The things that games do teach us
are of surprisingly wide variety. You can find games all around you.
Who would think that playing is so common in our everyday live?
Our culture cultivated playing games from its very beggining. No surprise, as games play many important roles in culture’s growth and sustainability.
Culture of gamers
Games were sometimes noted as a form of entertainment of ‘the upper casts’. But classic games, like chess or backgammon, could also be made of simple stones or twigs. That let everyone who knew their rules to copy the game and simply play.
These games gained their players popularity in neighbourhood and mutual fun during a hard day of work. They improved lifes of whole communities.
Thus, games — no matter if we’re talking board games or video games — always played important part in development of our culture.
From the philosopher’s perspective, the world around us is a form of ‘game’ itself. It comes with certain features and from the moment of our birth we master those features — like walking, speaking, communication, learning. Obviously, the more of your time you give to the game, the better you are in that particular game.
If life is a game then there comes a question… why don’t just play it, and master it?
Playing games is something more than just a form of entertainment. It’s also (if not on the first place) a simple and fun way for learning about many important rules of our natural and social life.
Let’s make more comparing between the games and the reality. Thoughts on the Design may seem mere philosophy for many of us. If there’s a game, what about the players? Do we have access to any experience proving that we are players of the game? Here is one: Virtual Reality sets.
Deus Ex Machina
How does it work? In summary, we place the sensory systems of a subject into the artificial environment. Illusion is then laced upon subject’s brain with use of proper technology. That illusion can be so strong, that it gives an impression of actually being in another reality.
Your eyes see as they usually do, your ears hear as they do in real life. Only the images and sounds are brought to you, specifically designed by the game’s creators.
Some time ago these miracles could happen only in science-fiction. Now I’m only describing a technology that is actually being developed and polished. It may sound a bit over the top, but… In fact, humankind has almost found a way to directly access our receptors with highly interactive artificial environment.
We still don’t have accessible tools to imitate our ability to walk, or touch. But there are working prototypes of augmentations conjoined with central nervous system. Wait a couple of years, we’d have this technology available. By knowing the rules of game design, I can already start to imagine how we create almost fully functional virtual experience in VR sets.
What then? I think we’ll have to overcome some form of uncanny valley problem on our way. The shift in VR experience can’t be too sudden. Otherwise we don’t even know if minds of our games’ players could withstand this kind of shock.
Anyway, the scenarios that VR can develop into picture promising future for video games and simulations. In a few years they will become as influential on mass media as the television on 1950’s, almost for certain. We are facing enriched experience of electronic mass media on a scale never before seen. Who knows what new forms of entertainment could emerge with development of this marvelous technology?
What will we do with our e-ideas becoming real?
So, we’re waiting for the savvy guys to develop our technology (or we work on it ourselves — wink towards my fellow devs). While then, we can focus on how we perceive the relation between ourselves and the other players of the game. In our everyday life.
Finding our place among the crowd is almost the same thing that we do in VR sets, only placed in social environment. We put ourselves into an avatar’s skin.
There’s a great episode of Charlie Brooker’s series Black Mirror (Fifteen Million Merits). It tells the story about the man trapped in a form of dystopian society, dominated by mass media. Our hero had to work physically daily, for many hours, to earn his points he was allowed then to spend on his life. To be exact — most of these points he invested in development of his virtual avatar. No more spoilers intended — it might ruin your subtle subjective experience of this piece of art. Seriously, just watch it if you’re interested in the kind of twisted political science-fiction. It’s that good.
To the point: The story is a great satire based on one brilliant idea — in society, we play roles. As technology develops, we invest more and more of our time and work into developing our virtual selves — the avatars.
It doesn’t matter if you’re collecting the grades on some forum, the likes on social networks or the new equipment in some MOBA game. Every of these processes is a reflection of our life in a society. We face expectations, we address them, we develop our character, gain position and reputation.
Playing multiplayer video games lets you see these connections in an attractive virtual system. Their great advantage is that they’re much simplier then life and focused rather on one or a few specific forms of engagement. Still, they can let you master this simple forms of social interaction, just like children plays did in first years of your life.
I’d even state that to enrich yourself, it is important that you play something. This allows practice of social behaviours with no (or little) consequences.
Maybe that’s the reason of social networks popularity nowadays — they seem safe. People can lead their social life as anonymous avatars there. The net allows them to express themselves however they imagine. Let’s have a look on the multiplayer shooters, for another instance. Compared to our factual involvement in terrorist counterstrike or a warfare — simulation seems like a good idea for me.
The problem of these systems is usally the matter of over-immersion in them. Also, the total negation of their resemblance to the patterns met in life. These extremes are the base of people’s untrust or even hate for the games, video games especially.
What if me / my child / my beloved will immerse too much into the virtual world of the game? What if there’s a border, behind which you stop distinguishing between real and unreal?
Well, there is some practical and universal solution. It allows to avoid the unpleasant consequences of this potential addiction.
Use the games as a form of conscious entertainment, a practice of things you would later use in real life. Choose those games which have some connection to what you do or like in your real life.
Seek for these connections, then understand and use them to learn. I promise, it’s much better than fear of the unknown and ruining the play for the others.
We shouldn’t be afraid of games, as they are natural part of our existence. You just have to understand the rules of given game and know your way in and around them. This way, all the Players have fun and gain something from the play.
Sounds too simple? Well, the simple games are statistically the most popular ones. I wouldn’t call that a coincidence.
In every respected Role-Playing Game you will encounter the quests. Involving into quests lets players to make a progress. This progress may mean many different things to different players. Gaining needed experience. Pushing the plot forward. Discovering new places. Meeting other characters that can help players or stop them in their expedition.
The quests are usually divided into core-gameplay related, additional and side quests. Special list of quests, sorting them by their priority, is always present in game’s UI. Its purpose is to help player decide which task should he/she move onto in a particular moment of a game.
Where is the life resemblance here? In productivity methods, one of the most effective is to note and manage your ideas, so you can further prioritize them. It helps in using the most of your skills with minimum effort.
Maybe I’ll drop a note later about my way of organising ideas on something I called DreamBoard. For now I’ll just give you a glimpse of how it works.
When you have some good idea, a valid plan, some great stuff that catched your interest in the moment — what do you do with them? For me, the best you can to is to manage them into something that ressembles a quest-list. Imagine how would they look realized, then write and sketch them down. Then place them on a wall and wait until there are a few do-able ideas there.
You’ve got the vision of your realized ideas now. It’s time for prioritizing and… action. Until these ideas hang on your wall, they are just ideas. Better, worse — it doesn’t matter, because they are idle at the moment. You have to classify them. The ideas need to move forward. Only with your try of realizing these ideas there comes needed progress. Gaining experience, uncovering the plot, meeting other people who help you or conflict you to develop something.
Wait… Haven’t I just wrote that above about the RPGs? Yes, of course — that’s the resemblance we wanted to notice. Quests in video games can teach you how to manage your work, free time and even relations.
I think we should more often try to put some like of game’s features into our everyday life. My example of DreamBoard is only one way of finding one’s own inspiration for improving life basing on games. Everybody can have his/hers own way.
Maybe everyday chores could be the quests for us, then? And if so, should they be these fetch-quests, or these additional special content ones? How do you think?
Goals & Achievements
In games you often get some resources. Perks, lifes, experience, coins, currency, natural resources, units… The goal of the game is to manage these resources in a way that you can make a progress. The basic way of experiencing the game is always by applying to its rules, or going around them.
In our everyday life we don’t slay the dragons, win arcade space races or opt to war with some hostile alien race. Still, there are some achievements to get along the way. Like paying a rent, getting a job or education, or starting a family.
These goals are not the achievements of some ‘silly game’ (and I’m speaking both about starting a family and winning arcade race). Getting these goals (or not) is one of the most important issues in our systematic society. Notice, that our reputation and self-esteem is commonly based on our recognized achievements.
You can learn how to manage resources given to you to maximize your effects, to improve your life. Once again, thanks to the observation of how you do perform in games.
There’s always a boss at the end of the level. Isn’t that obvious?
– some anonymous NES game designer
It depends on design of your game — but in mine there are some ocasional bosses, that need special tactics to beat them. It just spices up the challenge a bit. For example, the graphics you see in this entry, at the header of my portfolog — that was a hard boss at the moment. I had to give a lot of my time and gather all the long-unused skills to master the way of going around that one.
It worked. I’m on the next level, further developing my skills. Stuff is getting harder and harder, but thanks to that — more interesting. The exciting plot unravels.
Let’s wrap it all up philosophically, to leave some food for thought.
At the end of most games you can see your stats. The lists summing up your points, lifes, discovered secrets, experience. Now, I don’t know for sure if at the end of that game we’ll see any stats. Is there a designed list, showing who we were, how many friends did we have, what achievements were we able to get? With all the uncertainty it’s still an interesting concept to hang on for a while, right?
What if at the game over screen you’ll have all your life’s deeds listed to show you how that particular round went out for you? I’ll leave that question (and other similar ones like ‘if there’s a replay button at the end of that game?‘) to your creed system or as a train of thought.
The answers doesn’t change my main conclusion on the games-life comparison, that is…
Life is a perfect system.
And what are the games, actually?
Games are the rules-based systems, that you need to immerse yourself into in order to master them.
Thus, with a proper perspective:
Our life is a form of a game.
I haven’t found any decent instructions to the game called ‘life’. But trust me, you don’t need any detailed instructions. You just have to know this one common law that every player knows:
The more you play, the better you are in the game.
How about you?
Do you enjoy playing your game?