GWS 2020: Personality and motivations

Preliminary: the 2020 Great Wargaming Survey included a set of questions supplied by Prof.Dr. Astrid Schütz and Dr.Robert Körner of Bamberg University, Germany. They had earlier written an article about the motivations of a small set of German wargamers. We contacted them to see if they were interested in using the thoroughly anonymized set of responses of wargamers worldwide. They were. An academic (paywall) article has been published in the meantime. Below is the article they wrote for us.

How personality is related to motivations of miniature wargame playing

by Robert Körner & Astrid Schütz

University of Bamberg, Germany

Are there distinct motivations in miniature wargaming? That is, do people play for different reasons and how is their personality related to their gaming motives? Using data collected by the Great Wargaming Survey (GWS) 2020, we pursued the question “who plays what and why”. Over 10,000 individuals mainly from North America, Europe, and Australia participated in the GWS 2020 and responded to various questions on personality and gaming motives. The findings have recently been published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. Personality is characterized by certain patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, which have been shaped by our genes and our environment. The most widely accepted contemporary model of personality is the so-called Big Five model, consisting of five dimensions that can be remembered by the acronym OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. These personality traits have been observed across cultures. The personality of an individual can be understood as a relatively stable profile along these dimensions. Persons who are open-minded appreciate cultural and aesthetic impressions, are interested in art and nature as well as unconventional ideas. Conversely, less open persons can be dogmatic and closed-minded. People who describe themselves as conscientious are usually disciplined, dependable, and strive for accuracy. People low on conscientiousness are less disciplined and avoid challenging tasks. Extraverted people are confident, assertive, and sociable, they like social gatherings and interactions. Introversion, by contrary, is related to feeling unpopular, shy, and less lively. Agreeable persons prefer compromising and cooperation, they are considered kind and helpful. Disagreeable individuals, however, tend to be critical of others’ shortcomings and are often considered argumentative. Finally, neuroticism is the experience of negative emotions as anxiety or depression. The reverse pattern is called emotional stability. Emotional stable persons can buffer against stressful events, describe themselves as calm and relatively free from negative feelings.

Questions in the GWS

We used a widely adopted psychometric questionnaire with ten statements to assess the Big Five. For example, we asked to what extent you agree with the following description of yourself: “conventional, uncreative” (i.e. low openness). After that questionnaire, a measure on gaming motivations followed. To capture motivations, we referred to the Trojan Player Typology, a cross-genre gaming motivation questionnaire. Six types of motivations are distinguished: socializers, completionists, competitors, escapists, story-driven, and smarty-pants. Socializers engage in games for social reasons such as building friendships (“I like to meet new people when wargaming”). Completionists are motivated to explore several aspects of a game (“I like to figure out how the game works inside and out”). Competitions emphasize winning and victory as important (“I play to win”). Escapists play to get away from everyday issues. Further, they prefer fantasy elements in games (“Miniature wargames allow me to pretend I am someone/somewhere else”). Individuals characterized as story-driven want to learn everything about a game and are interested in suspenseful in-game stories (“I like stories in a game”). Finally, smarty-pants play to enhance their cognitive abilities (“Games make me smarter”). To predict the gaming motivations on the basis of personality we computed statistical analyses. In the following, we present the most relevant results. We found that open, extraverted, and agreeable persons like to play out of socializing. Openness was particularly strongly related to that motivation. Further, we found conscientious people play for reasons other than socializing. By contrast, people low in conscientiousness tend to engage in miniature wargames to make friends or chat during gaming. Alternatively, conscientious people sometimes prefer activities beyond the gaming component of miniature wargames such as painting figurines. 


The completion motivation was especially prominent in people reporting high openness. With respect to video games, openness has been reported to be positively related to exploring new areas and this seems true for miniature wargames too. Agreeableness was strongly negatively related to the completion motive. This means that disagreeable individuals wanted to complete various aspects of the game more strongly than others. Agreeable players probably are more reluctant to explore each and every element of miniature wargames, because they may want to avoid features with a strong emphasis on fighting. 'Competitionists' were typically emotionally stable and relatively low on agreeableness. As agreeable individuals prefer cooperation to competition, they like to engage in miniature wargame activities beyond fighting. Because competition is emotionally straining, and as neuroticism is characterized by emotional instability, emotionally unstable people also tend to avoid competition. Overall, most gamers indicated that winning or being the strongest and most skilled persons in the game is not the most important issue, however. This dovetails with past research in which we found competition-related psychological characteristics such as authoritarianism, disagreeableness, or risk-taking are actually lower in miniature wargamers than in others. The story-driven motivation was particularly high in open-minded, agreeable, and emotionally unstable people. As openness is linked to valuing fantasy and intellectual curiosity, it makes sense that open people like in-game stories. With respect to emotional instability, it can be assumed that immersing oneself in a story can help to escape from everyday stressors. In line with that, people who play to escape from real life scored higher on neuroticism as well as openness than others. Finally, smarty-pants, that is gamers who want to train their cognitive abilities, reported to be open-minded. Openness is also linked to intelligence and academic performance. All in all, open-minded people play miniature wargames to develop strategies and enjoy intellectual stimulation. Overall, the results show that different individuals have different motivations for playing miniature wargames. In other words, players’ personalities are linked to which elements of wargaming they like most. Yet, the motivation questionnaire pertained to only gaming but not to other important elements of the wargaming activity such as collecting or painting miniatures. Personality characteristics such as conscientiousness and openness may also be related to the time someone spends with collecting and painting as well as the satisfaction a person derives from these activities. We would like to extend our thanks to everyone who completed the questionnaire—without your help, this research would not be possible. Thank you!

Further reading

  • Körner, R., & Schütz, A. (2021). It is not all for the same reason! Predicting motivations in miniature wargaming on the basis of personality traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 173, 110639.
  • Körner, R., Kammerhoff, J., & Schütz, A. (2021). Who commands the little soldiers? A comparison of the personality traits of miniature wargame players with other gamers and non-gamers. Journal of Individual Differences, 42(1), 19–29.
  • Meriläinen, M., Stenros, J., & Heljakka, K. (2020). More than wargaming: Exploring the miniaturing pastime. Simulation & Gaming.
  • Yarwood, R. (2015). Miniaturisation and the representation of military geographies in recreational wargaming. Social & Cultural Geography, 16(6), 654–674.

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