Last week, the BBC reported on some research about behaviour in auctions that caught my attention. The researchers in question concluded that it was predominantly the fear of losing that drove people to overbid in auctions, and not the joy of winning as had previously been assumed. Here's an extract:
Now this interests me as a game designer and researcher because the obvious interpretation of the auction game is that the participant wants the emotional reward of fiero (triumph over adversity) from being victorious - something ebay have capitalised upon in their "shop victoriously" campaign. But instead, what we see here is that the desire to avoid being beaten by the other players (the other bidders in auction terminology) is showing up as a prevailing force.
I don't want to jump to conclusions here, because if there's one thing my company's research has shown it's that fiero-seeking isn't a majority pursuit (my best estimate at the moment is about one fifth of players have this as their primary drive, but this figure is vague at best) and this is something the researchers won't have considered since the predominant paradigm for this kind of scientific research presumes all participants can be treated as instances of the same archetype (i.e. that all humans are essentially the same) which holds far better for some traits (such as enjoying food) than for others (such as enjoying pain).
But it does beg the question: do some or all challenge-oriented players strive to beat the games they are playing because they refuse to admit defeat? Are they seeking fiero, or just striving not to lose? Are they driven by a subconscious fear of failure rather than a desire for the emotional reward of winning? That's not to say that winning isn't fun... just that it might not be the anticipation of winning that drives certain videogame players to push for the win.
The situation could be far more complicated than we previously assumed: we've talked a lot about the carrot (fiero) but not really considered the stick (fear of failure). Alas, finding a way to investigate this further is going to be especially challenging. If anyone has a spare fMRI scanner they want to loan me I'd appreciate it!