Why Do We Play Video Games?

Saikrishna Gaddam, Contributing Writer

Since the 1970’s video games have been a part of  the main stream,  beginning with old style arcade machines to the “Next-gen” Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Ever since arcade videogames, gaming consoles and home computer games were introduced, gaming has become a popular form of entertainment and a part of modern culture in most parts of the world. As this new generation has joined the ranks of gamers,  many people look down on this form of entertainment, calling it a waste of time and wonder why kids are hooked onto it. So, why are they?  Why do we play video games?

The many gamers who quickly respond with “because it’s fun” are only scratching the surface of this question. What we need ask ourselves is what need does playing videogames fill in our lives to make us want to? People do what works, and if our needs weren’t fulfilled by videogames we would not play them. Scott Rigby a gaming psychologist  and coauthor on the book Glued to Games, says that videogames help us satisfy the self-determination theory. The self-determination theory says that human beings have three fundamental needs:  competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Competence is the sense of mastery, the feeling of honing a skill just right. Autonomy is the sense that you have control over your actions and to extent, the world.   Finally there is relatedness, the feeling that we matter to others and that we are making a contribution to society. These are most exemplified by multiplayer games. The games we seek the most fun are the those that fill our needs. For example, a gamer who likes playing open world adventure games like Skyrim would fall under the autonomy category.

Even though there are thousands upon thousands of games, there are still bad games and good games. So what makes a video game successful? Let’s look at a recent  Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor. It is an excellent game overall, but what made it stand out against its other triple-A competitors was a concept in the game called the Nemesis System. Michael de Plater, design director on the game, gave a quick run-down of the system at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas. “How can we make narrative out of the gameplay?” is the question at the core of the Nemesis system. One way to answer that was the self-determination theory, in which the designer tried to fill the three needs of Competence (the need to feel effective in dealing with environment), Autonomy (they need to control the course of their lives), and Relatedness (they need to have relationships with others). By applying this to a core concept of their game, their game earned the title of game of the year.

Some behavioral scientists and psychologists are trying to find a way to apply gamification, the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas such as education and jobs, so that people’s attention can be held in the same way it is when they play games. Games may change our entire future with this concept. Many of us have thought that school, work, and chores are boring, but if gamification is successful our futures may be just a really fun game.