Psychology of games

Have you ever had one of those days where you just question everything, especially what you’re doing with your life?

Today I woke up realising I sit in front of my computer for too many hours a day, only to watch life whizz by.

Well no shit Sherlock. So does everyone else!

I work on my computer, but it’s my choice to spend many hours after work glued to another screen. In fact, most of my waking time is spent like that. Absolutely no exercise, very few nights out, close to 0 social interaction after work and all the stacked up hours really made me realise that I’m missing out on reality.

I play games more often than I should. I admit it, but there’s little motivation to put an end to it. I do it for fun, and I especially like to play through a single player campaign and enjoy the story. I’m constantly being surprised by developers’ creativeness as well as modern computer graphics. For instance, I finished playing through Call of Duty Black Ops 3’s campaign in a couple of nights, and it was fenomenal. Absolutely fantastic, beyond words.

My need for gaming is usually linked with stressful moments in college. At the worst times, nothing relaxes and clears my head than an after dinner playing something new. But, time-aware readers will realise that this post was written in August, and since my campus is closed (yes, they do that) I have to work from home — or at least try to. It’s more tempting to just go crazy and spend these few days playing than to go read the pile of books I need to get through.
Fortunately, practicing some mindfulness has made me realize I need to step on the breaks and maybe do a bit of both. After all, except gods and demigods, all mortals need vacations.

Still, I was very curious as to why I feel and my apparent addiction to computer games. After all, spending your scarce holidays playing video games is one way to waste beautiful days outside, or just trips to the beach/pool. What triggered this sudden epiphany and search for an explanation was my recent addiction to Pokémon GO. My initial reaction to it was something along the lines of:

WOW! Finally, a game that’ll make me go out more! I’ll spend fewer hours on the PC and everybody will be happy!

This is true, and since I started playing Pokémon Go I did go out more. I meet up with friends or family and I go and walk a couple of miles 3–4 times a week. Whether you like the game or not, I think the way it entices its users to exercise and play in groups is unparalleled. But still, the problem is still there. Apart from engaging in social activity and exercise while playing this particular game, I play it because I want to. But why…?

Why do we feel the need to play games and invest a great amount of time into becoming good at them? Heck, some people end up not having fun because they try too hard:

It is clear that some of us do it for fun, but that is the obvious answer. Casual gaming will always be present in our lives, and with good reason. It helps us relax in difficult times and provides some much needed distraction.

Casual gaming does not explain why games have such an important part in our daily lives, at least not for me. Of course, there will be people that prefer watching TV series over gaming, but I believe gaming is the most popular choice for my demographic.

Can we divide gaming into just casual and competitive gaming? If so and if we leave out the casual players, why do we feel the need to compete amongst ourselves, for prestige, to be good, but what does that really pay off? This made me remember a video from VSauce on YouTube:

If you don’t Michael from VSauce, you’ve been missing out. The videos are always very intriguing.

I didn’t even put a starting point on the video, you need to watch the whole thing. Seriously.

So my initial idea was that there is some interest in being remembered. Being on a page of a book if you die tomorrow, stating that you were the fastest speed runner of Super Marios Bros., for instance.
People have risked their lives for a shot at holding a world record, which interestingly almost made Guinness World Records stop any world records that would involve competitive eating. People would just eat and collapse.

I’m mixing two things here: the need to play, and the reason behind competitive gaming. The need to play is explained by Michael in his enlightening video in which he concludes that games quickly reward us unlike what happens in real life, where rewards are few and far apart.

So in the end, I guess it’s just a chemical addiction to rewards. We crave life’s rewards, but since they might take a while we seek them in the games we play. Game rewards are small but stack high enough to become important. They keep you motivated to keep going in other aspects in your life. I guess that’s the take for this post.

Finally, there’s just one thing left to say about those weird people that manage not to play at all. I’m not denying that they’re the devil, they might be. But is it possible that people that don’t play at all are just terrible at games? Think about it: if you’re terrible at most games they can get quite frustrating. If you can’t play them, you don’t reap those tiny rewards that other people seem to enjoy so much.

Here’s to more games like Pokémon Go that can actually get us off our asses and take us outside to see the world as it is (although a bit less attentive). In any case, don’t let games take over your life. The key to making sure that never happens is to practice mindfulness and pay attention to your gaming habits. If you ever get a feeling it’s excessive — it probably is.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a Nidoking outside my house that needs to be on my Pokédex.