The Psychology of Magic the Gathering

Ever since OZ ComicCon the D1DLC team have been hooked by Magic: The Gathering. This is where our addiction to cardboard crack began…. 

This year at comic con I was fortunate enough to attend a panel on the psychology of Magic the Gathering (MTG) hosted by The Brain Doctor a psychologist here in Adelaide and Jane a researcher of psychology and games, both Adam and Jane are avid magic players. I say fortunate because as someone who previously knew nothing about MTG I walked away from the panel not only interested in the game but with a good understanding of what attracts people to the game and what keeps people returning.

One of the highlights for me was the discussion on the three player types that magic attracts, and whilst this was focused on magic I found myself relating it to many other social or competitive games such as hearthstone. The First player type discussed was the Timmy/Tammy player whose main focus when playing magic is to interact and socialise with other people, the big draw card for these players is the social community that MTG creates and fosters, these are the people who attend MTG events even if they are not playing.

The second type of player that Adam and Jane discussed was the Johnny/Jenny, these are the players who love building decks and find themselves trying out new combinations and strategies when they have free time. The call of Magic for these players is a combination of creating a new deck or multiple decks and the spirit of competition. Winning for these players is not their main focus, they simply enjoy the competitive nature of the game and like doing the unexpected, controlling the game and if they do win they like to win in style.

The final player type that was mentioned was the Spike. Players that align with the Spike player type are those whose main goal in playing magic is simply to win, they are normally not interested in the deck building side of the game and will often copy successful decks from competitions or research on the internet. These players often don’t enjoy magic as much if they are losing a lot and will often spend more to ensure they are always competitive.

I found this really interesting as it made me stop and think about my own style of game play in other games, I found myself relating the most to the spike. When I play a competitive game my focus is on the best way to beat my opponent.

Another great segment of the panel was on one of the major attractions to MTG, the experience of opening a card pack. This was run by Adam who brought in an unopened pack of cards from an older generation. He proceeded to ask the audience if they remembered the feeling of opening a pack and rate their excitement of the memory on a scale of one to ten. Adam then proceeded to show us the pack and explained that in the pack there was a chance of getting a card worth up to $150 and proceeded to open the pack and look through the cards without divulging anything to the crowd.

Once he opened the pack he then asked the crowd to again reflect on their feeling as he opened the pack, I can’t speak for the rest of the crowd but I found myself on the edge of my seat in anticipation, wondering if he got anything valuable. Adam used this as a prop to show the effects that MTG has on people. Much like any addictive substance, the feeling of opening a pack that could contain a valuable card stimulates the pleasure centre of the brain which over time can cause a dependency and addiction to the game.

For me these were the two biggest highlights of the panel but there was a lot more information presented. Both Adam and Jane are planning to host another similar panel at AVCon this year, if you are attending I would highly recommend sitting in on their talk as they are both incredibly knowledgeable and provide great insights into the mind of a gamer. Whilst the talk was focused on Magic the Gathering I found a lot of the information comparable to many of the other games I play. It made me think about the type of player I am, the way I play and also evaluate my choices when deciding to play or buy games.

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