Can Video Games that Imitate Life be Beneficial to Your Mental Well-being?
For the most part, I avoid video games. However, every now and then I get the itch to download and try one of the yahoo games from yahoo.com. Inexplicably, the urge to play one of these games directly coincides with being stuck in a three hour business finance class, or a class of similar persuasion. So I wasn’t surprised, when four months ago in an operations management class I felt the need to download the game “Kudos” from yahoo.
Kudos is a game in which you choose a character through which you live out that character’s life, making both short-term daily decisions and long-term decisions. Initially I chose the game because as a kid I loved those “choose your own adventure” books and the description of the game sounded much like these types of books. In the beginning of the game you are required to choose not only your character’s appearance, but also your character’s level of intelligence, culture and happiness. In this game, as in life, you can’t have it all; selecting high levels of one of these qualities causes the other two qualities to incrementally decrease. For example, making your character too intelligent will cause their levels of happiness and culture to decrease. As you play the game these levels are tracked and they effect the way that other people perceive you including friends, employers and significant others. The point of the game is to form as many meaningful relationships as possible for which you earn points, called “kudos”. I’ve played Kudos many times in the past months and as I did when I read the “Choose your own adventure” books, I became interested in how the best combinations of choices can lead to the best possible outcome. I played the game through to the end several times, choosing different initial combinations of intelligence, happiness and culture, for my character. What I found in the many times when I played Kudos was that in order to have the best possible outcome (earn the most points), it is best to make your character as happy as possible at the cost of intelligence and culture. In the game there are several options to increase your character’s intelligence and culture, but if your character is unhappy at the beginning of the game, it is near impossible to collect points, since no one will want to hang out with you and since there are very limited ways of increasing your character’s happiness, this is likely to be a viscous cycle of misery. Apparently, the designers of Kudos made a couple of assumptions when designing the game; number one – if you aren’t happy it’s very difficult to find friends, get hired, be in a romantic relationship etc, and number two – if you start out life unhappy, to spite other redeeming qualities you may have or acquire over the course of your life, you will remain mostly unhappy and thus unsuccessful in life.
I was still trying to figure out if Yahoo is attempting to make a statement about how to live a successful life with their Kudos game, when I bumped into this article today on yahoo. The article titled “Why Video Games May Be Hard to Give Up” discusses recent studies which support claims that the games “may fulfill basic psychological needs”.
A recent study which looked at 1,000 gamers, and asked them to fill out questionnaires before and after playing video games attempted to gauge what interested the players and what kept them playing. According to the results of this study, what kept players interested in coming back for more is being able to attain a sense of achievement in a game, a sense of freedom and a connection to other players. Researchers say that these benefits showed to be more important in determining if you come back for more, then just “having fun” with a game. In addition the players which reported feeling the best after playing games were the players whom played games which produced positive experience and challenges which related to what they knew about in the real world. One of the researchers, Richard Ryan a motivational psychologist, goes on to say that “it’s our contention that the psychological ‘pull’ of games is largely due to their capacity to engender feelings of autonomy, competence and relatedness”, and the video games “can be experienced as enhancing psychological wellness, at least short-term.”
This research may explain may explain why people would be interested in playing games like Kudos, which is supposed to simulate real life. But will games like Kudos actually cause even short-term psychological wellness when played? I didn’t see any evidence presented in the yahoo article which would provide proof of this claim. However, for those of us that find meaning in the simplest of things, we may be able to concede to attempting to make ourselves a bit happier after fouling up our “life” a few times in Kudos. After all, going through life unhappy does make things more difficult, that much I don’t need any research on in order to buy into.
Bechdel, J. (2007). Can Video Games that Imitate Life be Beneficial to Your Mental Well-being?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 5, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2007/01/16/can-video-games-which-imitate-life-be-benificial-to-your-mental-wellbeing/