People of all ages play video games for many different reasons. Video games serve a purpose and everyone plays for a reason. Identifying your motivation to play can be helpful to maintain moderation or shift your desire to other activities.
Whether you are a gamer yourself, a concerned parent or loved one, or a professional interested in learning more about the gaming world, this article is for you.
Why people play video games:
Novelty or variety keeps life interesting, fun, and engaging. Video games give you the opportunity to do something new. With over 1 million games out there, there are endless amounts of new gaming experiences.
You can play a Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) like World of Warcraft and experienced novelty with each territory you discover. You can form alliances, make friends, complete quests, and obtain items. All these experiences can be novel.
You can play a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game like League of Legends and experience novelty with every character you play. Unlike World of Warcraft, players in League of Legends play in the same environment or map every game. There are some cosmetic changes depending on the season, but it’s mostly the same. The novelty comes with playing different characters. As of August 2020, there are 150 characters or champions in League of Legends. That’s a lot of novelty.
Role-play games (RPG) are games allow you to create and develop a character. Games like Skyrim and the Diablo games are RPGs where you can experience novelty in the game itself and through each character you make. You can play the entire game of Skyrim using one character then use a completely different one and have a different experience.
Competency or Mastery
Competence is made up of feeling mastery and control over something. Many video games require skill to play well. In games like Overwatch, Valorant, or Rainbow 6: Siege, gamers compete against each other in real time. Your reaction speed, map awareness, aim, landing skill-shots, dodging skill shots, farming, and overall game knowledge are all skills that require some level of mastery to play well and win matches.
Gamers will play the same game for thousands of hours because they want to master their skills. Back to the 150 champions to play from in League of Legends, some play one champion for over 10,000 hours. One map. One champion. One game. All with the drive to get better and improve their rank or standing in the game. People love the pursuit of mastery and video games are a great way to pursue that.
Video games offer a safe place to improve your skill and get better at something. Some video games have a high skill cap – high level of difficulty to become masterful. However, those same games also help beginners get involved by giving them positive reinforcement for the little good things they do. Even if they stink, there are natural motivators in games to bring them back for more. They get rewards the more they play. And the more they play, the more masterful they become.
Exploration and Freedom
Games like Rust, Ark, or World of Warcraft give players the ability to roam free in a digital world. You are able to do almost anything in these virtual worlds. We can explore external or internal environments.
Through quests and objectives, games are designed to help you explore. You don’t have to do the quests, but you can. You have the option to just explore the world and do what you want with no rules or boundaries. The Fallout games allow for environmental exploration. They are open worlds with objectives to complete. Exploring the virtual environments is exciting because you never know what you will discover.
RPGs allow you to take on any identity you want. You can be a confident, strong warrior online but feel timid and weak in real-life. Video games offer you a chance to explore any identity you wish. If you are a female in real-life, you can express yourself as a male online. If you are unsure what identify as, you can explore different genders and roles online through games.
A beautiful thing about video games is anonymity. Online gaming can give you the space to be yourself and explore different personalities in a safe environment without anyone knowing you in the physical world. This gives players comfort in being able to freely explore thoughts and feelings they might not feel comfortable doing anywhere else.
There are three main types of risks in video games: competitive, quest, and social.
Games like League of Legends, Fortnite, and Rainbow 6: Siege are games that require some level of skill to do well. You can play safe or risky. There is excitement and some danger, not real danger, but virtual danger the riskier you play. The risk is you could lose the game or match, resulting in a loss of your rank.
There are in-game risks from story driven or character driven games like the Witcher and Fallout. You have something similar to a morality tracker. How you interact with the townspeople or in-game characters determines if they will be kind or hostile. If you are kind and do positive actions, you will get rewards. If you are a jerk, there are consequences.
Many video games are played with others. There is risk involved in how you play and interact with others in real time. Games that allow you to play in an open world like World of Warcraft allows you to interact with others in real time and there is risk in how you socialize. You could randomly hit someone in-game for no reason and it could have a bad consequence. Or you could befriend others.
You can raid, or invade another player’s structure, in games like Rust and Ark. You fight with others and risk losing your items. You can make a friend and work together for a common cause. You can backstab that friend and take all their stuff. All of these social interactions online are risky.
A Safe Place to Fail
Video games also allow you a safe place to fail. You can safely take as many risks as you want. If you die while trying to beat a boss, you simply start over. If you don’t win the competitive match, you play another one. If you have a poor interaction with another gamer, you can talk with someone else. Gamers have a much safer place to fail online than in the physical world.
Failing is good!
It’s healthy to learn how to fail well. We can fail and give up or we can learn from our mistakes and improve. Failure is part of our human experience. If we don’t learn some level of resiliency or ways to start over, we will suffer. Failing and trying again in video games can be a good skill to transfer to the physical world.
Games like Valorant, League of Legends, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Dota 2 are all 5v5 competitive video games. Your team works together to take objectives and beat the other team. There is a lot of skill and communication involved in competitive video games.
Every competitive video game requires hand-eye coordination, fast reflexes, quick decision making, and strategy. These skills take time to develop and they can grow over time. Gamers can play Dota 2 for years and still improve every time they play.
Competitive video games get attention because they can be played professionally. Just like the NBA houses competitive teams and competitions for basketball, eSports houses competitive video game teams and competitions for video games.
Michael Jordan played countless hours and worked hard perfecting his basketball skills. Gamers play countless hours and work hard to improve their gaming skills. Many gamers wish to go pro. They desire to be on a professional gaming team like Evil Geniuses or TSM and make gaming their career.
The desire to win and compete is in a lot of us. Video games offers an alternative for high level competition if basketball isn’t your thing.
Income and Career
People make gaming a career through eSports and streaming.
Steaming is when someone plays a video game live for others to watch online. Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is a professional streamer known for playing Fortnite. He made $17 million in 2019 and has sponsorship deals with Red Bull and Adidas. Many others steam on Twitch or YouTube Gaming to make money.
There is real money in eSports. There are nearly 50 eSports games and each game has a couple handfuls of different teams depending on the game. Esports had a total revenue of over $492 million in 2016. The prize pool for the 2019 Dota 2 world championship was $34,330,068. Many gamers play countless hours trying to get a shot at that money.
Professional gaming sounds like fun, but it can be problematic. Ex-pro gamer Jian “Uzi” Zihao retired at 23 years old due to health concerns. The wear on his body from the years of intense gameplay forced him to retire from his eSports team.
With gaming being a potential career, millions of kids and teens play trying to be the next gaming star. It’s extremely difficult to play on an eSports team or make a living streaming.
Build and Create
Humans are designed to build and create. We build through our careers and relationships. It’s rewarding to put time and energy into a project and see the result. Games like Minecraft, Ark, and Rust allow players to build and create. They have a digital canvas which they can create almost anything with.
Before the internet, kids played with building blocks. They built towers, castles, and structures using their imagination. Now, kids have Minecraft – virtual building blocks. Kids can create elaborate towers, castles, and any structure they can think of or copy from YouTube.
Gamers can also build a character. RPGs give players a chance to build their character with items and abilities to become stronger. Players spend a lot of time with their gaming characters and find a lot of pride in what they made.
Relationships are hard. It’s scary meeting and developing in-person relationships. Online games allow people the freedom to talk with and get to know people in a safe environment.
Discord is a communication platform allowing gamers to talk with each other while they game. It’s basically a better version of Skype. It’s easier than ever to play a competitive Rainbow 6: Siege game with your friends or explore exotic worlds in The Elder’s Scroll through Discord.
Playing video games with friends, and people you don’t know, is similar to experiencing something fun together in the physical world. Playing video games with others is a bonding experience. You feel closer to the people you game with because you share a common goal. You are all working together to win the match, find the loot, or defeat the boss.
There are people who try to take advantage of others. This happens in the real world and online. It is vital parents have conversations about healthy online relationships. Anyone online, no matter their age, needs to know healthy boundaries and their rights.
If you are a parent, here are some tips in talking with your child about healthy online interactions:
- Never give personal information such as real full name, phone number, address, or email.
- Never share personal information about you or your family.
- If someone asks questions about your personal life, redirect the conversation. Say something like, “I’d rather not answer that. Do you want to go raid that base?!” If someone continues to ask questions, mute them.
- Talk about the game you are playing. There is no need for anyone to know what grade you’re in or how old you are. You’re old enough to play the game, that’s good enough.
- Mute anyone who is disrespectful, unkind, or raging (angry speech towards another). You have the power to control what you hear. You can still play well in a competitive game without hearing the voices of your teammates.
Everyone wants connection. People play video games to feel connected to others. If you’re playing video games, the best way to form relationships is to have an in-person relationship and enhance it through online gaming.
A lot of video games are fast-pace and intense, but many are calm and relaxing. When the world around us is busy, chaotic, and stressful, immersing yourself in a captivating, relaxing video game is nice.
Games like Firewatch, Tetris Effect, and Untitled Goose Game are fun and relaxing. Games that let you explore an open world like Zelda, Ark, and Skyrim can be relaxing too. There is action in those games, but exploring the open world can be relaxing.
If people are looking to relieve stress, playing video games can be a good place for it.
Video games allow you to experience excitement and danger all from the safety of your chair. You can play games that give you the opportunity to do things you never would be able to do in real-life. Fight a demon monster, fly on a giant pre-historic eagle, or complete extreme missions on a special forces team. Okay, so you could join the military and be on a special forces team. But many video games allow us to experience things we never could do in the physical world.
If our real-life if boring, plain, simple, or monotonous, playing an exciting video game sounds awesome. Throughout your day or week, you might not feel any level of excitement, but when you jump in a League of Legends match, you feel adrenaline course through your body.
Many adults can get in a rut and lack excitement. Depression and fatigue can set in when there is no excitement in our lives. Many people play video games because it’s an easy way to experience excitement.
Escapism is a primary motivation for many to play video games. No matter the age, we all experience stress and hardships. How do you cope with your parent’s divorce? How to you respond when you feel sad, anxious, or angry? How do you deal with the death of a loved one? Video games are common ways to escape problems.
Games can be used to escape from people and/or situations.
Escape from People
If we are in a relationship we can’t get away from, escaping into a video game is a way to get away. If we have challenges with our spouse, kids, friends, boss, or co-workers, stress can be high. If there are no ways to change these negative interactions, escaping into something fun, like a video game, is highly desirable.
Escape from Situations
There are many challenges in the world. When the world around us is overwhelming, we want an escape. COVID-19 is a perfect example of this. When it feels we can’t control our lives during this pandemic, jumping into a safe virtual world is relieving. Maybe we are trying to get away from school or work problems. Or you don’t feel you have direction in your life. Whatever the case, escaping into a video game can relieve situational problems.
Autonomy or Independence
A great part about online games is being free and making your own choices. For those who do not feel they have much independence in the physical world, video games are a great place to be.
If someone’s family is controlling or abusive, video games can give that person power, control, and meaning. They have a reason to play because they have to complete the mission, rank up, help a friend, or get better items.
People can be free to be themselves in video games where they are free from the influence or direction from others. Kids who feel they are controlled all the time might gravitate towards gaming to feel independent. Adults might gravitate towards gaming if they feel they have no control over their work or home lives.
People like to progress. It feels great to work hard on something and see positive results and video games offer fantastic ways to make progress. Every video game tracks your progress and gives you positive reinforcement when you complete something.
Depending on the game, you are rewarded with an achievement or item. RPGs have a leveling system. The more you play your character, the more you will level-up. Your character levels up when they go from level 1 to level 2. When you reach level 2, your character becomes stronger and better able to complete harder things. Leveling up and making progress feels good.
Gamers are incentivized to level up their characters. Some items or gear can only be used when your character reaches a certain level. And higher-level items make you stronger and better able to play the game and complete missions.
MOBAs are competitive player verses player games. Your progress is tracked by your rank or how many games you’ve won. Many gamers will play the same game over and over again to increase their rank. The higher rank you are, the better you are at the game. You also get cool accessories in the game for ranking up. Plus, you get bragging rights.
Measurable progress is something everyone wants. Unlike the physical world, video games give players positive reinforcements for every little progress made. This can make it very easy for people to play a new video game rather than learn to play an instrument.
Many video games give you the ability to acquire items. You can find items randomly throughout the game or you can trade, buy, or gamble to get them. You have to gamble using a slot-machine-like simulator in CS:GO to get items and skins. Some people don’t even play CS:GO, they just gamble for skins. There are countless videos on YouTube of people opening crates or loot boxes gambling for items.
Acquiring items can be motivated by a few different things. As previously discussed, if you’re playing an RPG, you will be motivated to get better items as you progress in the game. Others will seek items not to use for their character, but to simply collect. Similar to searching for that next great deal or perfect item you’re looking for in the physical world, it’s exciting to seek out something rare.
Another item acquisition type is through skins. Skins are outfits for your character. Games like Fortnite, League of Legends, and CS:GO all use skins to enhance the gamers experience. Someone playing Fortnite can have their character look like dragon, cyborg, or banana. Skins don’t impact the player’s skill-level, they are strictly cosmetic. Skins just look cool.
Oh Yeah, and Games Are Fun
It goes without saying that video games are fun. This is due to many ideas explored in this article. But they are also fun because of rewards. Players get consistent and planned rewards for leveling up a character or defeating a boss – they know they will get experience or an item. Players will also get variable rewards.
Variable rewards are rewards given at random. Players could defeat a boss and get an extremely rare item. They know they will get an item of some kind when the boss is defeated, but not a rare one. When they do get an extremely rare item, it feels really good. It makes that player want to defeat another boss to experience that same pleasure. But the chances of getting another rare item is extremely low.
Variable reward is the same mechanic in slot machines and gambling. You won’t hit the jackpot every time, but every once in a while, you will. Variable reward is what keeps people coming back to the casinos and is a similar experience for gaming. Which is addictive…
Speaking of Gambling: Loot Boxes
Check out what look boxes are if you are unfamiliar. Loot boxes offer the same experience as a slot machine. Loot boxes contain skins which make the weapons in-game look different and cool. In CS:GO, there is a .44% chance of opening a box and getting the most rare item, a knife. There are countless videos of people opening boxes with the hope of opening a knife. These rare items are valuable and can be sold for real money. One item in CS:GO is worth around $19,600!
Opening loot boxes is a secondary activity to the game. CS:GO is a competitive first person shooter game and has nothing to do with loot boxes. But for many, opening loot boxes is the game, not the game itself.
This list provides insight into the motivation behind playing video games. The reasons why people play video games are not bad. The reasons are simply needs and desires that video games try to fill.
Gaming could be problematic if we ONLY go to video games to fill these needs. The majority of gamers have a healthy relationship with gaming. With over 64% of American’s playing video games, only around 3% struggle with disordered gaming.
This list is a way to better understand the gamer in your life. I encourage you to explore the reasons why the gamer in your life plays. Seek to gain understanding, not to pass judgement.
If you see video games are causing problems in a loved one’s life, talk with them about it. Be kind, empathetic, and non-judgmental. There is a reason someone has a gaming problem. Let’s seek to learn their perspective and help them get to a healthier place where they want to be.
Written by Jeremy Edge.
For additional support check out our Game Quitters programs: