Psychology of Board Games

Statistics and Speculations on the Behavioral Science of Board Gaming

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Fun with Ratings Distributions

Corey Butler
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I was thinking about rating distributions a while back because, you know, I'm a bit of a geek, and it occurred to me that there are certain distinct patterns that tend to occur repeatedly. Consider Gloomhaven, for example. Almost everybody loves it, resulting in the highly skewed distribution pictured below. Such a consensus is unusual, given the different preferences and experiences of gamers. Granted, this is the most extreme example in the database, but are "star games" like this really so good? Or is this evidence of conformity or some other social influence effect?

Group polarization is the social psychological phenomenon whereby people with similar attitudes become even more extreme in their enthusiasm after group discussion. This shift can occur in the direction of either more or less favorability, depending on the group's initial position. I wonder how often this happens here on BoardGameGeek. Of course, it's also possible that Gloomhaven is just that good. It will be interesting to see how this curve ages.

From gallery of shotokanguy


And then there is the opposite pattern. Games like Tic-Tac-Toe are pretty much universally disdained. Check out the extreme positive skew on the distribution below. Only a small group of humorists have rated it a 10. I don't know if we need to resort to something like group polarization to explain this graph. Some games are objectively bad, and this is certainly one of them.

From gallery of shotokanguy


The vast majority of games take the middle road. Settlers of Catan approximates a normal distribution, though yes, there is still a little skew in the data. Fellow geek, Joe Grundy did a big analysis back in 2007 and found that the overall average (of all ratings, of all games) looks a lot like the distribution we see with Catan, though the mode was 7 rather than 8. That translates to "Good - usually willing to play" on the rating scale. This is the typical pattern, and it indicates that we generally enjoy the games we rate, which is a very good thing. Would BGG even exist if most of us were uninterested in most games?

From gallery of shotokanguy


Games like Chess, Bridge, and Magic: The Gathering, show the following distribution, with a substantial group of devoted fans diverging from the pack and rating the game much higher than the modal response. These tend to be Lifestyle Games. Only people who are really into these games will learn them well enough to truly love them.

From gallery of shotokanguy


And then there are games like Trump: The Game, which can only be described as divisive, much like the President himself. Politics has inserted itself into an otherwise normal looking curve. Games like this will tend to be somewhat bipolar in their distribution, with high standard deviations. I won't say anything more about this particular game... Are there any other games in the database that look even remotely like it?

From gallery of shotokanguy


I'd like to close with Joe Grundy's aggregate distribution of all games rated on BGG as of 2007. Isn't data beautiful? I wonder what it looks like now. Probably pretty similar, though I bet the mean has shifted upward a bit.

From gallery of shotokanguy
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Wed Feb 28, 2018 3:05 pm
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Gender Differences in Gaming Motivations

Corey Butler
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Let's talk about gender. Of the 522 gamers who completed my BGG survey, approximately 85% were male and 15% were female, with < 1% who did not respond to that item. This leads to the question, are there any measurable differences between men and women in their gaming preferences?

We'll begin our answer with a look at the previous research. Nick Yee examined gender differences in his data on the Board Game Motivation Model. He found that the top five motivations for men are need to win, discovery, accessibility, strategy, and immersion, whereas the top five motivations for women are accessibility, social fun, chance, need to win, and cooperation. He suggests that both men and women want to win, but that women are more likely to use games as a way to facilitate enjoyable social interactions. Consistent with this observation, Nick pointed out that the biggest overall gender difference was in conflict orientation, with men 3.5 times more likely to have conflict as a primary motivation.

From gallery of shotokanguy


Source: https://quanticfoundry.com/2017/04/27/board-gaming-motivatio...

These different motivations should translate into somewhat different gaming preferences for men and women. According to BGG user kataclysm and the TGIF Women's Poll at the Women and Gaming forum, women are more likely to enjoy cooperative games, word games, and standard card games. On the other hand, they are less likely to enjoy wargames, auction games, negotiation games, sports games, collectible card games, Ameritrash, roleplaying games, and video games. This poll was done with a small (N = 80), informal sample but it does seem consistent with Nick Yee's research.

What about my data? I found seven small, but statistically significant gender differences, which ranged in effect size from about .10 to .20. Here they are, ranked from largest to smallest in magnitude. As compared to the men in my sample, women are less likely to enjoy wargames, less likely to enjoy video games, less likely to enjoy gambling, more likely to enjoy party games, and less likely to enjoy roleplaying games. Notably, there were no gender differences in preference for cooperative games, euro games, and Ameritrash. On my motivational scales, I found that women were lower in conflict orientation and lower in need for strategy.

But remember, these are small differences with a lot of variability. The clearest effects were for enjoyment of wargames and desire for conflict. For the sake of illustration, here's a boxplot for conflict motivation using a scale I developed with factor analysis. Note the overlapping distributions.

From gallery of shotokanguy


My graph is not as pretty as Nick’s, but the data fit the pattern we observed in the other studies, not to mention the majority of research findings on gender roles over the past few decades. There are certainly exceptions, but in games and in life, women appear to be somewhat more interested in building relationships and community, whereas men tend to be more interested in autonomy and conflict.

I can't help but be reminded of sociolinguist, Deborah Tannen's 1990 book, You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. I grabbed this quote from Wikipedia, but it exemplifies the difference:

For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships ... For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order.

I think Deborah Tannen is right. And in a very general sense, isn't it true that all games are just a highly structured form of conversation?
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Fri Feb 23, 2018 5:50 pm
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Motivation in Board Gamers

Corey Butler
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What motivates board gamers? Fun obviously, but this is not a particularly informative answer. Is it the social interaction? The cognitive exercise? The ego boost from winning a hard fought struggle? It's certainly going to depend on the person and the game, but what general motivating factors exist, and how do they relate to game preferences and personality traits?

Nicole Lazzaro has proposed a four factor model, the 4 Keys to Fun, based on extensive interviews with 60 video game players at XEODesign. According to this research, players tend to experience enjoyment from one or more of the following: Hard Fun involves mastering challenges. Easy Fun involves enjoying the immersive experience or theme of the game. Serious Fun involves stimulation and excitement. Finally, People Fun involves social interaction and bonding. This model was not really intended to describe board gamers, but parts of it seem to fit pretty well.

From gallery of shotokanguy


Nick Yee at Quantic Foundry took a more quantitative approach to the problem. A statistical tool known as principle components analysis was conducted on a huge dataset obtained from an online sample of thousands of video game and board game players. The resulting Board Game Motivational Model suggests that there are 11 distinct motivations, which cluster together into four superordinate factors: Conflict, Immersion, Strategy, and Social Fun. These factors overlap substantially with the 4 Keys discussed above. And like the 4 Keys, people will tend to have some combination of each motivational style. Personally, I score high on strategy and immersion, but lower on conflict and social orientation.

Check your own gamer profile here:
https://apps.quanticfoundry.com/surveys/start/tabletop/

From gallery of shotokanguy


Can I add anything to this accumulated wisdom? In my BGG survey, I included 13 items drawing from both models, as well as my own intuitions about the motivations of board gamers. I did my own principle components analysis on the data and compared half a dozen different solutions to see what looked clearest. Principle components, like all factor analytic methods, relies on a certain amount of subjective judgment. Let me show you the relevant survey items before I get to my results.

From gallery of shotokanguy


I came close to replicating Nick Yee's work, but try as I might, I could not find a solution in which the motivation to win lined up with the strategy cluster. There may be some sampling or methodological differences that account for the discrepancy, but it looks like the need to win and the desire to have a cognitive challenge may be two different motivational states, at least according to my data. It certainly seems possible to dislike games that require strategic planning, but still be highly motivated to win.

My analysis used principle components with varimax rotation, with N = 522. The best solution accounted for 64% of the variance with five components extracted. These five motives consisted of Strategy, which included challenge, minimal luck, and using one's brain, Social Fun, which included socializing and time with friends, Immersion, which included a rich theme, drama and excitement, Need to Win, which included winning and avoiding loss, and finally, Conflict, which included direct player conflict and drama. The desire for conflict also correlated inversely with a preference for cooperative games when I added that item in a separate analysis.

From gallery of shotokanguy


So what motivates board gamers? A consensus across all this research suggests three clear factors. First, hard fun, strategy and cognitive challenge. This might be most available in abstract strategy games and heavy weight Euros. Second, immersion in a rich theme, or what Lazzaro calls "easy" fun. Ameritrash and roleplaying games come to mind. Third, the social fun of interaction with other people, which can be readily found in light Euros, roleplaying games, and party games. People will vary in how much importance they place on these three aspects of the gaming experience, but I would argue that a good game will have to embrace at least one of these core motives.
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Mon Feb 19, 2018 10:25 pm
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Cooperation and Competition

Corey Butler
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Pandemic generated a huge amount of excitement when it first came out ten years ago. Finally, a cooperative game that provided a fun and challenging play experience. Expansions and sequels followed, and cooperative games generally became much more popular. At the time of this writing, the top two games in the rankings have the mechanic of cooperative play. And according to the data I collected in my BGG survey, approximately 75% of us enjoy playing cooperative games at least a little, responding 5+ on the 7-point scale depicted below. Gamers scoring high on the trait of agreeableness are especially likely to enjoy cooperative games.

From gallery of shotokanguy


My question is why all the excitement? Personally, I've never been a huge fan of cooperative games. I suppose I formed this opinion after playing the somewhat mediocre predecessors of Pandemic. I admit that I'm also a little disagreeable... But this is not just about me. Sports and games have traditionally been viewed as competitions for producing winners and losers. And it goes without saying that the vast majority of published games have followed this pattern. What is going on with this odd anomaly of cooperative games? Let's take a look at the psychological research.

Competition is essentially a win-lose proposition, in which one player's success depends upon another player's defeat. Lab experiments have shown that competition can lead to interpersonal conflicts, aggressive behavior, and negative emotions like greed and fear. On the other hand, competition is not necessarily destructive. During graduate school I worked on research distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy forms of competition. We called the latter hypercompetitiveness, and we found that it was associated with more negative mental health outcomes. A person can be competitive without being hypercompetitive, but even healthy competitors may feel disappointed and deflated when they lose. In a multiplayer board game, that could be the majority of people sitting at the table.

Let's look at the alternative. Cooperation sacrifices a certain amount of autonomy for the sake of collaboration. It is generally a win-win proposition, in which each player's success depends on the other players also succeeding. Lab studies have shown that cooperation is associated with prosocial attitudes like trust. People describe cooperative situations as friendly, pleasant, and relaxing. Cooperation also contributes to group cohesiveness. One study found that members of cooperative groups make more positive remarks and fewer negative remarks during their interaction. There is even preliminary evidence that different brain systems are activated during cooperation compared to competition, such as the reward centers in the prefrontal cortex.

I did my own, informal experiment on the emotional consequences of competition and cooperation. Small groups of nongamers were given Bananagram tiles and asked to form as many connected words as possible. Half of the time, the groups played competitively in the usual way, but the other half of the time, the groups played cooperatively, with instructions to form one big word chain. I observed more smiling among players when they cooperated. And after cooperation, players reported feeling significantly happier and less stressed. Hmm, is it possible that I might be wrong in my disdain for cooperatives?

The evidence points to one conclusion. For many people, a well designed cooperative game will potentially provide more fun and more enjoyable social interactions than an equally well designed competitive game. I'm beginning to regret trading away my copy of Pandemic.

References:

Forsyth, D. R. (2014). Group dynamics. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Ryckman, R. M., Thornton, B., & Butler, J. C. (1994). Personality correlates of the hypercompetitive attitude scale: Validity tests of Horney’s theory of neurosis. Journal of Personality Assessment, 62, 84-94.
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Wed Feb 14, 2018 3:05 pm
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Personality and Game Preferences

Corey Butler
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Does personality influence what games we enjoy playing? Or are game preferences determined by situational variables? Or maybe it's all random and there is no pattern at all. Let's take a look at the data (N = 522) from my survey on board game preferences and the five factor model.

From gallery of shotokanguy


For my initial swing at the data, wanted to be a little conservative and minimize any chance of a Type I Error, so I used Kendal rank correlations with an alpha level set at p < .01. This yielded a number of meaningful and statistically significant correlations, though all of them were rather small in magnitude, ranging from around .10 to .15. Interestingly, the two traits that are most tied to social interaction, extraversion and agreeableness, produced the most significant results, whereas emotional stability was completely uncorrelated with gaming preferences.

Extraversion was associated with a higher preference for gambling games and party games, and agreeableness was associated with a preference for cooperative games and party games. Openness to experience correlated with a preference for role playing games, which answers a question I posed last week. Conscientiousness was inversely correlated with a preference for video games. That means that people who enjoy video games are relatively less conscientiousness. Sorry, I was momentarily distracted by an image of a guy sitting in a messy room playing video games for hours on end. Well, maybe. Remember that these correlations are pretty weak, so there are a lot of exceptions to the trends I am reporting.

I haven't discussed agreeableness in any detail yet on this blog, but it is the personality trait associated with trust, sympathy, kindness, and altruism. Agreeable individuals tend to prefer cooperation over competition, whereas disagreeable individuals are a little harsher and more tough-minded in their interpersonal orientation. Before collecting my data, I hypothesized that agreeable gamers would enjoy cooperative games more than disgreeable gamers, but that the reverse would be true for high conflict games, like wargames. The correlation of agreeableness and enjoyment of cooperative games looks right, but the correlation for wargames was not statistically significant in my stringent, initial analysis (p = .016). Let's take a closer look.

I made a categorical variable by taking the top 25% most agreeable people in the sample and comparing them to the bottom 25%, the really disagreeable grouchy types. I then created a second categorical variable by comparing only those people who liked wargames and those who did not (i.e. I excluded everyone who gave a neutral rating on that measure). So the question is, how do these extreme groups relate to each other?

From gallery of shotokanguy


At the lower end of agreeableness, there is very little difference in the number of people who like wargames versus those who dislike them. I suppose this makes sense. Disagreeable individuals would not have much reason to like one game over the other. On the other hand, among those individuals who score high on agreeableness, people who don't like wargames appear to outnumber those who do. However, the chi-square value is 3.27, p = .071, so close but no cigar. Perhaps wargamers don't deserve their reputation as grumpy old grognards. Let's try the same analysis with cooperative games.

From gallery of shotokanguy


Well that looks pretty clear! We already knew there was a statistically significant result here because of the Kendal correlation, but I will go ahead and tell you that the chi-square value is 23.05, p < .001, indicating inequality of the groups. Among individuals low in agreeableness, people are somewhat likely to prefer cooperative games. Among individuals high in agreeableness, however, the difference is overwhelming, with almost everyone saying they enjoy playing cooperative games. Are you a Secret Santa for a particularly nice person? Give 'em a cooperative game.

Let's sum up. Overall, the association between general personality traits and gaming preferences is not strong, but in specific contexts it clearly plays a role. Agreeable extraverts tend to like party games, or at least they tolerate them better than most folks at BGG. Furthermore, agreeableness is associated with a preference for cooperative games, but only very marginally associated with an aversion for wargames.

Do you agree, or are you disagreeable? Let me know in the comments...
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Sun Feb 4, 2018 3:30 pm
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Are Geeks Closed to Experience?

Corey Butler
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Openness to experience is a central trait of the Big Five model of personality. It is generally associated with an interest in trying new things, a curiosity about new ideas, and a greater focus on one's feelings and imagination. It is also modestly correlated with performance on creativity tests. Openness to experience should not be equated with the popular notion of being "open minded." People who score low on openness are described as closed to experience. They are less interested in trying new things and tend to enjoy routine activities, and things they already know they like. It is important to note that these are merely styles of personal preference. Neither end of the spectrum is "better" or more psychologically healthy than the other.

Several weeks ago, I asked members of BGG to take a short personality test that measured openness to experience, as well as the four other components of the Big Five. More than 500 people complied - see my previous blog posts for additional details. The data I obtained are depicted on the following histogram, with scores scores ranging from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest). As you can see, the distribution is a little truncated on one side, with a distinct negative skew.

From gallery of shotokanguy


The mean for openness across the entire sample was 5.17. If you are wondering about those extremely low scores dragging down the average, I should point out that the median was 5.25, and the mode was 4.50. This compares to a population average of approximately 5.40. The difference between means is statistically significant, t(517)=4.83, p<.001, which suggests that the geeks I tested are, on average, a little lower in openness to experience than the general population. This surprised me, but then as I thought about it, it surprised me less.

People who are open to experience tend to be more creative, which is a form of divergent thinking. They like to think outside of the box, one might say. Most board games highlight convergent thinking, solving puzzles within a set of formal rules. Board games are quite literally, inside of the box. Game rules provide structure, rather than the free form interaction that highly open people thrive on. Notable exceptions would be story telling games, and role playing games. But don't forget, a substantial number of geeks (roughly 20%) are actually quite open to experience. Are they more interested in games that encourage divergent thinking? Check back next week to find out!

From gallery of shotokanguy


One more thing. There is evidence that the general trait of openness to experience can be divided into two correlated, yet distinct subtraits, openness and intellect. I have absolutely no evidence for it, and no way to tell from the brief measure I used, but I suspect that geeks are only lower on the "openness" sub-dimension, not on the intellect dimension. This might be something worth exploring in subsequent research.

Are you open or closed to experience? And how do you score on other traits, like extraversion and conscientiousness? Take this test and and find out:

https://www.outofservice.com/bigfive/
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Wed Jan 31, 2018 3:05 pm
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Personality Testing at BoardGameGeek

Corey Butler
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In psychology, the most successful, comprehensive taxonomy of personality is the "Big Five" or Five Factor Model. Numerous factor analytic studies have found that virtually all of the traits commonly measured on personality tests cluster into these five basic dimensions. In fact, other models, such as the typology used in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) are now considered somewhat dated by personality theorists. Sorry, MBTI fans... In my research here at BGG, I asked people to take Sam Gosling's Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI), which is a brief but psychometrically valid and reliable measure of these five, fundamental traits.

From gallery of shotokanguy


The TIPI is a standardized test, and I thought it would be interesting to see how the scores I obtained for each trait compare to the official norms. This can tell us, generally, how geeks compare as a group to the overall population. The table below shows the norms from Gosling's website, for both males and females of ages 31-40, which was the largest age group in my sample.

From gallery of shotokanguy


And here are the data from my sample...

From gallery of shotokanguy


There appear to be some differences here, but are any of them statistically significant? I conducted a series of one sample t-tests using SPSS to compare the observed means against the population norms. I found that both males and females in the sample are significantly less extraverted (p < .001) and less open to experience (p < .01 in males, p < .05 in females) than the population average. Furthermore, males rated themselves as more emotionally stable than the average (p < .001). All other comparisons were not statistically significant for this subsample of the data.

So what does it all mean? First, we should be careful drawing any conclusions about women or gender differences, due to the small number of females in the analysis. In fact, we should be cautious in all our conclusions, given the brief measure used, and the fact that I am relying on a self-selected, convenience sample.

The clearest finding is the relatively low level of extraversion in the sample. Among males aged 31-40, approximately 60% score below the population average. It’s really no surprise if you think about it. Board games, along with activities like reading, collecting things, and other geek hobbies do tend to appeal to introverts more than extraverts, who would rather be out on the town socializing. Sitting quietly, pushing little wooden cubes around is just not their idea of a good time!

The idea that geeks tend to be introverted has been bounced around before. On one thread from a few years ago, introverts discussed such experiences as feeling drained by social interactions, and also the benefits of more structured forms of interactions, such as playing board games.

I've actually got a behavioral measure that corroborates this finding. BGG website stats indicate that 159 users have purchased the Myers-Briggs: Introvert microbadge, whereas only 25 users have invested their GeekGold in the Myers-Briggs: Extrovert badge.

The predominance of introversion makes sense. I was more surprised by the relatively low openness scores of board game geeks. My wife and I were speculating about it last night and we have a few hunches, but perhaps this would make a good topic for my next blog entry.
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Sun Jan 21, 2018 4:30 pm
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Everybody Loves Data!

Corey Butler
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Last week I posted survey results (N=522) on the popularity of various types of board games played by people at BGG. I reported mean ratings of enjoyment obtained from a set of 7-point Likert-type scales. In response to the statement, "I enjoy playing X," participants could give a rating of 1 = disagree strongly, 2 = disagree moderately, 3 = disagree a little, 4 = neither agree nor disagree, 5 = agree a little, 6 = agree moderately, and 7 = agree strongly. So in other words, higher numbers indicate greater enjoyment, and presumably a more favorable attitude toward that type of game. A few folks were interested in seeing the actual breakdowns of the ratings for each category, so here they are, with insightful comments included at no additional cost!

From gallery of shotokanguy


Everybody loves Euros! Well, to be more precise we should probably say that almost everybody who responded to the survey agrees that they enjoy playing Euros. The modal response was 7 = “strong” agreement, and approximately 92% of the sample showed at least "a little" agreement that they enjoyed Eurogames. Keep in mind that this is a convenience sample not a random sample, so percentages like this don't allow us to make strong inferences about the population.

From gallery of shotokanguy


Everybody hates gambling! That is some strong disagreement with the item about enjoying gambling for money. As I suggested last time, gambling has a very different motivation from all the other game preferences I measured. Not only did it come in dead last on the ratings, it's a nearly symmetric opposite of the most favorable type of game I measured, the Eurogame. Before I did this survey, I assumed most geeks didn't like to gamble. I had no idea I would find such a strong effect.

From gallery of shotokanguy


Everybody likes cooperative games! Well, not quite everybody, but the modal, most popular response was "6 = agree moderately," followed by "7 = agree strongly." Meh, I don't get it. I thought Pandemic was ok, but I would definitely sit and wait for a different game to start than play Shadows Over Camelot. I guess I need to try some of the newer stuff.

From gallery of shotokanguy


Some people like Ameritrash! The modal response was, again, "agree moderately" but there were quite a few responses on the negative side of the midpoint. Still, these last two charts show that even though Euros are #1, we are also quite fond of more thematic games. Indeed, the Compleat Board Gamer should have a good repertoire of both lightly themed Euros and richly themed American games, don't you agree?

From gallery of shotokanguy


Sorry, I got tired of the Everybody Loves Raymond bit I was doing there. So what do people think of abstracts? Well, they are ok, I guess. As you can see from the histogram, there is divided opinion, with a modal response of "5 = agree a little."

From gallery of shotokanguy


The histogram for collectible card games looks similar to the graph for gambling games. There's not such overwhelming contempt in the ratings, but the modal responses were 1 = disagree strongly and 2 = disagree moderately. Still, there was a greater diversity of opinion all along the scale, and it looks like a solid 15% of the sample could actually be considered CCG fans, either agreeing moderately or agreeing strongly with enjoying them. Is there a connection between gambling and CCGs that accounts for their similar looking distributions? They both involve risking your money and hopefully getting something good in return. Of course, it could be a coincidence too.

From gallery of shotokanguy


People’s attitudes toward traditional card games yield the most "normal" looking distribution. Nothing all that exciting or controversial going on here, just a simple tendency to like them “a little.” Small minorities either love them or despise them.

From gallery of shotokanguy


We see more varied opinions of party games, with the same modal response of “agree a little.” The more I look at the graph, the more it seems like BGG is giving party games the finger…

From gallery of shotokanguy


We finally get to wargames. Divisive as ever, wargames elicit considerably varied opinions here, but I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that. The modal response was right in the middle, 4 = neither agree nor disagree. Unfortunately, we cannot say for sure if people feel really neutral about wargames, or if they have truly never played them and just don’t have an opinion. It must be some combination of the two. It’s worth noting that 41% of the sample had generally negative views toward wargames (responding with 1, 2, or 3 on the scale) and 39% of the sample had generally positive views (responding with 5, 6, or 7). That’s a pretty even split.

Next week, or whenever I get around to it, we will take a look at the personality data.
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Mon Jan 15, 2018 8:44 pm
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A Sampling of Survey Results

Corey Butler
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A couple weeks ago, I did a survey on the motivations, personality traits, and gaming preferences of board gamers here on the 'Geek. I originally planned to share my results in the forum section, but I realized I had enough material to make multiple posts, and I figured a blog might be the best way to keep everything organized. I also thought it would be fun to share any other information or news articles I found that were related to psychology and gaming.

So without further ado, here it is.

The Survey

Between December 27th, 2017 and January 4th, 2018, a total of 522 BGG users responded to my online survey. Standard disclaimer: This was not a random sample, so we cannot be sure it represents BGG users, much less gamers in general. Nevertheless, I think it is still interesting to see what a volunteer sample of hobby gamers had to say.

The sample was 85% male and 15% female. For what it's worth, these figures are pretty close to those found in another recent survey by fellow geek, Carl Skutsch which had participants who were 86% male, 13% female, and 1% other-- yes, I will be including "other" as a response choice in my next survey. I imagine this approximates the actual gender distribution here.

65% of the respondents were located in North America, 27% were in Europe, and 6% were in or near Australia. I had a few complaints about people's countries not being listed (the only choices were continents). I do not plan to ask about people's locations in future surveys.

My participants' ages ranged from 12 to 81, with a mean of 39.90 and a standard deviation of 10.43. I guess that puts me slightly over one SD above the mean. Hmmm.

The survey consisted of 37 items, most of which asked the participant to respond on a 7 point scale, from "disagree strongly" to "agree strongly." They were asked how much they liked various types of games and what they enjoyed about playing games. They also filled out what has to be the shortest comprehensive personality test in the universe, the Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) by Sam Gosling and his colleagues at the University of Texas. This measures the Big Five personality traits, which has become the standard personality taxonomy among personality psychologists. I'll say more about this part of the project later.

Game Ratings

So what did I find? Let's start with game preferences. People enjoy playing a great variety of games here, but the site has always been most closely associated with Eurogames. Do they win the popularity contest with my sample? Yes, in fact, they do...

From gallery of shotokanguy


The graph shows preference ratings for each type of game I included in the survey. Remember that a rating of 1 indicates strong disagreement with enjoyment of that type of game, whereas a rating of 7 indicates strong agreement. Eurogames are way out in front with an average of 6.18. This is consistent with Skutsch's survey, which also showed a strong preference for Euros. Surprisingly, well to my surprise at least, cooperative games came in second with an average rating of 5.30. Not faring so well are Wargames, with an average of 3.89 and CCGs with an average of 3.09. Most of the other genres of games were rated a little above the midpoint in favorability.

Except for gambling. We geeks don't seem to like gambling very much, do we? The mean score was 2.27, indicating outright disagreement with enjoying games that featured gambling. Why is that? I don't know about you, but I've always thought games of chance were inherently dull. Wagers are necessary to add a little excitement. What would Bingo be without the prizes? It's not much even with the prizes, but you know what I mean.

If games that prominently feature gambling tend to be inherently random and uninteresting, then naturally we should give them a low rating. But one could make a reasonable argument that poker is a deep, challenging, and potentially interesting game. Indeed, it scores higher than most gambling games in the ratings here, but it still doesn't make it into the top 500. So what's going on?

Motivation

Psychologists distinguish between two very different types of motivation. Intrinsic rewards occur when we do something for the sake of doing it, because we enjoy the activity itself. Extrinsic rewards occur when we do something for an external benefit, such as fame or money. Most jobs, for example, are motivated extrinsically. But the whole point of hobby gaming is the enjoyment of a game for its own sake. Gambling for money doesn't align with the motivational style of most people who play games as a hobby and hang out on BGG.

But that might not be the entire explanation. A classic experiment by Lepper, Greene and Nisbet (1973) found that extrinsic motivation can actually undermine intrinsic motivation. In social psychology, this is known as the Overjustification Effect. Tangible rewards grab our attention and we become less aware of the more subtle benefits of the experience. The more extrinsic motivations are present, the less emphasis there will be on the intrinsic fun and pleasure of playing the game. This could be a real source of incompatibility, which might explain why gambling games are not appreciated here.

Let me know what you think, and keep an eye on this blog for further findings from my survey as well as other thoughts about psychology and gaming. This is the first time I've tried writing a blog, so I hope it doesn't suck too badly...
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Tue Jan 9, 2018 9:11 pm
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