You know how sometimes you feel like you’re spending all this money on school and getting nothing in return? I mean, I don’t. But I hear that question way too often in university, and In my attempt to stay up on my school work (hence the weeklong writing hiatus), I read an article, or rather, an excerpt of a book – Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal – about gaming and how games positively affect your life. That’s right, from Diner Dash to God of War, games are GOOD FOR YOU.
So, when did playing turn into a bad thing? As kids, we looked forward to “playing,” in any sense, but as we grow older, we try and avoid players and guys that “play games.” We’re all anxious little knots of creativity just waiting to find our niche, and playing games can help you get there. I learned a few general things about games, and it’s time for you to, too:
You follow the rules because you WANT to.
At the age where rule-breaking is socially acceptable and encouraged, games are a place where following the rules is a part of the fun (loooool yeah that’s actually a thing). You follow the rules entirely of your own accord, because you want to. While we may enjoy playing on easier levels or taking certain routes (ahem, using the map to make your directional decisions in Mario Party, which I will ALWAYS believe is TOTALLY cheating), we do follow a general set of rules. From restrictions as simple as using a putter to play golf (rather than kicking or throwing the ball into the hole), to waiting your turn; separate teams themselves are an accepted rule of many games.
Winning a game is literally addictive.
It’s been proven that the feeling of overcoming adversity and accomplishing something (after beating a level, beating a score, you know that throw-your-arms-in-the-air HELL YEAH feeling? That one.) activates the part of the brain that reacts to addiction and reward. It’s also defined in one of those words-that-exist-in-other-languages-but-not-in-English, in the Italian word fiero. I have a random fascination with words that we don’t have in our language, and fiero is the Italian word for overcoming a particularly challenging adversity, and the pride that comes after. So, pretty much Italian for “OMFGFFJKILSHDUEKFXPEJDQZFUCKYEAH.”
“Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” -Bernard Suits
Unnecessary obstacles like not screen-peeking. Unnecessary obstacles like separate teams. Unnecessary obstacles like Pacman’s ghosts and wearing skates and different sides of the dodgeball court and advancing difficulty. Philosopher Bernard Suits stated that definition in his 1978 book The Grasshopper.
The opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression. When we go on weeklong procrastination benders, we come out feeling lazy and blaahhhfhiueerkduer. Granted, nobody wants to be buried in work all the time, but being lethargic and getting bored doesn’t actually make you feel any better. You know the feeling, you’re on the second disc of Entourage and you’re starting to get a little anxious. Is there anything else you should be doing? You’ll flick through your phone, maybe read a few quips on Twitter, salivate over your friends’ dinners on Instagram, and probably settle on half-watching Adrien Grenier on one screen, and playing Temple Run 2 on another. We look forward to lazy, easy, “relaxing” fun, but when it actually comes, we’re fidgety and negatively stressed. It’s scientifically proven that little accomplishments generate positive emotion, and genuinely improve morale.
When I finished reading the chapter, I could barely contain myself from running out and switching my major to game theory. It’s one of those things from school that I actually enjoy (aka: SOFUCKINGINTERESTINGFSLKDJ), and this is my version of shouting from the rooftops. Finding something you enjoy, “work” that is hard enough to keep you engaged, as well as something enjoyable and stimulating, is important. Whether it’s writing, doodling, playing sports, or whatever your niche is, find it and play hard.
So really, games and life aren’t all that different. My favourite realization/game-to-life-connection is that you don’t always want to win. Sometimes you can’t. Sometimes the goal is just play til you lose, or as long as you can. Think Tetris, think Temple Run. You know you’re going to lose eventually, whether it’s because you couldn’t resurrect yourself in time, or because it’s totally fucking impossible to get past level fifteen on Tetris because oh my god how can people move that quickly, seriously? We want to live, not just kill time. Tetris, Temple Run, they’re challenges within challenges that you can overcome over time, but you will never WIN. And somehow, after 170 million downloads of Temple Run, we are still entertained.
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