The Science Pope?
Difficulty is Difficult

Playing Together

What’s the difference between a gamer who prefers to play multiplayer games, and a gamer who prefers to play alone? In this final look at the DGD2 survey (for now, at least – I have some major posts to come, but they will have to wait) I will very briefly examine differences between players who prefer to play alone, and those that prefer to play with other people. (Values in brackets are the statistical significance of a 2-tailed t-test – the lower the value, the more significant the finding). 

The 1,040 respondents in this survey divided more or less evenly into the two camps. 40.6% preferred to play single player games on their own, with an additional 7.1% preferring single player play, but enjoying playing such games with other people via pad passing and similar play-sharing techniques. The remaining 52% of the survey preferred a form of multiplayer gaming: multiplayer in the same room was the most popular at 17.1%, followed by virtual worlds and MMORPGs at 16.3%, and multiplayer gaming over the internet 13.6%. Finally, team or clan play over the internet represented just 5.3% of the sample.

One thing immediately stands out of the results: those who prefer multiplayer are much more focussed on challenge (and thus fiero – the emotion of triumph over adversity) than those who prefer single player. Multiplayer respondents gave much higher ratings for challenge-oriented play (.000) and both for the emotion of fiero (.009) and the fiero-enhancing emotion of anger (.009). That’s not all: multiplayer-preference players had a statistically significant higher preference for social emotions (.000) and random elements in games (.000), and a lower preference for sandbox play (.017). 

This paints a particular picture of these two kinds of players.

Multiplayer gamers (statistically speaking) tend to be challenge-oriented, and willing to be aroused to anger as this enhances their eventual reward in fiero when they attain victory. They are not only enjoying fiero, though, they are also enjoying the social element of multiplayer games such as the sense of belonging to a team, feelings of envy and gratitude, and the feeling of naches – the satisfaction of seeing someone you taught to play perform well. 

Conversely, single player gamers (statistically speaking) are showing greater interest in having control over the space of their play. This is one way to interpret the lower interest in random elements – these add variety to play, but they also mean the player has less direct control over outcomes. The higher interest in sandbox play can also be interpreted as an increased interest in having complete control over the play space, although undoubtedly other interpretations are possible.

Regarding the skills of play, multiplayer gamers rate themselves fractionally higher on basic game literacy (.001) – perhaps a sign of higher self-confidence rather than anything connected with game literacy – and (in the context of Temperament Theory) had a slightly higher mean rating for Logistical skills i.e. tolerance of repetition (.028) although this was a marginal result at best. However, the multiplayer gamers rated themselves much higher in terms of Tactical skills i.e. real time decision-making and action (.000) which is not surprising given that the most popular games to play in multiplayer all depend upon Tactical skills (first person shooters and racing games, for instance). 

We do not usually think about the split between those that prefer single player and those that prefer multiplayer games as enormously significant, but there are clearly patterns of difference to be detected. For one thing, it seems that the emotional reward of fiero may be more attractive when it is earned against (or with the assistance of) human players – beating a single player game might be less satisfying because it was not a person that was overcome. For the 36% of gamers for whom multiplayer competitive play is appealing, playing together is doubly rewarding: not only do they get the emotional benefits of social play, but the taste of victory appears to be all the more sweet when it is won from a human opponent.

This post concludes the statistical analysis of the DGD2 data for now. I may have one more analysis in the future concerning game genres, but this has not yet been conducted. Concerning the conclusions of the DGD2 study – this will have to wait!


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

dj i/o here..

"For one thing, it seems that the emotional reward of fiero may be more attractive when it is earned against (or with the assistance of) human players"

That looks like strong supporting evidence that, for most people, fiero can be greatly enhanced by the experience of true agon.
From my own perspective, this has definitely been true. While overcoming challenges in singleplayer games can certainly be rewarding, my most profound and memorable moments of fiero have been in a multiplayer/competition setting.

Just the other night, while playing Trackmania Nations, I had such an experience -- It was approaching the final minute of a multilap race. (Whoever gets the single fastest lap wins). I was near the top of the rankings, but not first. I knew I could go faster, it was just a matter of executing a good run. I looked down at the clock with about 40 seconds to go, knowing that a full lap on this particular track takes about 22 seconds to complete. So I only barely had enough time to do that single last perfect lap. I tend to perform better under pressure like this (at the last minute). When I hit the beginning of that last lap, my mind was immediately transformed into "the zone". But it was a zone like I've never experienced before, my concentration was impeccably unwavering. It was almost like I wasn't even paying attention to what was happening on the screen (my visual memory of it is "blurry"), but merely driving it with my mind. I don't think I've ever experienced such an intense concentration "zone" before. I drove a near perfect lap, improved my time, and won the race. It was completely exhilarating.

It probably sounds boring to read about, but I think the most significant part of this is the "zone" that I got into, which I know for certain would not have been achieved if I had just been running time trials by myself on the same track.

dj i/o: I never tire of reading people's descriptions of their play. This is a wonderful description of Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow" state ("the zone" in your description). I don't find this sort of account boring - on the contrary, I find it fascinating.

And I appreciate your link here to the idea of "true agon" - Callois talks about "victory being of uncontestable value" - the 'value' of success is surely greater against a real opponent than it is against a virtual one.

Thanks for the comment!

dj i/o here..

That's interesting, Chris. In reading your articles, I never once equated your description of "flow" with being "in the zone". I would have described flow something more like "The point at which you and the game (or, in multiplayer you and the competition) are evenly matched", and not necessarily a psychological state. By my description, I have experienced "flow" many times, without necessarily going into "the zone"... But, if indeed I am using the terminology wrong, I would have to say I've experienced true flow far fewer times.

I think, in fact, that I only experience flow/zone in the context of multiplayer -- mostly during my top 3 games of all time (Descent, Rune, Trackmania Nations).
Contrastingly, 2d platformers are one of my favourite genres, but I can't remember a time that I've ever been in such a deep state of concentration when playing them.

I guess my brain doesn't step it up a notch unless I am competing against somebody else. :)

I take that back... There have been a few times during the last few levels of Contra and Super C, back when I was working on clearing them with 1 credit, that I felt that kind of concentration/exhilaration. I feel it sometimes with bullet hell shmups as well. But... It comes far more easily with multiplayer

dj i/o:

"The zone" can be thought of as a particularly intense experience of Flow - one in which one is not only in the Flow state but often aware of it - or if not consciously aware then aware of the intensity of the altered state on some level.

So you can enter flow without being "in the zone", but according to the theory you couldn't be "in the zone" and not experiencing flow.

Chances are, the reason you enter a more intense flow state in multiplayer is two-fold: you are in a more aroused state (more excited state) playing against human opponents - i.e. your body is releasing more adrenalin because of the circumstances, and secondly you require greater skills to combat enemies with human capabilities, to the resulting flow state is "deeper".

The thing with the flow states is that you can reach them any time you match your skills to a challenge (according to the theory) - but the number of different possible experiences included within that range is staggering. The flow of meditation (for instance) is not the same as the flow of professional world-class tennis players! But there are still commonalities to recognise between different flow states.

Speaking for myself, multiplayer has never helped me get in the zone - and I hit this state most commonly with old 2D arcade games from my childhood such as Nemesis, Rastan Saga and (my perennial favourite) Joust, which I'm playing now on the PS3 - the fourth platform I've played this on, if you include the original Williams arcade machine. :) I once hit it playing Ms. Pac-man in a bar in the US, but there were special circumstances at work.

The characteristic of the experience for me is that any anxiety attached to the play vanishes: I cease to be concerned about what could go wrong, as I am acting organically to execute the optimum sequence of actions. Since I learned most of my game skills in 2D, I suspect this comes more easily for me in 2D.

Thanks once again for more description of your play. I can understand why you would reach a flow state in something like Contra, which adds additional challenge in the form of bullets to avoid, but notice it less with other 2D platformers. You might require a particular challenging set of platform transitions to hit a flow state in a typical 2D platformer - and it is perfectly possible to love a game genre and not be entering into an intense flow state with it. Flow is not the only aspect to enjoying play, after all.

Best wishes!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)