The Psychology of Game Play: Why games have become so popular among players of all ages

Who Games?

In recent years, gaming has undergone a significant transition. No longer is it a playing field of teenagers hunched over their consoles while locked in their bedrooms. In fact, research shows that adult women represent a significantly greater portion of the video game-playing population, surpassing boys age 17 or younger, and that nearly half of all video game players are women (Source: Entertainment Software Association). Of the 2 billion worldwide gamers recorded in 2015, only 29 % of them were 18 years old or younger, while 49% of them fell in the 18-49 age range and 27% of them were actually senior citizens. With an average gaming age of 31, as recorded by a recent Big Fish survey, gamers today have become a far cry from the stereotypical teenager some still picture.

What inspires gamers?

So if all genders, ages and personality types are playing – there is no longer a “gamer type” one can draw as a target. According to eMarketer, by the end of the year, more than 80% of US smartphone users will game on their devices!

So what makes “games” so appealing to such a wide diversity of audiences? Which elements of game play effectively hook a multitude of users of all ages, inspiring them to passionately play level after level, irrespective of age?

To answer this question, we referred to Yukaicho, and his revolutionary theory, Octalysis. Octalysis provides a fascinating explanation on how all good game mechanics essentially play into eight core human desires.

The psychological elements of game play.

We have prepared a simplified summary of the theory by explaining what those eight essential human desires are and the game mechanics that best channel them.

  1. Meaning – We all search for a form of meaning in our lives, whether it be in the form of religion, profession, family or anything else. Games that have players working together to form a greater entity and/or achieve a higher goal, help foster those feelings of meaning, whether it be by building new communities, eviscerating common enemies or forging new empires.
  2. Accomplishment- There’s no better feeling than kicking off your shoes at the end of a long day and feeling accomplished. Usually that happens after hours of backbreaking labor or intensive thought. But what if you could feel that way after playing a game? When games provide rewards for work well done, they tap into our primal need to feel accomplished. Each badge, booster, extra life or star, a player receives upon overcoming a difficult challenge, leaves him one step closer to that incredible feeling of accomplishment.
  3. Creativity–We all love to create. It’s invigorating, uplifting, and tends to remind us of our childhood. Games that let you personalize your gaming environment harp on that creative spirit and channel that very same energy. Whether it’s personalizing player attributes, designing a new city, or customizing your gaming environment, games can be a great way to help  get in touch with your inner creativity.
  4. Ownership –accumulating possessions and/or wealth provides us with a sense of power and pride. In the real world, we collect money, jewelry, furniture etc. In the gaming world, we can access those very same feelings by collecting virtual coins, currency, trading goods and properties, but without having to spend hoards of actual money doing so. It’s the ability to do so that keeps a player coming back for more.
  5. Social Influence – We all require human interaction. Some of us crave it quite a bit, others prefer it on a more minimalist basis, but regardless of how much social interaction we prefer, and what type we prefer, we all need it. Games play into that need in a variety of ways. Whether by joining a competitive game against other live players, getting together with friends to play games, or by interacting with a game’s social scoreboard, games provide a great method for tapping into our innate human need for social interaction.
  6. Scarcity – We tend to want what we can’t have. It’s the mere fact that it’s out of our reach that makes it so alluring. Games capitalize on that aspect of psychology to draw us in. For example, a game might provide players with a limited amount of weapons or gas, and then require them to perform a task or overcome a challenge before they can collect more. The desire to overcome the next challenge is what keeps gamers passionate about playing the game.
  7. Unpredictability – We all want to know what’s going to happen next. How the novel or movie will end or how our own life stories will unfold. It’s that feeling of suspense regarding the outcome that really draws us in and keeps us hooked. Games play into those feelings by keeping the surprises coming. When varying new elements are introduced, or curious surprises are displayed, it keeps that element of suspense going and keeps gamers fully engaged.
  8. Loss – there are a number of things we really don’t like to waste, such as our time, progress or work. We have fears associated with losing them, and will do our utmost to avoid it. Games play into those fears by threatening to lose our progress if we stop in the middle, or our work if we quit. It’s that acute fear of loss that keeps gamers so addicted and lies at the base of many gamers’ missed meals!


Everyone’s a gamer

A good game’s ability to touch upon our deepest desires and fears, and either fulfill them or threaten to turn them into a reality, is what lies at the base of today’s two billion game players and counting. It’s by taking the essence of our real human emotions, and triggering them on a microcosmic level, that has made gaming such an incredibly large and profitable industry, drawing in such a diverse audience of players. From age one to 101, you’ll now find gamers across the world tapping away at their smartphones, tablets, desktops and consoles, interacting with the world on a game sized level.