PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

The personalities of miniature wargame players

Robert Körner, Jana Kammerhoff, and Astrid Schütz (Otto-Friedrich-University of Bamberg) have just published a fascinating article in the Journal of Individual Differences (2020) entitled “Who Commands the Little Soldiers? A Comparison of the Personality Traits of Miniature Wargame Players With Other Gamers and Non-Gamers.” The article is pay-walled, so you will need an individual or institutional subscription to access the full text.

The popularity of miniature wargames (MWGs) has recently been on the rise. We aimed to identify the personality characteristics of people who play MWGs. Whereas the popular media have suspected that fantasy role-playing and war-related games cause antisocial behavior, past research on tabletop role-playing has shown that gamers are creative and empathetic individuals. Previous studies have investigated pen-and-paper tabletop games, which require imagination and cooperation between players. Tabletop MWGs are somewhat different because players compete against each other, and there is a strong focus on war-related actions. Thus, people have voiced the suspicion that players of this type of game may be rather aggressive. In the present study, 250 male MWG players completed questionnaires on the Big Five, authoritarianism, risk-orientation, and motives as well as an intelligence test. The same measures were administered to non-gamers, tabletop role-playing gamers, and first-person shooter gamers.

Their findings? Tabletop wargamers are a lot like other gamers* and don’t fit the anti-social stereotype very well:

In the present study, we analyzed differences in intelligence, risk-orientation, authoritarianism, as well as other motives and personality traits between players of MWGs and comparison samples comprised of people who played other types of games and the general population. When compared with the GP, MWG players reported higher openness, higher extraversion, and lower conscientiousness. The same pattern was found when comparing tabletop RPG players with the GP, suggesting that MWG players and RPG players resemble each other. Both types of gamers also reported more openness than FPS gamers. MWG players and RPG players also reported lower conscientiousness than the GP, which may be surprising as painting little soldiers or familiarizing oneself with complex rule-sets are activities that require exactness and a focus on detail. It is possible that the gamers do not view themselves as conscientious in everyday life, but when they engage in gaming activities, they may be rather thorough. Hence, follow-up studies could compare how gamers describe themselves with respect to their everyday activities and their gaming behavior.

No differences between the groups were found for neuroticism and agreeableness. Thus, gamers cannot be regarded as emotionally unstable or disagreeable

individuals – as some stereotypes claim. With regard to rea- soning ability, all players scored higher than participants from the GP. Results also indicated significant differences with respect to conventionalism, authoritarian submission, and authoritarian aggression such that all three groups of gamers described themselves as less authoritarian than participants from the GP did. Of the groups of gamers, RPG players reported the least authoritarian attitude.

With respect to everyday risk-orientation, MWG players’ self-reports were similar to those of RPG players, and both types of gamers reported less risk-orientation than non- gamers. FPS gamers reported a similar risk-orientation as the GP. Interestingly, MWG (and RPG and FPS) players described themselves as acting in a significantly more risk-oriented way during gaming than in their everyday lives. Apparently, gaming behavior does not transfer to everyday behavior. Alternatively, gaming could actually compensate for everyday behavior (i.e., cautious people might like to take risks in a context where no real danger exists).

Regarding motives, MWG players had higher affiliation values than individuals from the GP and the RPG sample. No differences between MWG players and others were found on the power, achievement, and fear motives. With respect to intimacy motives, MWG players scored higher than RPG players did. Apparently, MWG players appreciate close interpersonal relationships.

To summarize, in line with our second hypothesis, MWG players may be seen as open-minded, empathetic, non authoritarian individuals. The competing hypothesis that described MWG players as war-loving, power-oriented, and irreconcilable was not supported by players’ self- reports.

Further, people will only engage in these games during their leisure time if they experience MWG activities as pleasant. The sample of MWG players was high in openness, intelligence, and affiliation. This suggests that the ludological concept of enjoying a pastime may well describe the background of MWGs. Only people who perceive these complex and sociable games that require strategic thinking as a pleasant pastime will be attracted by these games.

Overall, the stereotypes that gamers are antisocial (DeRenard & Kline, 1990) as claimed by the media from the 1980s and 1990s to the present day (Curran, 2011) were not supported. Instead, the present results fit into the RPG literature that portrays RPG gamers as empathetic and socially skilled (Curran, 2011; Meriläinen, 2012). However, the stereotype of gamers as nerdy and sharp-minded does seem to have a kernel of truth, and because reasoning scores were high in all three samples of gamers. And as reasoning ability is a key predictor of academic and occupational success (Kramer, 2009), MWG players cannot easily be dismissed as acting in a dysfunctional manner.

You’ll notice, however, that all of the subject sample (n=250) is male—underscoring the lack of diversity in hobby wargaming.

The sample group is also German-speaking, leaving open the possibility that their are differences across national gaming communities. Almost one-third of the sample were Warhammer 40K players. While the Warhammer community harbours a significant racist and misogynist subcommunity attracted by the dark dystopian militarism of the 40K game universe, other parts of it are also extremely diverse and open.

In terms of future research, the authors note:

This study provides initial insights into personality differences between MWG players and others. In future investi- gations, it will be fruitful to use experimental or longitudinal designs to draw conclusions about causality and answer questions such as: Can MWGs improve participants’ social skills? Can creativity and intelligence be enhanced by engaging in MWGs? Furthermore, observer ratings or infor- mant reports could be included to provide information beyond self-reports. Another interesting question would be whether personality traits predict certain motives to play MWGs (see Graham & Gosling, 2013). All in all, further psychological and transdisciplinary research in the field of MWGs may help us understand the roles of games and playing in forming psychological attitudes and abilities.

As we showed, MWG players are a distinct sample that has a specific personality pattern. Commanding little soldiers and fighting other gamers with the help of these soldiers seems to be an activity that is preferred by open, unconventional people with a high affiliation motive – and it is even possible that the activity may be suitable for developing social skills such as negotiating. Why not engage in MWGs?

*MWG: miniature wargame(rs) FPS: first-person shooters RPG: role-playing game(rs) GP: general population

7 responses to “The personalities of miniature wargame players

  1. DC 07/07/2020 at 12:28 pm

    Tracy Johnson — agreed. I grew up with a lot of that sentiment, e.g.: “You must be some kind of anti-social war-monger.” I have played wargames for over 30 years and been involved in the historical reenacting community (portraying Civil War, WWI, and WWII). No, I am not obsessed with war, and served in the U.S. Army through the first Gulf War — as a vet, I know what real conflict looks like. However, as a historian, these are the perfect hobbies. They help me “go back in time” and resolve issues, answer questions, and get a better sense of how things developed to where they are today. They also teach excellent strategic, problem-solving skills, and interpersonal and friendly competition. Most importantly, they help teach about history. In the end, I still agree with your lead soldiers comment — I’ve always told people, “wouldn’t it be great if nations could get together and wargame out their conflicts instead of killing each other?”

  2. Charles Turnitsa 10/06/2020 at 3:56 pm

    It appears as if our German speaking colleagues are doing quite well, are stable, and are performing admirably in society. Now if I could only get more members of my wargaming club to speak German!

  3. Rex Brynen 09/06/2020 at 4:31 pm

    Tracy: Good point, I’ve added an explanation.

  4. Tracy Johnson 09/06/2020 at 3:31 pm

    Since the 1960s there was also the anti-war sentiment propagated by opponents of the genre who at one extreme would simply shun war-gamers. A counter-argument was “Little lead soldiers don’t leave behind little lead widows and orphans.” Albeit I think pacifist sentiment is less than it was.

  5. Tracy Johnson 09/06/2020 at 2:01 pm

    Many acronyms are undefined here and in the abstract. Unless you know the jargon offhand. I’ll take a guess at FPS=(First Person Shooter); GP=(General Population); RPG=(Role Playing Gamers).

    Just in case of someone new to Simulations and is a First Time Reader (FTR). OK I made that up myself.

  6. D R 09/06/2020 at 11:35 am

    I will refrain from the more obvious sarcastic responses, but if they had attended almost any miniatures convention they may have changed their report findings within 5 minutes of entering the door!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: