Gen Con Seminar : The Psychology Of Gaming

So yeah I attended this seminar and it was very interesting although I think I was out of my depth at times…

The pitch for the event was – “Are you interested in psychology? Are you looking for some insight into what makes gamers tick? Come join a talk on some interesting connections between psychology and gaming.” – and I think they pretty much (if not entirely) nailed it.

The presenter was Justin Laplante and he kind of ended up doing this seminar by mistake.

An amusing sequence of events from Gen Con 2013 had Justin and some other fellow attendees turn up for this seminar only to find out it had been cancelled but rather than move on to their next event they decided to hold a kind of “workshop” approach to this.  Indeed several of those attendees were in the audience with one of them shouting “Weren’t you dressed up as a Wizard last year?” to several laughs.

So fair play to Justin for stepping up and this time being the host for the seminar.

It was a fairly academically heavy pitch (for me at least) and the audience seemed to contain a fair number of academics or pseudo-academics with a real interest in Psychology.  Something that very much made me (the layman who was intrigued) feel more than a little out of my depth.

What I did take from it though is that there haven’t been specific psychological analysis and in turn papers on the tabletop hobby and so the “science” of the topic just isn’t there.

What was covered though was that traditional approaches to this sort of research usually results in a very narrow band approach.  Essentially trying to distill the analysis down to as few conditional and environmental factors as possible.  This is primarily because of the need (or the perception thereof) for a proof to be defined.  After all, this is Science!

The audience participation throughout the seminar was fantastic to say the least.  It was particularly vibrant throughout the section where there was a discussion about “Geek Culture” and how it is defined.  Most of the supporting analysis for this was on the Video Games population but there are parallels.  Now this research was cited as an example on the definition of Geek and came up with 4 classifications that could be used.  Unfortunately I didn’t note down who completed the research so apologies if this is your work…

The classifications were –

  • Misfit – Socially awkward
  • Genius – Technology Expert
  • Super Fan – Must Have Everything!
  • Geek Chic – I missed a part of this definition but what I picked up was that this is essentially the borderline point where Geek things become popular.  Usually via pop culture references and the discussion here tended to focus on the plethora of superhero movies that we’ve seen in recent years.
Now for each of these I can see elements in myself.  I can also label people I know within the wider community with 1 or more of each of these.  However I don’t want to and I also don’t think that is the point here either.  The ability to distill a community helps us to understand how to a) grow that community through targeting those stereotypes and b) segregate the overall community which I think is a bad thing as it leads to exclusivity of the hobby.
There was some debate around the “geek badge” and wearing it with pride and I entirely echo that statement.  I don’t hide my hobby, it’s pretty much front centre when I meet new people. Even at work I talk about my hobby openly with the team and with others too (once I’ve actually y’know done the work stuff).
This also touched on “taking back” the geek identity from the borderline pop culture and the abhorrent “fake geek (girl or otherwise)” element of the community. Kovalic explains thus here. Again I want to be known as a geek but I also don’t want to be divisive in how that community is formed.
Whilst I believe retaining ownership of what constitutes the geek label is important I don’t think it should be to the detriment of the growth of the hobby as a whole.
So all in all it was a worthwhile hour but I kinda wish it had been more about avoiding the distinctions that make us geeks (e.g. the 4 classifications above) to enable the growth of the community as a whole.  But that’d probably be a whole different workshop!