Games are just awesome. They really are.
When an artist paints a painting, or a musician writes a piece of music, they do it for a few reasons. They do it to express their creativity, they do it to bring something awesome into this world, but most of all, they do it to elicit an emotional response in people.
A video game is just that, it’s the culmination of visuals, audio, literature and gameplay. It’s a piece of art that can be experienced, something that the player can actually be fully immersed in.
“Players are artists who create their own reality within the game.” – Shigeru Miyamoto
So games are fun, they’re pretty, they’re immersive. But is there more to them than meets the eye?
When I worked as a software developer I started noticing that most, if not all of the people who I worked with grew up playing video games. My first thought was that people who played video games tended to be introduced to technology at a young age, and as such, found themselves going into technical fields when they sprouted into adults. After further digging, a bit of research and many a game of Battle Block Theater later I came to a different conclusion. People who play games are drawn to technical fields because they need their fix of problem solving in every day life. Whether this is creating something meaningful or crunching some hard numbers, all of these things have a goal and an obstacle that needs to be overcome in order to achieve that goal.
I know this chart is a pretty terrible bastardization of causation vs correlation, but I thought it may serve my point.
Evolutionarily people have a craving for problem solving. It’s something that we get immense pleasure from doing, and that is what games (not just video games) address. People love playing games because of the satisfaction gained from solving problems (among other things). Yes, stories and graphics in games are great, but they are not completely necessary. Think about tic-tac-toe or solitaire. These are games where people get joy from nothing but pure problem solving and deductive logic.
That brings me to my next point. Video games nurture the problem solving “muscle” and as this trait is strengthened, a person’s craving for problem solving increases. This can be both a great and a destructive characteristic. On the one hand, people become more adept at problem solving and garner a greater sense of agency. On the other hand, video game addiction.
Agency is a pretty cool personality trait to have. It is essentially the belief that you are in control of your own destiny. People with a high sense of agency are generally more comfortable with failure (this is a good thing). Being comfortable with failure is important as it is a key factor in perseverance. It’s the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and then jump right back into the shit.
Video games stimulate agency as there is always a way to succeed in a video game. There is a way to defeat the big boss. There is a way to escape from Castle Wolfenstein. Knowing that there is a way to succeed makes you more likely to continue trying, and these repeated attempts and final success can, and usually does subconsciously transfers to a person’s real world experiences, making them more likely to try multiple avenues of approach to problems they encounter in everyday life, as opposed to just giving up.
“Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.” – Jane McGonigal
With more and more people playing games every day, I believe that we are cultivating a generation of problem solvers, people who are comfortable with failure and people with the ability to think about problems logically and creatively.