Life Lessons Learned from Computer Games

Martin Rezny
Words of Tomorrow
Published in
5 min readJan 20, 2016

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And why I believe there is hope for the future

By MARTIN REZNY

Since I’m a member of the first generation to grow up playing computer games from an early age en masse, I’ve been thinking for a while what we could have possibly learned from spending years doing so. If you listen to many of the people who are even only slightly older, people to whom a computor is an alien device from the future, you’d come to believe there’s nothing educational about computer games, let alone anything allowing for personal growth. Just clicks and beeps, and why don’t you read a book instead.

In my opinion, Bair’s way of comparing chess, a classic ancient game, to Tetris, one of the seemingly most simplistic computer games ever made, shows how the computery nature of an activity or lack thereof are really not the point at all. It’s the game design, the philosophy of the world or a mindset that the games that we play subconsciously instill in our natures as we try to master them over and over again.

The world can be looked at in many different ways — a collection of stuff, a movement of forces, an epic story, an illusion, and many others, each offering a unique insight into its workings. Looking at it as a game certainly has its advantages.

Games are typically centered around concepts like enjoyment, success, improvement of skill over time, or at the very least, openness to experience. Along these lines of thinking, I believe that we have learned plenty from computer games. Here are four examples:

1) Be a player, a hero, not an NPC.

While there is some risk that pushing this perspective to the extreme can reinforce one’s protagonist fallacy (belief that the whole world is centered around them, which in most game worlds tends to be true), that’s not really the mindset that I believe most people take away from playing games.

Especially considering that almost everyone playing games has been exposed to some form of multiplayer and therefore faced or tried to cooperate with other human beings, who all were players and often heroes, the typical experience of a player of games is hardly ever solipsistic.

I believe the mentality that playing as a hero character reinforces is that there’s no point (and no fun) in not being proactive. Few things are more frustrating in games to players than the feeling that their actions in game have no meaningful impact on how it moves along or how it achieves its resolution.

Being there just along for the ride, a passive bystander, runs directly counter to the interactive nature of the medium, and I’d be surprised if this rejection of inaction and inconsequentiality didn’t spill over into one’s real life.

2) All problems can be solved, it only requires persistence

There’s a strange joy in playing a game that is hard, an enjoyment of overcoming difficulty. Games are typically designed with a learning curve, which, when done right, is just steep enough to provide a constant challenge throughout the entire length of the game.

Playing a game that’s too easy actually becomes very boring very quickly, and similarly, there’s no point in playing a game that’s rigged so that it cannot be fun to play (but more about those in lesson four). I know for a fact this mentality translates well to reality.

I wasn’t sure why it was when I was growing up, but I never ever had a fear that something is beyond my ability to accomplish. If only I stick with it long enough, and try hard enough, I knew it’s just a matter of time and finite number of attempts before my skill reaches a sufficient level.

English, for example, is something I’ve learned on my own just by playing games before the age of 15. It’s not my native language, no one from my family or friends knew it, and I understood and spoke it before I ever took a course in it, met any English speakers in real life, or had access to the internet. Impossible, right.

3) Progress isn’t just normal, it‘s inevitable and good

One of the aspects of gameplay involving computers is especially unique and endlessly impressive to me — the computer games and everything around them improve constantly. What more, the improvement is so fast, it can be observed in real time on human timescales.

At first, I was loading games from tapes for like 45 minutes each to usually see them fail to load. Few years later, I was installing games spread over 20 or so floppy discs. Then four CDs I had to go to store to buy, then download anywhere, anytime. During that time, games added millions of colors, a new dimension, orchestral music, voice over, not to mention mechanics.

The importance of this as something a whole generation has witnessed unfolding is that there’s no going back from a first hand knowledge that things can be made better over time. If games can be improved at such a rapid pace, why can’t social structures evolve as well? Aren’t those just games, anyway?

If there are clear ways in which games can be improved toward clear goals like greater efficiency and more rewarding experience, why would that be entirely inapplicable to anything else humans do? Isn’t economy a game? Aren’t politics a game? What about education or bureaucracy? That’s a mentality that will make parents build a better future for their children.

4) Nobody should play a bad game

As for games that are ill designed and unrewarding, why would a player play them? If there are alternatives, if games can be fun and fair and meaningful, why would anyone who has this experience settle for less? Why shouldn’t game designers do a better job next time around?

Even a basic understanding of how supporting a bad game by buying it or participating in it sends a completely wrong message to whomever is producing the games, is simply one of the most important life lessons anyone can ever learn.

A society that just accepts bad games will see its labor unions die and work culture become punishing to the worker, its markets overrun with inferior and overpriced goods, its socially beneficial institutions disappear, its political culture devolve into conservative and corrupt mudslinging arena, and its crime grow and become seen as a normal part of life.

It may sound exaggerated, but all of that’s just a natural ever-present pressure exerted by the power hungry exploiters on the unsuspecting public. It’s only the constant resistance to this pressure by ordinary people, refusal to tolerate bullshit or participate in it, that can keep the game that is society unbroken for all of the people who play it.

And that’s why I believe there’s hope for our generation.

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