Friends Who Game Together, Stay Together—Research on Gaming Behaviors
2020 • Design Research
Team — Julia Chao, Jaymee Tang, Wendy Gui
My Role — Research, Storyboarding, Illustrations, Content Writing
Duration — 3 months
Research conducted with 16 players of multiplayer action games players, aged 18-22 years old, to find out how players become attached to and nurture a gaming hobby.
As part of a design research course, our group chose to conduct research on gaming behaviors in the youth, specifically 18-22 year olds. We chose this topic as our group consisted of some gamers — it was a topic we were passionate and curious about — and also because finding participants for this topic and age group would be accessible for us. For our research, we wanted to know how players become attached to and nurture a gaming hobby. We chose to focus on multiplayer action games as we were interested in the social aspects of games, and we felt that this target group would still include a diverse range of players.
We started by conducting secondary research into the topic of gaming to figure out how we would like to hone in our research question. We conducted 14 literature reviews, many which were about the psychology behind a game and overall gaming culture. These are our 4 main insights:
What games players play and how they play the game is a reflection of their personality.   Extroverts are more likely to enjoy the excitement, competition, and community part of online multiplayer action games. 
Players are more encouraged and their expectations are increased when they receive rewards at random intervals.  When the reward arrives, dopamine is triggered and produced, causing people to become more excited and expect more rewards, especially if the rewards are given at random intervals. 
Apart from being motivated from external rewards, players are also motivated by intrinsic motivation.   Intrinsic motivation means players play games because they are enjoyable or interesting, rather than for external rewards or pressures. Intrinsic motivation can also come from the sense of competency or accomplishments, which then further motivates people to continue playing the game and challenge themselves. 
Players will act when there is a "trigger", "ability", and "motivation" to do so.   In games, triggers can come from linking social media accounts to the game, or the presence of the game on the players’ devices. With the ubiquity of personal computing, most people have the ability to access games at any time and anywhere. The games are also designed to motivate users to return. For example, players can be eased into more difficult parts as they get used to the game, be given milestones, achievements, and feedback as motivations for them to keep playing. 
Our primary research consists of interviews, observations, contextual inquiry, and a card sorting activity. All this was conducted within a ~45-minute session between two researchers from our team and one participant. One of the researchers will act as a facilitator that will be asking the questions, and the other will act as a notetaker. As this was during the COVID-19 pandemic, we conducted our research remotely through Zoom calls. Participants were contacted and briefed beforehand about being ready and consenting to share their screen and play a multiplayer action game of their choice for the 32-minute observation and contextual inquiry.
WHY THESE METHODS?
• We chose to do interviews to better understand players’ personal experiences with gaming, including their habits, background, and preferences.
• We did observations with contextual inquiry and thinking aloud protocols as we wanted to understand the immediate thought processes and feelings players have when being immersed in a game.
• We chose to do a card sorting activity after the observation to further dig deep into the main motivations and emotions players felt and choose to represent themselves with.
We conducted these sessions with 16 different participants, who came from the US, Canada, China, Indonesia, and Taiwan. From these sessions, we analyzed our results through affinity diagramming to synthesize our 6 insights.
We were able to glean 6 insights from these research sessions, divided into two parts; the positive aspects of gaming, and the negative aspects of gaming (and how players overcame these negative aspects. The main trend we saw was that despite the negative interactions and experiences of participants attributed with gaming, our participants still found that the positive aspects of gaming overcame the negative aspects; many players found ways to overcome or avoid the negative aspects they experienced.
Insight 1-4 : Strong motivations for players to nurture a gaming hobby.
1. Friends influence players’ gaming attachment through interaction and collaboration within a game
Friends, family, and players’ close environment influences players to begin gaming and determine what games they play. After being introduced to the game, players’ found themselves more willing to play with their friends rather than strangers because of the ease of collaboration and interaction both in and outside the game.
Through collaboration, friends use the game as a shared activity and conversation topic. This collaboration is facilitated by the microphones and the chat features in the game. Most of our participants liked to interact and coordinate with their friends when they are playing remotely.
The game also influences players’ relationships with their friends in life. Two of our participants mentioned that once they start to play games with their friends, they have more common topics to talk about with them.
“At first, I played through the introduction of my classmates, and then I played with my classmates all the time.” — P10
“I can have more topics to discuss with my friends. 10% of the time I am with my friends we are talking about games.” — P3
2. The sense of accomplishment and recognition received from gaming makes players’ more invested to spend more time in the game
Getting higher ranks and striving for victory are essential features of multiplayer action games. The sense of accomplishment and recognition from these features can be addicting; encouraging players’ to keep playing and not quit. Once comfortable in a game, players tend to stick to one game and work to improve their performance and rank. Some of our participants highly value their performance in the game and use the other players’ feedback and the scores in the game to improve their skills.
”For me, games are more than just relaxing. I hope for self-satisfaction and recognition. Only rankings can allow me to see the feedback and results immediately as I play it long enough.” — P4
“You want to keep trying and keep trying until you get a reward from the game, and the reward that I get from this game is recognition because I’m the top global hero.” — P5
3. Players seek temporary escape from life routines in the game
Many of our participants thought playing games was a great way to relax. When they were feeling stressed or emotionally unstable they could escape to the game world. By transferring their attention there they were able to put their stress and tensions behind.
“Games give me relaxation, and it is a way to release my stress. Therefore, trying out new games is like taking a new journey.” — P2
“When I have some personal issues, usually I tend to go to games just to avoid those issues and make myself feel happy again by spending time with the boys and just chilling.” — P5
“Especially when I’m doing homework, it’s like, okay, I’m not getting through this fast enough. I need some sort of win through playing games.” — P8
4. Outside of the social elements of the game, enjoying the game for its content strengthens players’ attachment to the game
Elements of the game itself like the story, art, and characters are the main reasons for players to get attached to the game. This insight applies to most of our participants, but might not apply to all players. These players usually have something in common: they will keep playing the game even if their friends quit the game or no longer play it. The reasons for them to continue to play are the game’s lore, characters, visual elements, or the environment in the game.
“I like how Honor of Kings is designed in ancient Chinese style. Each hero is connected with real stories of people in ancient China. I am fascinated by one hero. His personality resonates well with me.“ — P15
“I restarted playing Monster Hunter World because its picture quality was improved. Realistic and immersed environments make me more likely to keep playing.” — P3
Insight 5-6 : Negative aspects of gaming the ways players overcome them.
5. Players are aware of the potential of becoming addicted to gaming, so they try to preemptively control their habits
Despite the positivity around multiplayer action gaming, some of our participants struggled emotionally with their gaming behaviors. Games can be a great way to take a break from life, but the inability to manage their game habits leads players to question their productivity and interferes with their own values and societal expectation. Therefore, we found that many of them tried to control their game time with different methods, like limiting themselves to only one game, or removing games completely.
“It’s definitely addicting. It can take your time and the fact that it’s so accessible in my bedroom, makes it quite dangerous for completing my work.” — P7
“Last year was my first year in my major, I didn’t want to mess that up so I would not have any games downloaded to be more productive.” -P8
“Excessive gaming time might have hurt my neck and seating posture a bit. Therefore, gaming is fun but I am controlling the amount of time I spent to prevent game addiction and health problems.” — P2
6. Toxic community and teamwork issues with strangers lead to player’s protective behavior and workarounds
When playing multiplayer action games, players will end up gaming with strangers. Many of our participants experienced verbal harassment, trolling, or just a lack of team cooperation while playing multiplayer action games. Therefore, many of them minimize interactions with strangers to avoid abusive behaviors.
“I don’t like partnering with strangers because they are not collaborative, they either play on their own or they might speak a foreign language that I do not understand.” -P1
“I don’t like it when a player is making hateful comments while we are losing. I think the game is a way to relax and have fun, not to contain hate or negative emotions.” — P2
”I don’t play ranked, it is too toxic. There is more pressure to do well, people would get really mean if you do something wrong they would curse you out or talk sh*t about you.” — P6
Through our 16 interviews with players of Honor of Kings, League of Legends, Monster Hunter, Overwatch, PUBG, Rogue Company, and Team Fortress 2, we found that our participants had strong motivations to nurture a gaming hobby because of four major reasons. First, friends are powerful influences for participants to start playing, continue to play, or the only reason to play. Players found a sense of belonging and positive connection with friends within multiplayer action games. Second, multiplayer action games were designed in ways so that players can feel recognized and accomplished. In-game victories made them feel in control and superior to other gamers. Third, games are a great way to relax for our participants. It is entertaining and stress-relieving. Finally, players enjoyed the creative designs inside games, and these attachments were strong enough to let them keep playing. Other than the four main motivations, we also found that players found gaming addicting, and many had the intention to limit their gaming hours. Also, with strangers’ involvement in multiplayer games, players experienced receiving disrespectful comments online to the point that some had strong desires to avoid any interaction with players they were not familiar with.
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