I recently read Phil Vecchione’s article Levels of Play. In it (and the sequel), Phil discusses four aspects of player style: game, character, group, and story; and how GMs can accommodate all four throughout gameplay to engage all of their players.
Near the end of his article, Phil talks about players advancing along his progression of levels throughout their tabletop-playing careers. We all have recognized that a novice player most often focuses on the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of the game, and often moves into the “higher” levels as he or she spends more time with the hobby. However, I think that rather than being a macroscopic progression, this growth is triggered very specifically by a similar progression within individual games in which the player is gaming.