In the first episode of season two of Game on Girl, Isabela and I discussed the gamer types that I used in my dissertation research. The gamer types were a significant part of the research I did and shaped the foundation of the podcast. In bringing back the show, it is important to clearly define them for our new discussions.
As I revisited the gamer types in preparation for relaunching the show, I realized I wanted to add a new category to the types. Social gamers, I thought, were primarily interested in gaming for the social interactions, for the personal connections games can bring to their lives. Because the original research looked exclusively at identity, the idea of the why wasn’t one I considered. It was secondary to looking at how identity was mapping into the games.
Isabela suggested that social gamers might be on a spectrum with solo gamers, people who play primarily on their own, as a solitary escape. Adding these attitudes to the original gamer types adds more depth to the conversations we can have about how and why people play games. Read on to learn more about the gamer types and the newly added attitudes.
Self players see themselves in their avatars and identify strongly with them. They are more likely to refer to their avatars in the first person, placing their own identities within the game and the game environment. The concept of the idealized self would be the strongest with this group and they would tend to see gaming as a means of reaffirming self-identity. Players in this group might focus on how attractive their avatars are and avoid avatars they find have too many inhuman characteristics or unattractive features, or who are too different from their own offline identity.
Socializing would be a means of connecting in relation to physical world lives, where they would share accurate information about their offline lives and personalities. Because of their strong personal attachment to their avatars, they are likely to be the group least aware of the limitations placed on them by in-game representations, especially in terms of the hypersexuality often associated with female avatars.
Role players embrace the role-playing aspect of the game, creating a different identity and backstory for their characters. They might see the avatars as part of their own identity but only in a minimal way because their primary goal is to create a new, alternate identity. They see their avatars as separate identities that they can take on or off, and the performance of these fictional characters is the primary attraction to the game, and especially to MMORPG gaming since they are likely to find others with similar interests there.
These players would be more likely to discuss their avatars in the third person and have long, detailed fictional backstories supporting their character’s identity and appearance. They would desire social interactions that allow for active role-playing, where there is a clear line between themselves and their avatars, and the same is true for those they game with. This group is perhaps the most psychologically sophisticated of the three primary groups discussed because of the performance of identity inherent in role-playing. They are also more comfortable with cyber-drag, as I’ve discussed before, because there is a long tradition of gender-bending in all variations of role-playing games.
Mastery players do not necessarily see a connection between their identities and their avatars or create separate, fictional personalities or back-stories for their avatars. They are likely to be more interested in the game mechanics or in certain achievements, getting to a place where they demonstrate high levels of mastery over the game itself. They might be described as more “hardcore” gamers as it is the game they are most interested in engaging with rather than the social aspects of gaming (especially the social aspects of MMORPGs).
Mastery players are more likely to switch back and forth between first and third person pronouns as they describe their avatars because they are not aware of or do not care about the differentiation between self and avatar that is paramount to the other categories. For mastery players, the game is not a metaphor for life and in-game achievement is not symbolic of other aspects of their identity; the game is simply a game, an arena where mastery and status are achieved for the game itself.
Social gamers enjoy games they can play with their friends, both cooperatively and competitively. They see gaming as a means of connecting with others, both online and in person.
Solo gamers enjoy games they can master on their own. They see gaming as a means of escape and relaxation.
No Type Stands Alone
As you consider what types and attitudes resonate for you, keep in mind you can be a combination of all the gamer types. It might also be that particular types of games bring out the mastery player in you, or that you enjoy social games on occasion but are overall more of a solo gamer.
What gamer type resonates with you? What kind of motivations do you have when you play? Share your reflections in the comments!
Regina is a gamer, writer, teacher, and podcaster living in the Pacific Northwest. She completed her Ph.D. in 2011 from Washington State University in Vancouver and continues to teach there part time. Regina’s research interests focus on women and technology, and her dissertation discusses female gamers and identity in digital role playing games. A lifelong geek and technology enthusiast, Regina recently started a Girls Who Code club in support of their mission to close the gender gap in technology.
To continue the conversations about gender and gaming that Regina started during her research, she started a podcast called Game on Girl. Called the “NPR of game podcasts” by Chris Brown of The Married Gamers, the podcast features women involved in the game industry, and tackles some of the complicated issues in the gaming community. Season 2 began in the spring of 2018 and will premiere new episodes monthly.