Today we have a real treat. After reading my post regarding his research project, Tyler Beckett has graciously offered to expand upon the subject by offering a point of view from the researcher’s own mind. So please welcome Tyler’s debut on Melvin Smif’s Geekery!
Did you know that playing a taller avatar in a video game can trick you into driving a hard bargain? Did you know that players are more willing to help out women characters in video games, regardless of the gender of the player? That’s not the least bit rational, but it’s true. We are all affected by these tiny decisions that game designers make, and most of us don’t know or notice.
Video game research is well-funded when compared to tabletop research; it’s a bigger industry, and there’s more attention and money. So they get to explore all these connections, get to ask what exactly influences player decisions. For me that means I’m reading research about who plays WoW and why or how Dragon Age lets me sleep with my favorite characters, and I’m wondering how I can apply that to tabletop. Usually that’s enough.
But this time, folks, it is not, and I am here specifically to discover something about tabletop RPGs. Your usual host, Melvin Smif, was kind enough to talk about it in his own post, so if you haven’t already, go there to hear his thoughts. But the gist of this little article is this: I am conducting a research project into our amazing hobby, and I ask for your help.
Do players form strong bonds with their characters? To many of us, the answer may seem obvious. You spend hours playing and healing and leveling your kickass dragonborn fighter; how could you not? But I want to verify that it’s true for our community, and I want to go even further: do we form strong bonds with our characters even when they are dramatically different from us?
I am asking, specifically, about gender and sexuality. Do we become attached to our characters even when they are a different gender, or if they love people we would never love? Are we as attached to those characters as the ones that are more similar to us? Those are big questions, and like the rogue who thinks they probably know which vial is a potion and which is poison, I dislike uncertainty.
So let’s investigate. I have a survey here which will ask basic questions about your attachment and motivations in tabletop RPGs. Or if you’d rather, take this survey about times you’ve played characters with different genders and/or sexualities. Just one per person, please, and that will get us great research.
I started by discussing how subtle game design choices affect players, and I want to bring it back to that, because really that’s why this research is important. If video gamers are more likely to help female avatars than male, should tabletop games use more disguised succubus to trap us? If all video gamers, regardless of gender, frequently heal more when they have women avatars than when they have male avatars, should Wizards of the Coast and Paizo nerf women clerics? Those aren’t serious suggestions, intended more to point out how silly our own unconscious choices can be.
But what if game masters and game designers learn how to adapt to these quirks? What if, through this research, we learn that players can form attachment regardless of character identity, and we learn how that happens? Maybe our games could use these discoveries to enrich our experiences. Maybe they could incorporate the subtle mechanics so that when men play as women or lesbians play as bisexuals the differences help us become more attached, in much the same way we already love characters whose quirks are entirely different from our own.
It’s a big goal, and I don’t know for sure that I’ll pull it off. But I play tabletop, and if I’ve learned anything from those games, it’s how rewarding our adventures are when we take chances.