Games: the hobby of making decisions

Games are understood in society as a diversion, a hobby or a pastime used to entertain people through interaction.  However it is not uncommon for people to view gaming, especially video gaming as a frivolous use of one’s time.  This often comes in the form of a concerned parent voicing their disappointment in their children’s immersion in a game.  Presenting the counterpoint that their children should be doing something more productive than doing the same thing over and over.  The trouble with games is that they are not a medium intended to entertain an audience, they are a medium intended to entertain the players.  The power and benefits of games get lost when the key component that differentiates the experience from all other forms of entertainment, choice, is removed.

Games are a never ending series of choices, some benign, some grave, and hopefully all meaningful.  Through choice the player expresses their intention, they create a plan, execute it, experiment and play with mechanics, and tweak their process to create a desired outcome.  In short they are constantly practicing the art of making decisions, and they are enjoying themselves while they grow in their ability to predict the consequences of their actions.

This skill is one with real world, lifelong applications; however, since games are viewed as a pastime, rarely do players recognize the growth they have achieved through gameplay and often prescribe instead to the idea that they have wasted their time.  More than anything else it is a matter of perspective that separates the pupil from the lesson they have learned.  If we can appropriately appraise the value of what we learn while playing a game we can internalize it and retain the knowledge we attain.  Whether it’s the financial foresight to hold out for a more lucrative property in Monopoly, or timing an attack in Starcraft, whether it’s developing a plan on what resources one will need to build a structure in Minecraft, or the moral consequences of being a greedy person in the Witcher; we grow more confident in our ability to be deterministic each time we make a tough decision.  How we express ourselves, how we recover from failure, how we commit to risk in the pursuit of a goal, and how we do so with optimism are all parts of gameplay that if translated to our world view would improve our lives greatly.

Games should be fun, they should entertain us; but we should also take the time to look at the choices we make in games to learn about ourselves, the way we think, and how we can use our gameplay experiences to grow as people.  We should move beyond the idea that games are inherently empty endeavors because so much more that can be learned from a medium that teaches experientially than passively.  To disregard such lessons because they also happen to be fun is a disservice to our ability to grow from all life’s experiences, simulated or otherwise.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.


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