Connected: Who wants to play video games?

Video games. They’re not just shiny time-wasters occupying the attention of young people.

vectorstock 4105874There’s mounting evidence that playing a video game – any video game – can drastically improve your mood, reduce anxiety and enhance problem-solving abilities. Whether it’s the latest highly polished shooty-shoot title or a new freebie for your smartphone, games can provide concrete benefits to the way we interact with the world. And they’re fun.

The number of people playing video games is rising, and with the explosion in popularity of smartphones many people now have access to games almost anywhere. While there’s still some bastions of the “boys only” clubs of old, they’re becoming increasingly irrelevant as the demographics of players shift towards being more representational of the population.

It’s about experience

Games offer experiences as diverse as the people playing them. Puzzle games, simulators, role-playing games (RPGs), platform games and shooters all provide a different kind of interaction to the player. But things get even more layered, with games telling different kinds of stories, building experiences in sometimes unique and unexpected ways.

In the game Journey by ThatGameCompany, you play as a voiceless traveller. You begin the game in a desert and your goal is to reach the light at the top of a mountain. Sounds simple enough, but it’s one of the most beautiful and enriching experiences I’ve ever had as a player.

No spoilers, but it’s a game that manages to be about companionship, the beauty of nature and the dangers of industrialisation without ever uttering a single word. As the narrative progresses, the tone and mood shift from one scene to another, and if you chose to play online you may be accompanied by another player, a complete stranger, who you can only interact with through a series of chirps.

Find your flow

When playing video games and doing well, players will often enter a state that’s been named “cognitive flow”. It’s a state of mind that’s been theorised since 1972. Broadly described, it’s the band of activity between boredom and frustration. A good game experience is one where we’re not bored, but we also aren’t so frustrated we want to “ragequit”.

The benefits of cognitive flow can be present in our working life too. When we get into a good flow with work, tasks are easier, problems can be more readily solved. Video games can help us to achieve flow, or aspects of flow within our daily life, by teaching us resistance to frustration and boredom, and the rewards of overcoming difficult challenges.

Gamify me

The application of game mechanics can be applied to things other than games. It’s possible to use the principals of good game design in other parts of our lives. If you have a Fitbit or use Duolingo you’re using game principals to help build your fitness and learn a language. Game mechanics can help to build good habits, and people have been using them to develop easier and more delightful ways for people to go about their lives.

Games can be delightful, scary, fun, competitive or enlightening. They can be tools we use to explain the way we see the world to those around us. They can also help us to better understand or cope with the world. Or they can be a much-needed distraction. Video games are becoming a part of our popular culture, and they’re not about to go anywhere anytime soon.