Why Do We Love Games So Much?
Is it the exercise? Surely, we could hit the gym for an hour and reap the same caloric benefits as a rousing game of ping-pong.
Is it the neural stimulus? Why not just read a book, instead of subjecting yourself to a grueling tête-à-tête chess battle?
Or, is it emotional? Setting yourself up for disappointment, embarrassment and pain in front of a crowd of spectators hardly seems enjoyable; though, when you win, the emotional reward seems self-evident. Why not simply watch a movie to sympathize with others’ emotional travails?
Beyond the various raisons ‘d’être of games, one characteristic prevails: fun.
Fun is the unifying descriptor. Without enjoyment, many activities we call games would be trivial (aside from Trivial Pursuit, of course). There must be a goal, and there must be persons (real or imagined) with whom we engage. So, too, there must be an opportunity for growth. One either loses, and hopefully learns and improves; or, one wins and pursues greater challenges.
Fun and Growth.
Of course there are other reasons for games, but for the sake of brevity, let’s focus on the two “winners” when it comes to games, starting with the former.
Fun as Fellowship
When two or more people sit around a table to play a board game, what is really taking place? Mutual enjoyment? Yes. Competition, silliness? Yes, yes, yes. But also, when reading between the lines (or, spaces in this case), what also occurs is a transformative, communal dialogue. We must work out our problems, inform, instruct, discuss, dispute, guess, challenge, and, very often, work together.
Now, unless you feel like playing Solitaire the rest of your life like a hermit on a desert island from one of Gary Larson’s Far Side comics, or plugging in the cheat codes to your favorite video game so you get the reward of winning without effort, then “true” gaming requires more from us. More from all of us. Which brings me to the next qualifier.
Growth as Evolutionary Act
That may sound redundant, but it’s true. When engaging in game-play — whether table-top, sports, video, or otherwise — we enable ourselves to imagine new worlds and new possibilities.
As an undergraduate film student at the University of Oregon, I took a class titled Politics in Film, with a specific focus on utopianism. In it, there was a quote in the readings by Oscar Wilde that stood out to me:
“A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.” (Wilde).
Isn’t that eloquent? I was moved by the idea of Utopia as existing in the heart of Humanity, rather than being some sort of stagnant paradise. What is the purpose of existence without a striving — without some goal, some hope for betterment? With Wilde’s utopianism, there is room for dreamers, for fools, for failure. Is that not the process of natural selection?
Therefore, getting back to gaming. Could we say gaming is a form of utopianism, of dreaming, of engaging in the process of evolution, of problem-solving? Consider this a forum for that process. And may it be a damn fun process.
So, henceforth begins the adventures of the Merry Gamesters: to develop opportunities for jest and progress — from village to kingdom; to forge the bonds of fellowship; to stimulate the wits; and to stir the hearts and imaginations of gamers the world over.
If this intrigues you, and you’d like to partake, then consider us your fellow gamers, your friends and interlocutors, as we all chart this course together, pursuing a better future, one game at a time.
*Stay tuned, as Merry Gamesters next post will detail the upcoming game in development, the debut tabletop game Reel Me In!
Until then, “Play, Laugh, and be Merry.”
Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900. The Soul of Man under Socialism. Champaign, Ill. : Boulder, Colo. :Project Gutenberg ; NetLibrary, 19901999. Print.