Friday, September 23, 2016

everything I know, I learned from video games

Maybe not everything, but as a substantial component of my whole life, gaming has naturally been part of how I experience the world.  Before video games, I was disturbed by the "ages 10 and over" printed on my Player's Handbook.  Not the dumbed down basic Dungeons and Dragons handbook either, but Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  I didn't think pouring over that at eight years old was so inappropriate that there should be a warning label against it.  It wasn't really the sort of gaming that appealed to me as I got older, though.

I also remember the attraction to a game like Pong.  A few pixels simulating the tossing of a ball back and forth, much simpler in gameplay than even table tennis.  Just hit the dot back and forth.. and yet, being drawn towards even that.  For a while.. I've also lost all interest in countless games, since then.  Far more elaborate and interesting games, now so much more dull and unappealing than trying pong for the first time.

There are two variables that seem to factor most heavily into that.  First, there's the novelty of it.  The fact that I was experiencing something new.  In modern games, they're often entertaining, until they become entirely predictable.  Once we've experienced everything of interest there is to experience in the game.  As the likelihood diminishes of anything new and interesting happening, it feels more and more like a waste of time.  In terms of the unconscious mechanics of that, it could be that I'm no longer learning anything.  The draw towards novelty could be a biological driver for the learning of new things.  That we hijack, in a sense, to entertain ourselves by learning things that aren't actually all that useful, or even real.

The other variable though, is in the difficulty.  There are some games that will always provide a challenge, and they tend to have more greater longevity.  Other games become trivially easy, once you've spent enough hours getting the hang of their mechanics.  This is where even a game like pong can have a draw, despite appearing entirely familiar within a matter of seconds.  This probably goes more to the central core of what gaming is primarily about for some of us.  Appealing to the impulse to test our skills.  To fail, and try again.  To get better at something.

There may be a correlation with dominance and alpha behavior, an impulse to take the bull by the horns, just to say that we could... hijacked also, rechanneled by playing harmless games.  No tormenting of bulls required.  The underlying mechanism behind what gaming strives to appeal to though, being the impulse to take on a challenge, to get better, to make progress towards greater challenges.

When we're not making progress, when we're not practicing skills or learning anything new, when we're just going through the motions to stave off boredom, it can feel like a waste of time.  A good video game though?  That can trick the brain into thinking it's making superb use of its time.

Is being tricked by evolutionary biology really any better though?

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