Why do we play video games?

As usual, I think too much. Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I play video games and why certain games resonate with me more than others. Yes, I’m about to write about how those games are a reflection of a deeper part of me. Nothing is safe from my brain.

The Beginning

I remember the first game that really resonated with me – Final Fantasy VII. It hooked me early and struck an emotional chord in my young heart. The loss of an important character in the story, combined with the beautiful soundtrack, mixed with the major plot twists – it was mind-blowing at the time.

I started playing more games and was introduced to Everquest – my first MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game). What I believed was possible in gaming changed. Where Final Fantasy VII felt a large, sprawling world where I could conceivably explore each and every nook and cranny, Everquest built on that and gave me something that felt I COULDN’T fully explore. I would lose interest long before I could reasonably hit the max level, maximize all the tradeskills, complete all the quests, or master the end-game content. It was almost too much.

There were other games that resonated with me, games like Pokemon and it’s wonderfully unique creatures, Horizon Zero Dawn and it’s unique storytelling, Borderlands and it’s cooperative nature, Journey and it’s minimalistic, beautiful narrative, Final Fantasy X with the voice acting and leveling system (oooohhhh the Sphere Grid). There are so many more games that I could list, but almost all of them have something in common when I sit down to think about it.

The common thread

Video games have ‘loops’ that keep you playing. Whether it’s leveling up, unlocking the next weapon, or simply getting better and climbing the ‘ranking system,’ game developers hook you in unique ways. Did you notice that none of the games above are competitive in nature? That’s because I don’t play games to get better at them. I play games to check boxes.

I play games because it allows me to set a realistic goal for myself, and then achieve said goal.

On Playstation systems you can achieve a ‘platinum trophy’ in games. The developer will create a list of arbitrary achievements for the player to accomplish, and once they’re all done (each one granting a trophy) that player is awarded a platinum trophy. I would often judge a game based on the difficulty of attaining said platinum trophy. Some make it nearly impossible without hundreds if not thousands of hours of playtime (i.e. Overwatch), while other games are far more forgiving (i.e. Ratchet and Clank).

In the past when a person found out I considered myself a gamer I was often asked if I was a Call of Duty fan. These days, I’m asked if I prefer Apex Legends or Fortnite. See, I won’t touch these games with a ten-foot pole. They make me miserable. I play games to check boxes, to collect, to set realistic goals and achieve them. I don’t play games to lose. Sure, these games are doing better about adding in progression systems, but the means by which you progress? Play against other people in a live environment and lose – a lot.

My current obsession (the first step is admitting it) is Final Fantasy XIV. This isn’t even the first time I’ve written about it in the last month. An MMORPG similar to Everquest, it’s unique in the sense that you can level all ‘classes’ on a single character, where in other MMOs you have to create another character. I can essentially do everything there is to do in the entire game on a single character, swapping between a katana-wielding Samurai or staff-wielding healer White Mage on the fly. I can learn to gather various plants as a Botanist and then use those materials to create weapons or furniture as a Carpenter. All on one character. And then there is the gear that you can collect, and the quests you can complete, and the dungeons you can run… it’s a lot, but I can set goals for myself and check off boxes. Heck, I have a list in my phone of things I want to accomplish and I check them off as I go.

Why?

I play these kinds of games because they allow me to feel a sense of control. I can control the goals I set, and I can achieve those goals. There is satisfaction in accomplishing each goal, in checking off each box. I’m always building, always improving in small, incremental ways.

I function best with structure – whether I’m creating it or someone else is (the game developer), and video games have taught me that about myself. I’ve learned I’m not a competitive person. I prefer cooperative gaming, and I prefer gaming that allows me to exert control over my environment. I also prefer working with people in real life, not working against them. I enjoy implementing structure around me and seeing things move smoothly as a result.

The moral of the story? I’ve learned a lot about myself because of video games. Do I play them too often? Probably, but that’s a different post.

Finally, I want to clarify something – my reason for playing games isn’t any better or worse than someone else’s reason. It simply is. It’s a reflection of me, an outward indication of who I am inside (ya, that was more philosophical than I meant it to be). If you play games to be competitive, there is nothing wrong with that. Just take a few minutes and ask yourself:

Why do you play games? How do the games you play reflect who you are?

~ Brandt

Photo by Pawel Kadysz on Unsplash

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