As the New Year has dawned upon us and people have finished partying, the general population tends to reflect on their past year. With this annual tradition, people look at all aspects of their lives to critique or even humor their previous antics. Getting back from a packed public gym plopping down in my bean bag chair, reaching for the PS4 controller. I couldn’t help but have an introspective experience myself. Why do I choose to play videogames so much? What motivates me to grind so many hours into a virtual world? It’s this line of questioning that drove me to find the answer to a niche yet broad observation. Of course, the reasons and circumstances differ for each person but I believe they all can stem from these points.
First and foremost, videogames are just plain fun to play! From the first time you pick up a controller or boot up your first game, you have been hooked. There are a ton of different varieties of genres for everyone to enjoy. Just like the hidden warp pipes in World 1-2 of Super Mario bros., you can immediately be transported to different worlds, from the stunning caves of tomb raider to the whimsical world of Banjo Kazooie. With the current popularity of gaming, almost every niche has been filled; a delicious market that keeps releasing new games, even with annoying DLC sometimes. But still, being fun is still too vague a point, so let’s dig deeper.
For me, personally, fun is derived from two different avenues. One being competitive multiplayer, and the other being solo story-based adventures. Dwelling into the competitive part, I hate to make such a general point but it has to be said. Competition is ingrained into our DNA. It is the very basis of our existence and evolution throughout history; dubbed survival of the fittest. Yes, we do have a quasi-comfortable suburban lifestyle, but it’s only natural for this innate need for competition to translate to our lives somehow. Multiplayer games, even sports, answer this question. From casual to professional (and yes, professional gaming is an enigma of our generation. Deal with it, Colin Cowherd), PvP games have become the most popular ones on the market. Quick online Fighting game sessions provide the perfect mental rush of guessing the opponent’s move and countering them. Team based strategy games hold just as much of a rush, albeit being more time consuming(Looking at all the hours I have put into league and DOTA…), coordinating against your opponent’s weaknesses for a sweet victory. These are just two examples of how games are enjoyable and intriguing, just from a PVP perspective and how they drive our habits, and ultimately sales too.
Next, we come to the awe-inspiring worlds we can explore through videogames. No other medium (yet! VR is just around the corner) can truly immerse you in the middle of the story, being a king, hero, villain, soldier, the list keeps on going. Trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic commonwealth or trying to save the princess from an amphibious ruler, you are in the thick of things, living in the world, making connections to the people in the world around you. I can contest that nothing feels more uplifting than reaching the end of your adventure and seeing the world that you traversed or even made yourself. For me, the ending of Bioshock Infinite was beautiful in this way. You are Booker DeWitt, alongside a mysterious Elizabeth, in this magnificent floating city. The story lead to a sad but fitting end and I could not see any other way the tale could have ended. With this level of immersion, there also comes a feeling of freedom. A freedom from the self and a freedom from the monotonous day to day life. You experience these brand new realities, building the storyline, and reaching astronomical milestones and even making the worlds themselves (or breaking the worlds, thank you modders).
Another key aspect of gaming is how it can be a versatile social experience. Think back, you are playing your first game at home or at an arcade, you most definitely enjoyed it with your friends or family present. That experience becomes a key memory that carries with you as you grow up playing with your siblings and classmates. That same experience becomes a cornerstone as you embrace more venues in games and the communities with it. Playing with like-minded and, hopefully, equally skilled players only adds to the experience, making it more enjoyable. From Li-fi to Wi-Fi, physical boundaries have been broken down to easily socialize and game with a limitless amount of people (you might be limited to the lobby size though!). Hell, even without an internet connection, LAN and local parties make for a fulfilling experience. With up to 20 people in the same room playing Counterstrike to a 4 man party on a legendary Halo run; it becomes an intoxicating experience with the enthusiasm and energy in the room.
As the dichotomy goes, with the joyous experiences in games, there also come the less welcome ones. Being social and emotional in nature, we tend to invest a lot into our immersive experiences and when things do not go our way, anger is the most prominent result. Queue angry swearing and rage quits! But despite these instances, gaming can be double edged in a sense, because where they cause anger or frustration, they can also be an excellent stress reliever. There have been numerous studies to show how videogames can alleviate different negative emotions, but I would like to dwell into a more personal experience. Recall any ‘From Software’ game and when you see this screen:
It all seems worth it and usually displaces any stress or anger (disregarding that it might come from the same damn game). From a story point of view, some narratives have the ability to tap into our emotional sides. When the stories do climax, they hit us really close to home. Even from every small checkpoint or milestone hit, it tends to override the rest affecting us to a joyous and placid experience.
So what do you think is the most important aspect of videogames? Would you consider changing your point of view or habits this year? The more I dwelled into this topic, the more I realized that it was a fierce testament to my love of gaming. And hopefully, it helped you reach your answer too.
Thank you to Andrew Ferreira, Josh Philip, Jordi JV, Vanessa Garcia, Ryan Franchetto and Andrew M. Joseph for sharing their experiences for this piece.
Bryan Salik is a writer who may be new to writing but has been with gaming since the cartridge generation. Check out more of my work on Medium at https://medium.com/@bssalik.