8 Intrinsic Motivations for Play
Why do we engage?
In the ever-expanding world of interactive experiences – from riveting novels and immersive video games to tabletop RPGs – the underlying foundation remains rooted in one essential human instinct: play. This seemingly simple act is an intricate blend of motivations, emotions, and cognitive drives. At its core, play embodies joy, challenges, and a deep sense of fulfillment. But what drives us to engage in one game over another, or to be riveted by one story more than the next?
Understanding the intrinsic motivations behind play can provide invaluable insights for storytellers, RPG designers, dungeon masters, and authors alike. By tapping into these primal drivers, creators can craft experiences that resonate deeply, offering players and readers a journey they didn't even know they were yearning for.
There are four domains of fulfillment when engaging in play: Immersion, Competence, Autonomy, and Narrative. Within each, a player might be prioritizing Experience or Agency.
In this duality, Experience represents the passive or receptive aspect of play, where individuals consume, observe, learn, or feel. It's the realm of immersion, absorption, and wonder.
On the other hand, Agency embodies the active, participatory facet of play, where individuals influence, shape, decide, or create. It's about empowerment, influence, and creative expression.
With this in mind, let’s explore each aspect.
I want to exist in a coherent and believable world. (Experience)
One of the most profound allurements of play is the opportunity it presents for escapism. Whether it's a novel's vividly painted realm or a game's sprawling digital landscape, people yearn for a break from their everyday reality. By creating a coherent and believable world, designers can transport their audience, granting them respite and wonder in equal measure.
I want to generate creative ideas and see those affect the world state. (Agency)
Beyond mere escape, play also offers an avenue for creativity and agency. Players and readers seek not just to be passive consumers but active participants. When their innovative solutions or imaginative ideas tangibly affect the world they're engrossed in, it brings a sense of validation. Their input matters, and the world responds in kind.
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