There is thought provoking article by Doctor Professor on his Pixel Poppers blog about the psychology of achievement in games (discovered via Slashdot).
Doctor P points out that psychology teaches us that humanity divides into two camps when it comes to challenges. Performers love tackling easy challenges so they can overcome them and prove how great they are. Masters like tackling tough challenges so they can improve their own skill or knowledge. He then links this to gaming achievement and suggests that RPG games appeal to performers while action games appeal to masters. On realising that he himself was a natural performer who was addicted to rpgs he then made a concerted effort to retrain himself as a master because "it is the mastery orientation that is correlated with academic and professional success as well as self esteem and long term happiness".
Doctor P doesn't specifically mention mmorpgs but it is pretty clear that the guaranteed progression of the levelling game is performer heaven. On the other hand the tough challenges of end game often require serious preparation and many failed attempts before they can be overcome - these are more likely to appeal to masters surely.
I enjoy both mmorpgs and action games but I have never mastered either genre. I tend to zone out of mmos when it comes to the repetitive end game and I am generally content to wallow around mid table in multiplayer shooters. This suggests that I am a performer by nature but on the other hand I am generally very diligent at finishing single player games and I love getting stuck into a tough puzzle and worrying with it till I work it out.
I can think of some other Bloggers who have clearly identified their characteristics: Tipa of West Karana may be an avid mmorpger but anyone who spends months and months trying to overcome an obscure neo-pets puzzle is clearly a master. Bill Harris (curse you again Bill for not allowing comments) who has spent months learning to ride a unicycle is also an obvious master.
Have we any self confessed performers out there?