What causes thousands of people to immerse themselves in the virtual world of massively multiplayer online games? Richard Allan Bartle, game researcher and author, is well-known in the MMO game industry. His research and theories regarding MMO players were quite fascinating. Check out one of his abstracts here.
According to Bartle we can divide MMO players into four predominant types: achievers, socializers, killers, and explorers. It's important to realize that this is a stereotypical classification; however, surprisingly it applies to almost every gamer.
Each time a player enters into the virtual world s/he has a strong reason backing up that decision. This hidden motivation can be used to categorize the players. For example: achievers want to progress, accumulate, and succeed to exude status and prestige; their perspective is competition, they challenge and yearn to dominate others, and ultimately they feel satisfied when they are on the top (best items, max level, etc.).
On the other hand a socializer is the player that often initiates casual chat, cares about and collaborates with others, develops and maintains relationships, and would "sacrifice" themselves (virtual world) for their team - the ultimate form of dedication. Achievements aren't neglected, but they want the best for their team, group, friends...
You could think of explorers as Christopher Columbus. They are fascinated the most by the story-line, beauty and limitlessness of the virtual world. They love to explore, find unique things, reach untamed locations, and ultimately their motivation comes from the need for fantasy. They might do this to relax and escape from real life.
Last but definitely not the least- killers! These kinds of players specialize in killing; that's what they love to do (in a virtual world). Their mindset is quite diabolical. They are exploring to develop particular techniques to kill more efficiently, socialize with the end-result in their mind, challenging others, pre-organizing one-on-one duels, and they must be achievers to collect the "best gear" and maintain an edge.
Regardless of which category a player fits in the most, s/he must have a damn good reason to play a game. We are humans, and thus even if we aren't required to report our actions we tend to be ashamed if we do something without having a logical or emotional reasoning.
Furthermore, from a psychological perspective it does not really matter what a player does in a virtual world as long as it brings fulfillment and enjoyment. Their primary source of pleasure may come from traveling, visiting places, helping others through altruism, chatting with others or perhaps longing for success, prestige, and thus killing and focusing on becoming the very best to dominate others and earn a reputation.
Another psychological MMO tidbit regards the choice of the main character. A true gamer understands that this is a long-term decision; it's going to become his/her avatar in the real world. That's akin to an identity with the benefits of complete anonymity. Therefore, a gamer might create an idolized character that combines all of his/her wishes and desires. Creating an alter-ego isn't all that uncommon either.
I want to share with you a funny detail that comes from various studies regarding why more males tend to forge a female character than females creating males. A few say that it's because most men are curious to explore some untamed feminine traits and in the virtual world they are free to experiment. Others say it's clearly due to the visual effects; female characters are designed to look gorgeous and sexier than males.
Additionally the feature that gives us the ability to shape and highly customize a character could be linked with the action of "building the ideal girlfriend" or spouse. We shouldn't forget the wise words of Hollywood movie director Paul W. S. Anderson referring to actress and supermodel Milla Jovovich: "rare combination of a good actress who could kick ass and look beautiful doing it." -- similar to the Lara Croft effect.
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