I think it amounts to two different things, which probably relate to this.

        Theres 'mathematical' difficulty. This is where the numbers on your MMO gear have to be above a certain threshold. If they are not, then the encounter is more difficult because you can (eg) get one-shotted (not enough health on your gear).

        Theres 'performance' difficulty. This is where the encounter has events etc to which you must respond correctly.

        I believ

        • I believe that in raiding in world of warcraft, the 'performance' difficulty has actually reduced as the game has progressed whereas 'mathematical' difficulty increases all the time (thats 'tier progression').

          No, the performance aspect is still very much there. On our realm, I believe that there are only four guilds who have defeated Alagon. And this is three months after Tier-9 equipment has been available. And having just gotten the ToC 25 achievement, I can tell you that all the gear available in the

    • When I had a job packaging small stuff into a small bag, I enjoyed it until I stopped improving my routine. Then I just did my thing and let my mind wander.
  • Christ, what a stupid article. The author assumes that the reason people play games is to gain a sense of achievement - but that isn't, or isn't the only, reason to play a game. I play games to experience something, to gain through interaction a set of experiences constructed by the game's designers, in the same way I watch films to gain a visual experience constructed by the director, or listen to music to gain an aural experience constructed by the performers. The point of a game is not to "win," any more

    • Just a quick note to say you're not alone. Not all people are 'achievers' - many are 'experiencers' - ie: the road traveled is more important than the destination.

  • by Jacques Chester ( 151652 ) on Thursday November 26, 2009 @07:44AM (#30235820)

    MMOs any many other kinds of game are addictive because they follow what's known as a "variable interval reinforcement ratio". The variable reinforcement ratio is a very well known and studied phenomenon amongst actual psychologists, having being one of the rock-solid discoveries arising from behaviourism during the 40s through 60s.

    Variably reinforced behaviour is the most effective way to create a repetitious behaviour with the highest "resistance to extinction". That means it's pretty much an addiction.

    The same finding explains why so much of gambling is highly addictive: the same random intervals of payback are at play.

    You can learn more by buying or borrowing any book on classical and operant learning theory.

  • How is the perform and master group correlated to perseverance?
    Isn't it possible that ppl only interested in the skill/knowledge can just as well abandon the difficult puzzle once he mastered the skill to solve that type of puzzle as a whole?
    And isn't it possible that the perform ppl will stubbornly solve the difficult puzzle to prove their talent/intellect?
    This article is just a personal opinion by some guy and isn't based on research at all.
  • There are two types of people, those who classify people into one of two types of people, and those who don't.

  • If this is new information for game developers, they need to take a fresh look at what constitutes a challenge. In MMO games, this has typically been a grind. I played Aion recently for about 8 weeks and discovered that the game slows to a crawl at some point. This point varies with the player, since "crawl" is subjective. So I dropped my subscription. However, this is not because the challenge was too great - being better at the game wouldn't have made it go any faster. Having better gear for my level
  • I'm have a performance orientation and I guarantee that this article was written by... nevermind, this shit's too hard...
    /me shuffles off to play Neverwinter Nights...
  • my first reaction was that strategy games probably fit the "mastery" group better than role-playing games. when playing a single-player campaign or against AI, you often have to try several different strategies altogether in order to win a scenario, unless the game is set up to be too easy or you're just that good. RPGs, on the other hand, do usually reward strategy but almost always force you to grind away for xp anyway, and it didn't seem that the second group was defined as one that prefers repetitive ta
  • I am definitely from the second group, if I don't feel challenged I don't perform. Interestingly sometimes I can lose while not feeling challenged. The thing I find most challenging, trying to determine my opponents actions/psychology/pathology/strategy and not being able to... for this reason I loved chess and now love games of stealth.

    I find it really interesting when I'm losing but unconcerned, an example would be losing to a team in hockey where they are larger/better trained.

    It's easy to tell when
    • You are like me. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's concept of Flow [] should interest you and help you see which pursuit will bring you the most satisfaction.

      You mention chess, I FAR more prefer to lose a game than win, as in the lost game I learned something and improve my game, whereas the games I easily win I learn nothing and come out the same as I was before.

      The same is true in badminton, if our team can beat the others with our existing skills, we don't improve, but if we have to play better to o

    • The Pwnerer.

      I've been watching the episode on that site since shortly after it came out. Great stuff.

  • anyone interested in this distinction might appreciate the model described in finite and infinite games [] by james p. carse. it's a kind of convolution of the tao te ching, distilled down to:

    A finite game is played for the purpose of winning. An infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing the play.

    carse might say that performance-orientated people (paul) are occupied with the resulting claim - title, status, accomplishment, authority, etc - that they can make looking back on the win. those that a

  • To progress in an action game, the player has to improve
    Don't worry, modern action games are working on that bit as well. Who needs skills when you can't die, you can do complicated multi-hit attacks with a single button, or when QTEs can make even the most complicated task come down to a single button press.

    • Craptastic. Obviously only the first line was meant to be the quote. Sigh.

      To progress in an action game, the player has to improve

      Don't worry, modern action games are working on that bit as well. Who needs skills when you can't die, you can do complicated multi-hit attacks with a single button, or when QTEs can make even the most complicated task come down to a single button press.

  • I don't believe the perform/master is a personality type. At least not all by itself. I think it has at least an activity component as well. Some activities I find inherently interesting to do: play banjo or write computer programs, and other activities are inherently boring to me: golf. Of the activities I prefer to do, there is an element of both mastery and performance. On activities I do not prefer to do, there is never any desire for mastery involved no matter how good I get it at it because the only r

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