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my life as a night elf priest

Reflections: why are video games better than reality?

Games are “addictive, compelling, absorbing, [and] pleasurable;” we are motivated to play them often based on the “constant predictable forward progress [of] moving through the levels;” are we not motivated to participate in our own lives in the same way? Is life not ‘addictive, compelling, absorbing, and pleasurable; why isn’t the “goal-oriented” motivational nature of games applied to active participation in our actual lives? Are these video game experts suggesting that we are simply not that goal-oriented in reality? A lot of people are though. Some are addicted to exercise, physical strength, health, etc… Some are addicted to drugs and alcohol. We each participate in something that resembles escape, and we participate in these things with a sense of utter purpose—video game or not— to enhance our realities. Why can’t we apply this type of behavior towards sustainable goals and motivations? I guess my ultimate question is this: how does someone, rationally, recognize the ultimate futility of games, while also recognizing the need for them as an escape from the monotony of our lives?



6 thoughts on “Reflections: why are video games better than reality?

  1. The futility element is interesting to me. You’re right of course that games rarely accomplish anything that is sustainable beyond the game itself. (There are, of course, exceptions such as athletes that earn scholarships or a living from game play or gamblers. We can also think about some social cache that might come from being good at a game.) In a way this is not unlike lifting weights at a gym, which is labor that produces nothing (well, maybe muscles). However, I think most would argue that exercise has many beneficial results. The argument here is that gameplay also has benefit, beginning with temporary escape from monotony.

    As for being goal-oriented, I think that can be hard. We might have long-term goals, but those are hard to incorporate into our daily lives or activities. Shorter term goals might be better (or some structure that connects the short term to the long term). But often our workaday lives are filled with obligations rather than choices. Part of this is about choosing something. The other part is having a reward structure.

    So for example, let’s say I want to write a second academic book. That’s a long-term goal. I could set up short term goals of spending x number of hours or writing x number of words per week. And I could create some reward structure, like buying something I desire. I can get some of the positive psychological effects of gameplay while writing, but it really isn’t the same. Perhaps because writing is hard. It calls on a different kind of thinking than videogames. It just doesn’t feel the same.

    Posted by Alex Reid | June 6, 2013, 11:39 am
    • Structuring life like a game is not an easy task but some people have managed to make certain aspects of life much like a game. For example for Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother, picking up women is a game for him (he even has a leather bound strategy book and a blog). One thing to recognize here is that picking up women, although a game for Barney, is not necessarily mundane for anyone. It is easy to transform already interesting and fulfilling activities into fun gamelike simulations, but is it as easy to make boring activities like work gamelike? Like you said, you could attempt to structure life like a game with specific long- and short-term goals and a reward system but when it comes down to it, you’re right, it just isn’t the same. That’s not to say that the efforts are in vain. Although these attempts do not even come close to the wonderful escape and pleasure of gaming, by applying game features to life, you are in turn bettering your chances of completing said goals (perhaps not with the same pleasure attached to it but hey at least it’s done and not looming).

      Posted by jmlemons | June 13, 2013, 12:51 pm
  2. Good points :).

    I guess I just worry about the influence of media in our lives. I’m afraid we’ll spend too much time escaping, and not enough time being engaged in setting or bridging the short term goals we talked about to the long term.
    I like the formula for short term goals you gave; I was thinking of something very similar. Your last point brings up the point again about the fluctuation of our motivation in relation to level of difficulty. I wonder if we are more intrinsically motivated as difficulty increases? Or if, as soon as the difficulty increases, we fleet to something (like a video game) because it’s point of success and enjoyment is designed with ease of access.

    Thanks for commenting.

    Posted by jowz24 | June 6, 2013, 12:24 pm
  3. To me the problem seems to be that not everyone is willing to participate in the goal system that video games have to offer. Most goals that we set in life involve some sort of reward such as money, fame, or at the very least, recognition of completion. We do not always get that. An example I can think of myself is for my job. I work in retail and my company always pushes me to sell more memberships to the store. I could give myself a goal of selling four per shift, and that may work at first, but I don’t really get anything in return so I may lose motivation. I am going to get paid the same either way. Maybe I am more likely to get a raise if I sell more, but there is no guarantee. This type of situation can be applied to a handful of things for anyone. Video games are different because you are guaranteed a reward upon completion of your goal. There is always a character that will give you an item or something that unlocks as a reward. Real life doesn’t work this way, and in order for it to, every single person would have to agree to participate in this sort of lifestyle. This, of course, would also require much more sacrifice because you would be expected to reward other people on the completion of their goals, and does everybody really have the time and resources to do that?

    Posted by jamesste | June 7, 2013, 7:46 pm
    • When it comes to a guaranteed reward, perhaps it’s not the game makers (or in this situation your bosses) that you should be looking toward to give you a reward, but rather yourself. Life is not structured like a clearcut game. In games there are specific rules and very clear and established steps that need to be taken to achieve a goal and subsequently receive a reward. However, in life, nothing is guaranteed unless YOU guarantee it. It is up to you to establish a more concrete reward system for yourself to motivate you to complete certain goals (which will in turn increase the likelihood of a third-party recognizing your achievements). For example, I am a Starbucks junkie. If I don’t have my daily fix, I’m done. At school, if I complete half of my daily homework, I allow myself a grande coffee from Starbucks. By rewarding myself at my halfway mark (and with caffeine the best motivator around), I give myself enough steam and motivation to finish the other half of my homework.

      Posted by jmlemons | June 13, 2013, 12:57 pm
  4. JMLEMONS: I really like your example of using Starbucks as a reward system. I couldn’t make it through school without Tim Hortons personally. Part of the reason games are so addicting and pleasant is because our reward systems are constantly triggered. In a game when we complete a goal or reach a new level, coins and virtual confetti flies all over our monitors to mark an accomplishment and encourage further efforts. When we drink Starbuck’s or Tim Hortons after completing all the steps of an assignment, neurons are awakened and taste buds are stimulated. Coffee beans are then like virtual coins for our brains during task-accomplishment. Treating yourself to the coffee marks a point of completion for you and encourages you to keep going.

    Posted by jowz24 | June 14, 2013, 4:10 pm

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