Psychology of Board Games

Statistics and Speculations on the Behavioral Science of Board Gaming
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Competitive Attitudes in Hobby Board Gamers

Corey Butler
United States
Saint Paul
Minnesota
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Last week I reported data showing that hypercompetitive chess players tend to have relatively negative emotional reactions (like frustration) after games, whereas players with more healthy, personal development attitudes toward competition report more positive emotional reactions (like excitement). Keep in mind that my survey simply asked people to rate how they typically felt after playing chess-- I did not attempt to break down memories for specific outcomes like wins and losses, and indeed, I do not believe that this could be done very accurately. Wait, did you miss last week? You better go back and read that post first. I'll wait here...

OK, this week we are looking at a somewhat larger, more representative sample of hobby board gamers, as defined by their membership and level of involvement at BGG. After receiving permission from the admins here, I emailed a link to my survey to a random selection of 1000 members who a) lived in the United States, b) had purchased avatars, and c) had logged into the website in the preceding 30 days. 45% of the sample responded. 90% were men, 7% were women, and 3% reported "other" for their gender. How did hypercompetitive and healthy competitive attitudes correlate with emotional experiences? Let's take another look at that Chess.com data for comparison:

From gallery of shotokanguy


As you can see, endorsement of healthy attitudes toward competition correlates with positive affect. On the other hand, endorsement of hypercompetitive attitudes such as "I see my opponents as enemies" correlates modestly with positive affect and more strongly with negative affect. I referred to this last time with the old "Wide World of Sports" slogan, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Today's question is, how does our BoardGameGeek crowd compare with the online chess community? Let's go ahead and look at the BGG data:

From gallery of shotokanguy


Overall, it's a very similar pattern. Once again we see a substantial correlation between healthy attitudes and positive affect, r = .43, p < .001, but no significant correlation with negative affect, r = .03. And just as we found with the chess players, hypercompetitive attitudes correlate modestly with positive affect, r = .17, p < .001, and more strongly with negative affect, r = .48, p < .001. In this second study I also measured general level of emotional well-being so I could do additional analyses using that as a control variable. I won't get into the details here, but all of these relationships hold up well when we control for general disposition. Thus, we cannot simply attribute these associations to people who are generally happy being more likely to report nicer attitudes and more positive emotions.

Although the data are similar, there are a couple of interesting differences that might be worth pointing out. First, the correlation between the two competitive styles is smaller in the BGG sample. This means that among hobby board gamers, people who report an interest in competing for personal development reasons are less likely to also be hypercompetitive. Also, when I compared the means of these variables across samples, I found that the BGG crowd tends to report more positive emotion after games, by about a half a point on the scale. The chess players tended to score more highly on both hypercompetitiveness and negative affect.

This research extends our understanding of the effects of competitive attitude style to the important realm of board gaming. I'd like to extend it further to video game players, but I'm not sure how or where to recruit them. Another issue that would need to be addressed in video games is that you are often competing against the game itself, not another person. As for hypercompetitiveness, we see one more example of its generally maladaptive tendencies. In playing games, and in introducing our children to games, it might be useful to de-emphasize aggressive competitive feelings and try to focus as much as possible on the enjoyment of the intrinsic experience, and the development of one's skill.

That's it for now. I'll try to come back in a couple of weeks with additional analyses and insights from these data.
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