Why Do We Game?

Oct 18, 2011

Every generation in humanity’s history has something they leave behind that characterizes who they are. For the ancient Athenians we have the dialogues of Plato. The Egyptians left behind centuries-old hieroglyphics and amazing monuments that tell us of their focus on the afterlife and the importance their gods had in their society. Across history, many examples can be found. As I thumb across the timeline of history and inch closer to 2011, I can’t help but think but 30 years in the future, when my children are closer to my age. What will they think of my generation? Certainly the answer extends passed gaming, but one can’t ignore a $15 billion industry. The affect gaming has had thus far on our generation of 20-somethings is already enough to define a large portion of us. But are we much different from those who came before us? Technology allows us to experience “life” in a new way. But as far back as the oldest novels, such as the Iliad and the Epic of Gilgamesh, man has attempted to express and immerse himself in supernatural concepts through reading, writing, and storytelling. Can the reason for our gaming habits be simplified to such a basic level?

But before we can answer this question, we must first answer the following: why do we even create games? For some folks, their talents translate into gaming development which allows them to earn a living. But looking back at the founders of modern gaming, such as John Carmack, it’s difficult to argue their desires were to make money. Rather, one would assume these founders were driven by their desire for expression. Never has anyone created a game about their neighborhood with characters identical to themselves and the people they know. There is always some level of interpretation. After all, we may know ourselves but we don’t truly know the people we interact with. As human beings, we constantly apply our own rich history of experiences that have shaped our understanding of reality to help answer unknowns. Everything in us has a function to keep our bodies alive. But the brain is very complicated. Believe it or not, but our brain is the most bigoted tool in our bodies. It is so fast in its ability to compute inputs into thought that it actually makes many assumptions. These assumptions are based on our uniqueness as individuals. So before jumping to conclusions, hold that thought…

And now back to the question at hand. In my experience selling, producing, and now reviewing and analyzing games, I have found that gaming is many things for many people. Let’s try to find a commonality. If you’re like me, you enjoy a game that delivers a powerful story. To observe and interact with someone else who can do supernatural things, is the ultimate level of enjoyment. On the other hand, realistic games have a home as well. Consider the Splinter Cell or any game that requires stealth. Although they are not 100% accurate as realism, they do land on the opposite end of the spectrum from games like Pac Man or El Shaddai. To some, when they sit down to play a game it is always with 1 or more people. So gaming can be purely social. In fact, considering the best selling games year over year are sports games and Call of Duty. In fact, if not for the social gaming aspect of Halo, one could argue the original XBOX would have been an extreme failure. The last statistic I read was that more than 60% of all XBOX owners also owned the original Halo, which brings me to the final gaming type: the collector. Collectors are highly analytical and compare not only games and consoles, but also generations. What do these gaming types have in common: escapists, realists, socialists, and collectors? When they are gaming, they are escaping reality.

So of the two parties involved – game creators and game players, we have a very simple overlap. The creator has the talent to express his perception of reality and the player has the desire to help understand himself better. It’s helpful to understand where your place is in this world. Going through the motions and checking off items from a list of expectations will net you results, but not the results you have chosen for yourself. Be self-reflective. Be expressive. Understand your values and what makes you happy. If anything, it will help save you money when you should play an FPS, but you have a hardcore RPG in your hands.