Psychology of Board Games

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

Corey Butler
United States
Saint Paul
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A couple weeks ago, I visited half a dozen game forums here on the 'Geek and created brief polls on two "big five" personality traits, Extraversion and Agreeableness. You can take a look if you want-- the polls can be found on the forums for Agricola, Bohnanza, Chess, Game of Thrones, Pandemic Legacy, and Terraforming Mars. I chose these six because I have already discussed them before, or because they are notable, highly rated games. The polling questions are adapted from Gosling's Ten Item Personality Inventory (TIPI) which I have used here in the past. My usual disclaimer: the following discussion is based on brief surveys using unrepresentative, self-selected samples!

If you've been following this blog for any time, you probably know two things about me. I'm interested in how general personality traits correlate with game preferences, and I like poking around with data. Previously, I made some game recommendations based on data I collected from 500+ gamers using SurveyMonkey. Today, I would like to followup on that and see if I can any find support for my predictions with BGG's own polling tool.

So what did I find? Well, for every game except one, the majority response (about 60%) was a tendency toward introversion rather than extraversion. This was no surprise, considering that every time I look, I find that hobby gamers are relatively low on extraversion. I also found that most of the respondents rated themselves high on agreeableness. I had not observed this before, but as discussion at the polls indicated, this particular question may be have been influenced by the social desirability bias. Of course, it's also possible that people who respond to surveys on game forums are more inclined to be helpful and agreeable.

Overall, poll results were pretty similar across games. This actually makes a lot of sense because, even though I requested that only fans of a particular game participate on the survey, most hobby gamers play a large variety of games. It's even possible that the same people filled out the survey on different game forums.

But there were a couple of interesting findings that fit my earlier predictions, and these involve chess and Game of Thrones. Both are high conflict games. Both involve strategy. Both are very different. Let's look at the graphs. Here's chess...

From gallery of shotokanguy

Chess players are definitely lining up on the introverted side of things. However, their agreeableness response rate was only 50%. Every other game was at least 60%. I'm not saying that chess players are bad people or anything like that. I'm one of them! But to excel at chess and really get into the game seriously, you have to be willing to crush people. Often slowly. I'm thinking of brutal Kingside attacks and torturous Rook endgames. Ha, don't believe me? Spend a few months at a chess club and then tell me what you think.

Now let's look at Game of Thrones...

From gallery of shotokanguy

I didn't do a chi-square test, and I don't want to pretend these data are any more than preliminary, but it looks a little different doesn't it? I originally thought GoT players would also be less agreeable because the game can get nasty, but we aren't really seeing that. We are seeing much less introversion and much more extraversion than is typical in hobby boardgamers. Think of how different it is sitting in a group playing Game of Thrones compared to people playing chess. All that table talk and negotiation is likely to appeal to the most extraverted gamers.

Finally, let's consider Agricola, just for comparison purposes...

From gallery of shotokanguy

This is the typical pattern I observed, with relatively high introversion and agreeableness.

In conclusion, I think there is reason to believe that although there is a lot of overlap among gamers, certain kinds of people are more likely to be drawn to certain kinds of games. I'd like to do a more detailed study with better measures and a better sample. Anyone out there want to give me a grant?
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