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Nichollan

What is the purpose of games?

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Recently I've been quite a bit disillusioned because of some personal events. It has left me confused as no previously held values seem to add up anymore, and in desperation I've tried to seek out a new understanding of what kinds of thinking is more likely to lead to success. In this search I've come to suspect that games that challenge the mind could guide me to answers... but the thing is, quite a few of the more popular games will only give the illusion of success however you wish to proceed - the only thing you need to succeed in these games appears to be patience. It could appear as though these games' function is primarily to massage people's egos - which leaves me somewhat disgusted. I could probably just seek different games, true, but I still think the topic i worthy of discussion - what is the purpose of games? What should the purpose of gaming be? What function does games currently have?

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I'd say that the most common is Enjoyment. So now the question is what make people happy. I'd say success. They want to succeed at something, finish majhong in less than 1 minute, reach top level, become the world leader.... So I'd say that a good game need to have goals that the player can reach before getting stuck by boredom.

You still have some special class specially with the coming of MMO where player don't play but work in a game in order to sell their labour for real life money but that's another story....

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Quote:

It could appear as though these games' function is primarily to massage people's egos - which leaves me somewhat disgusted.


Ok, let me ask you something, do you actually play video games? Video games provided a form of relaxation and fun. Depending on the game it can also be a stress reliever. You shouldn't fault games but video game players. A video game is an inanimate object, controlled by a player. People are the driving force behind games. If an ego is being massaged, then it's probably a result of the person playing that game. Perhaps they feel defined by the game. A video game never plays itself for twenty-five hours, it takes a person to play it. Ergo, (yes I know, Ergo, on a gamedev forum :)) it is a person that is responsible for their own actions. If an individual lives solely to exist in a video game world, then that person has a problem, but if they use it as a means of challenge and relaxation, it's fine.

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Games have many purposes, entertainment is probably the most important one. In competitive games, winning from or working together with your peers can be gratifying, especially in games that require some skill or intelligence. These kind of games don't differ much from sports like tennis or football, apart from the fact that sports usually train (and damage) your body. Games, and especially MMO's, can be used as a temporary escape from your ordinary daily life. The 'time-for-ego' trade is especially large in MMO's, as other games usually offer more than just artificial labour. A good game can deliver well-developed and lifelike characters, create a story close to the quality of some books, and achieve the entertainment value of a good movie by creatively blending together a symphony of sound, artwork and gameplay.

The biggest drawback to playing games is that they barely add anything to your pool of abilities, especially computer games. The twitch-skills you might develop in an FPS simply don't have any use outside the FPS, and your level 60 character in any RPG will only impress a handful of people. The success that is achievable has to be achievable by anybody, or else you'd frustrate your public. The only thing that can be asked is your time, and games pretty often are just there to kill your time, unless you develop or design them and could write gaming down as research.

It is my opinion that people simply have too much time nowadays and don't value time as much as it should be valued. This leads to people playing a game all day long, for multiple days in a row. The goal then often becomes 'to finish the game/these quests', and instead of enjoying yourselves, you've actually started to work through a game. Instead of letting a game rest once a dead end is reached, and to continue later on, people go online and check a FAQ, destroying the fun derived from solving a problem. Games rise from the function of pastime to where they take up a significant part of people's lives. That is not to say that this is wrong or bad, but it simply isn't agreeable with my conscience.

All in all, the use or uselessness of everything can be argued nowadays. Western people generally don't believe in God or any other religion anymore. But religions provided mankind with a meaning to life, and with a belief in a certainty. Century-old values such as compassion, equality, freedom and so on, were grounded on the firm basis of a faith. Without such faith it becomes necessary to rethink the actual value of these values, but we still take most of our values for granted without even rethinking them. The wikipedia article on nihilism is an interesting read in that context.

Games could have, and sometimes do have, more purposes though. It is interesting for example to note the way games like Fallout 1 & 2 use a historical perspective of the future as their starting point, to go on from a hypothetical situation where the world did plunge into nuclear war. Both these games also posses interesting criticisms of society, and come up with situations you would normally never experience. A game could diversify people's opinions on war by giving them a realistic experience, within boundaries. Games, just as some movies and books, could and perhaps should offer people with insights into the world, society, should criticize values and opinions. Why not make a game from the perspective of a terrorist for once? Books like Thomas More's Utopia, Jonathan Swifts' Gulliver's Travels, Orwell's 1984 and other parodies and satires deliver entertainment while simultaneously criticizing society. Perhaps Deus Ex did something similar, but I can't really remember any other game that took up such a wonderful task.

[Edited by - Feldrin on July 24, 2009 8:41:42 AM]

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Play is how animals learn. Games are structured play. The ego boost you mention is one of the pleasant side-effects from the realisation that you have learned something (such as how to blow someone up before they do the same to you).

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I see that fun can have a health-related purpose, so now entertainment and relaxation appears to be valid practical purposes of gaming - though I suspect that it can have additional purposes aswell, such as inspiration and development of strategies that can be useful outside the game.

The ego massage still concerns me - I don't like the thought of people becoming too comfortable with flawed ways of thinking.

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Quote:

It could appear as though these games' function is primarily to massage people's egos - which leaves me somewhat disgusted.

Why?

Are people not entitled to be a little selfish, as long as they are not totally so?

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It sounds to me like someone has a huge ego, and that someone is Nichollan. Either that, or he is a robot or something, because honestly I don't see how you can't figure out what the purpose of games are.

Games are to have fun... yes, fun is good for you. Did this really take you hours of contemplating to figure out? I can't believe you actually wiki'd "Fun". I'm going to assume that you've never had any, judging by your hatred for gamers who are having fun.

Just because someone is having fun in a videogame does not mean they are stroking their ego. Very rarely is this even happening. I think you're getting your emotions mixed up. Maybe if you better explained what "personal events" have left you disillusioned, it might help to clarify.

I'd like you to point out what games are massaging people's egos... name a few examples please.

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As I said, the games are of the more popular - like World of Warcraft where you can choose whatever playstyle you want and still eventually get what or where you want... given enough time and patience.

I am smart enough to know not to reply to the rest of the message.

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One thing to keep in mind is that, when you dig into the issue, you can't lump all gamers into one category. You can say that everybody has fun (that's why there are so many simple answers), but when you dig deeper, different people have different ideas of fun. Some people want to be scared out of their wits. Some want to cry. Some people want to feel important. Some want to feel a sense of accomplishment, and for some, the more frustrating the challenge, the more satisfying the outcome. The common denominator here is powerful emotion. This applies to all forms of entertainment, by the way. The most popular movies, books, and video games all make the audience feel something powerfully.

Even a simple casual game like Tetris, for example, provides a continual sense of accomplishment: overcoming the anxiety of getting the right pieces by clever placement (and eventual triumph of getting the long piece), and attaining higher scores.

Another example is the Facebook game Egg Breaker, which my wife positively adores. What does the player do? Break eggs. That's. about. it. But she is driven to collect all the prizes and beat her friends' scores.

Quote:
Original post by Nichollan
I don't like the thought of people becoming too comfortable with flawed ways of thinking.

Well, you're in for a lifetime of disappointment then. My advice is to stay away from politics and religion. :)

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In terms of evolution, entertainment is the evolved response to encourage us to learn. Games are a way of learning (whether what the games teach us is important or not is a different matter).

So, I would say that computer games are a hijacking of an evolutionary response designed to encourage us to learn. Because of tools and control over our immediate environment has given us much free time, and our teaching method for what is necessary to interact with our environment has proceeded to a point where we have time without learning, we are filling this "down time" with entertainment.

Also, we have an evolutionary response to repeated stimuli that discourages us from continuing the same tasks over and over again.

We become bored.

When we become bored, but can not change out, the flight or fight response comes in and we get stressed.

What games do is give us time to avoid these other activities that have triggered the boredom response and then triggered the stress response. They provide "learning", but not critical learning, and in a way that we have control and is designed to avoid the boredom response (for a while at least - then we buy the new version that comes out).

Games have a positive psychological affect on us in that it gives us a break from what is triggering the usual boredom and stress responses.

So these terms that are being used: Fun, Entertainment, and even Ego Massaging are all critical to healthy human psychology.

Entertainment breaks the sense of boredom that is the root cause of the stresses.
Ego Massaging allows us to break the depression associated with chronic stress.
And Fun is the reward we get for engaging in such activities.

Games are essential to our health.

Computer games are just one form of game, and people for longer than recorded history have been playing games. We have evolved to play games. Maybe we should be called Homoludens (the Gamer).

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Way to totally ignore my valid post.

Again I ask, what games are massaging a player's ego? I think you're confusing this with mere personal gratification. Two totally different things.

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Quote:
Original post by Konidias
Way to totally ignore my valid post.

Again I ask, what games are massaging a player's ego? I think you're confusing this with mere personal gratification. Two totally different things.


Well look at it this way. A hell of a lot of computer games present us with fictional problems solvable by the majority of the people that can actually acquire computer games. Succeeding in solving these tasks gives a feeling of success, thus, they massage a players ego. Heck, mechanics in games are often build around this very idea. An RPG wouldn't be as fun to play if you wouldn't get more and more powerful skills and tools to kill more and more powerful creatures or to kill lower level enemies with gratifying ease. What about this actually doesn't delight the ego? Mass Effect, Baldur's Gate, The Witcher, whatever, you name it, have you collect experience points by doing menial tasks all over the soddin' place, tasks which any idiot can pretty much accomplish. World of Warcraft has you bashing buttons to level up, defeat higher level creatures, all in nice and easy incremental steps.

This is, in fact, where part of the fun comes from. What in fact is fun but doing something well, succeeding in doing something? Failing is the opposite, it's disappointing, not fun. Succeeding in the face of a greater challenge is even more fun, but a greater challenge also comes with greater risk of losing. Thus, to make playing games more fun, they're generally quite easy. There are some hard games, true, and these find their way to their own respective audiences of people who simply put more time into a game to learn the skills to beat it and thus succeed anyway, and feel happy about doing so. Overcoming problems is a joy, overcoming easy artificial problems that a game delivers you is simply enjoyable. Games usually give you the easy problems, life usually gives you the hard situations. You can argue that you might have fun even while failing, but how long can failing stay fun?

And there really isn't anything wrong with that I believe. You can't force people to do things differently. People themselves can only do things differently. If you don't want to put too much time in games, then don't. Go learn a language, play the guitar, piano, write literature, write academic papers on whatever if you've had the fortune to be able to enroll in university, or make games, as long as doing something well makes you feel happy. Learning to play an instrument, or a language, are simply also challenges, and overcoming them yet again brings happiness. The added advantage is that they also bring you skills to build further on in other aspects of life. Gaming itself doesn't really come with any skills that'll help you with the rest of your life I guess.


I myself would be more interested in a discussion about what the purpose of games should be. Entertainment is a given, but isn't this a far too limited purpose? Couldn't games aim at much more than just entertainment, still taking the fun-factor on board of course?

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In a very old thread in this forum (7/3/2000!) I wrote about what story-based games are for. Sunandshadow's theory of plot-based game design

I thought I had written a post with a somewhat updated version of my opinion on this topic a few years later, but I couldn't find that thread. :/

Anyway here's the relevant quote:
Quote:
Original post by sunandshadow
summarizing, I said the point of games is to:

1. satisfy the mimetic/narrative instinct

2. achieve catharsis of emotions

3. fulfill desires no more than partly satisfied by life

4. allay anxieties and guilt feelings

5. experience an imaginary world more lifelike than life itself, more directly and honestly concerned with essential problems, more supple in its expression of every aspect of man’s nature, less burdened by distracting irrelevancies

6. gather ideas that we can use to define our place in the world

7. satisfy need for socialization (multiplayer)

8. reassure self that you are competitive.

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Quote:
Original post by FeldrinWell look at it this way. A hell of a lot of computer games present us with fictional problems solvable by the majority of the people that can actually acquire computer games. Succeeding in solving these tasks gives a feeling of success, thus, they massage a players ego.

That's not massaging a player's ego. That's giving satisfaction to the player.

Ego is defined as an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Being conceited, essentially. I still don't see how games directly massage a player's ego. They merely reward a player for doing good and penalize them for doing bad. If players build huge egos due to being a winning player at a game, then the players are the cause of their ego, not the game.

Take the game of basketball for example. There are great players who have huge egos, but there are also great players who don't. (Lebron as opposed to Jordan comes to mind) This has nothing to do with the game or it's mechanics. It has to do with the person.

Feeling a sense of joy for hitting that 3 pointer, or slaying that boss, or getting that touchdown, does not massage any ego whatsoever. Humans don't immediately associate winning with being the best. They first associate it as being fun. Then depending on the individual, they might see winning as being better than someone else. Which will create an ego.

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Most of the games I play are about a few specific things.

1) Building.
Yes I know anyone with any patience can build a building in most games but my focus after that is optimization to see if I can find the most efficient way to do things or find a way to build that is more creative.

2) Exploration.
I'll play computer games for the same reason I watch movies or read books, explore a new world. I like to expand my imagination through these forms of media and find ways this can still be applied to the real world.

3) Eye hand coordination.
I can't say if I'm good at games because I have good eye hand coordination or I have good eye hand coordination because I like to play games but I feel its more the later.

4) Relaxation.
I'm working full time with some overtime and taking two graduate classes at a time. Computer games are the best way I've found to just leave this world for a short time...

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If anyone is discussing "fault" or the dichotomy between fun and ego massaging - leave me out of it. Whatever you call it is beyond my interest, and after my disillusion I no longer acknowledge the concept of "fault".

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If you want to ignore that it is most likely the player's fault for their ego and not the game's fault, then maybe you should try to wait a few years and then come back and repost the thread. Maybe by that time you will have grown up and learned to discuss a topic openly instead of closing off things you choose not to listen to.

If you're disillusioned, confused and desperate to seek out new understanding as to what the purpose of games are, maybe it's not the best idea to close off the people who are giving their opinions.

Just my opinion though, I'm sure you'll continue to ignore it.

I think you've already made up your mind, which completely defeats the purpose of the thread. I say it should be closed.

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