Games in many forms have somewhat taken over our modern life. Oh, who am I kidding–they’ve taken over almost all of our lives these days. Even buying groceries is a game for extreme couponers; even Facebook is a game for social networkers. We love the competition, pleasantly pitting ourselves against friends and neighbors to see how many virtual crops we can grow in a week, how many items we can sell on eBay, etc.
But WHY do we game? Why is this such an important part of our world culture? I think there are five reasons why:
#1: Escape from Real Life
For most of us, life is either the drudgery of a 9-to-5, days full of hectic parenthood, or a combination of both. Games, by contrast, are things we don’t have to do, things we aren’t expected to succeed at (at least the first time), and are a way for our brains to wind down. During the time we’re gaming, we don’t have to think about our responsibilities outside the game.
#2: Mental Challenge
Games help us think in different ways, whether it’s fitting all the blocks together just so on Tetris or figuring out how not to get killed on Call of Duty. Some people unwind best when faced with a totally new type of challenge, one they would never see in their day-to-day work or family life. Plus, it can boost your real-life ego when you conquer a challenge in your virtual life.
#3: Social Competition
Admit it: It’s fun to see how your skills stack up against somebody else’s, even if we’re just growing some crops in Farmville. That’s why the Playstation Network and XBox Live exist–we as a human race like to compete against each other, both to test our own skills and to see how we compare to others. Virtual competition just takes some of the physicality out of the contest and makes it into a mental competition, leveling the playing field somewhat for people (like me) who aren’t as sports-oriented.
#4: Entertainment Experience
When a game is really fun, it’s a memorable experience, and we actively seek it out again and again. It’s like watching a favorite movie again–reliving it brings back some of the fond memories of the first experience, and we build on those memories as we replay. Games are not just challenges, but interactive entertainment, and it activates some of the same emotions, memories, and morals/values that other forms of entertainment do.
#5: Fantasy Experience
Some games are more based on social interactions than anything, and this brings in yet another element: fantasy. You might think this is interconnected with the “escape from real life” point, and it partially is; however, in a game with a heavy social interaction component, such as The Sims or even World of Warcraft, you can literally make yourself over in a fantasy world. You can feel more open to speak your mind, be funnier and wittier than you usually get a chance to be otherwise. You may even begin to judge people by what they say instead of their avatar’s looks!
I believe gaming has become very important to us today because it fulfills many of our needs. Yes, we have a real life to return to outside of our games, but games do help us to unwind, challenge ourselves, compete socially, be entertained, and experience a very different type of life.