Playing Games: Why Is Gaming So Rewarding?

I am a gamer. I like playing games. A considerable number of hours each week will be spent sitting in front of a screen playing some kind of game. The amount of time I spend has decreased significantly since I was younger but the responsibilities that come with growing up means that this is to be expected. My love for gaming though is as strong as ever.

I have spent months of my time in the digital gaming world since I owned my very first console. But why spend hours every week playing games? Will it help me get a job? Own a house? Probably not in any direct way but gaming is enjoyable, fun, improves thinking skills and at the same time is a rewarding experience. For a far better explanation on the benefits of gaming I recommend Why Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal.

At their heart games challenge people by throwing contrived obstacles at people and giving them the tools to overcome them. These are completely voluntary, no one is forced to complete the challenges. Yet millions of people every day are playing games; on their phones, consoles and PC.

Why are people voluntarily using up their free time to complete games and challenges that they do not have to? There are a few reasons.

Firstly games provide instant, visual and positive feedback. When playing, a gamer is constantly bombarded with on-screen messages highlighting rewards. It can be obvious in the form of points for a killing a member of an opposing team or placing a portal in the correct location. It can also be more subtle;  gamers may not even consciously acknowledge it as feedback. Moving from one end of a level to the next or by discovering a more powerful gun are examples of how games reward. There might not be a specific goal to achieve and nothing may flash up at the start saying you have to kill a certain bad guy. A challenge might be to eliminate them, picking up their weapon will be the reward. It is possible to continue through the game without taking care of this particular bad guy but by overcoming this voluntary obstacle gamers get something out of it.

The second reason  is that there is no penalty for failure. A character may be killed, lose a life and have to start again from a checkpoint but unlike real life there is at least get that chance to try again. Gamers also have the added benefit of knowing that previous tactics did not work. A different approach is more likely to be taken this second time around. Games encourage experimentation and new approaches to solving problems.

There are no barriers to entry for gaming apart from the initial cost to buy them. Games are designed to have learning curves, there are no requirements to be experienced at the beginning. Games will test in increasingly numerous and more challenging ways, however it is through gradual changes not leaps, in difficulty. Gamers become more skilled the more they play and by the end should have the tools needed in order to overcome these final and most challenging tests.

Finally gaming is rewarding because it is not a winner takes all affair. Games can be enjoyed and played at any level of experience and skill. Any gamer can be rewarded, unlock all the levels and acquire the best weapons. Everyone has the same chance and starts from the same point.  Games reward for personal contribution and effort.

Games foster reward, participation, experimentation, problem solving and are at the end of the day enjoyable. This is what gaming is about. If more of the real world could be gamified there is a chance for more problems to be solved and even greater rewards to be had.

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