Everyone knows that one guy, the super huge fan that collects everything they can get their hands on that is based on a company, series, or specific game. I myself have a decent collection of items based on Final Fantasy and Dragon Age. Collecting is encouraged in the gaming community with limited runs of special game releases, special items, and even within the games themselves through item acquisition or the collecting of levels.
The psychology behind collection, and more so the deeper end of the pool, hoarding, has been studied for ages. Freud, the famous German psychologist liked to blame potty training for a persons innate desire to collect things. Yes, because we learned to poop in a toilet, we know have a desire to amass a collection of random objects. We can’t control when we poop, but we sure can control the items we collect. Think on that while pooping and playing Simpsons: Tapped Out on your phone. It would be very meta.
“the loss of control and what went down the toilet was a traumatic occurrence and that , therefore, the collector is trying to gain back not only control but “possessions” that were lost so many years ago.”
The reasons why people collect is more than just because of “the stuff,” it is the desire to fulfill a need that leads to positive reinforcement. Collecting makes people feel good.
“Acquiring is often associated with positive emotions, such as pleasure and excitement, motivating individuals who experience these emotions while acquiring to keep acquiring, despite negative consequences.”
Does gaming create a false sense of accomplishment? The rewards are not always tangible, especially when it is only proven through game data, but does that make the rewards of a well played game or a hard won achievement any less rewarding?
“People work for intangible rewards all the time. Money and love, for example. A paycheck may seem ‘solid,’ but it represents an abstraction. And what’s more abstract than earning an ‘A’ in philosophy?… Small things can be quite rewarding. A smile from a cute girl may be a small thing, but it can make a teenage boy’s week.”
Collecting in games gives the player a motivation to seek a reward, either through a special piece of armour for their character or collectable in the real world. Collecting in games is an accepted consequence of playing. Roleplaying games like Final Fantasy or Dragon Age reward the player when collecting all items in the game for example. Skyrim itself has a running joke about hoarding every random item you can find. You too can be a “Maximum-alist.” The reward you feel is the pride in acquiring a special item, or having the largest pile of random stuff in your game.
The negative consequences of in game hoarding and collecting are not as clear cut as physical hoarding addictions. While gamers can collect products and consoles that are tangible, the in game hoarding is only evidenced in game data. It is because of this that in game hoarding is not really viewed as an addiction or pathological, but rather simply a consequence of gaming and a means to brag to others about who has found what or unlocked a certain trophy. Hoarding is the proliferation of a collection to the point where it is developed into an unhealthy obsession and has become a pathological need to have stuff regardless of what it is. Most often gaming collections do not turn into a pathological desire, but remains simply a collection of a lot items related to gaming. Collecting all of the random things in Skyrim is not the same level of pathological hoarding as would filling your physical house with newspapers or random items for example.
There is a need to collect that games inherently tap into. Simply looking at the lifespan of the insanely popular Pokemon can show this. “Gotta collect them all” was an apt slogan for the 20 years the series has released games. Collecting games have started a new benchmark in gaming that has altered the way players collect. Pokemon feeds on the positive emotions associated with finding that rare legendary Pokemon, or finally catching that shiny. Pokemon started a trend of collecting not only in the game world but also through physical merchandise. There is stuffed toys as well as the collecting card game. Other games have altered what Pokemon started and created games where you collect real world items to use in the game in order to fully utilize gameplay.
Skylanders has made this adjustment into a landmark product. Players want each and every Skylander in order to not only collect each character, but in later versions of the games you need certain characters to gain access to locked areas in each level. It is brilliant game development, and one that seems like it should have been developed sooner considering the deep seeded need to collect in games.
Other games have started to tap into this market of ‘collecting to play a game.’ Disney created their Infinity line (which unfortunately has now been cancelled) and Lego created Dimensions to capitalize on this.
Collecting in gamer culture is a common occurrence. Conventions use this need to sell merchandise or release items that are only available during a certain convention. These days it seems every game is released with Day-One specials or items that are only available if you pre-order the game. Collecting of this magnitude is a badge of honour for most gamers, and is used in order to brag online or to their friends. Unlike in the real world where hoarding is frowned upon and seen as a pathological disorder, within gaming culture the need to hoard items in game is celebrated and encouraged. You never know if you need all 99 hi-potions or if that scrap metal is required for a ultimate upgrade later on.
Mark B. McKinley. The Psychology of Collecting
Analysis: The Psychology Behind Item Collecting And Achievement Hoarding — http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/114668/Analysis_The_Psychology_Behind_Item_Collecting_And_Achievement_Hoarding.php