Psychology of Board Games

Statistics and Speculations on the Behavioral Science of Board Gaming
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Personality and Game Preferences

Corey Butler
United States
Saint Paul
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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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