Why Do We Play Games?

Have you ever stopped to wonder just what it is that keeps you playing games? Do you ever consider how much time has been spent embracing the simple act of play? And, do you ever ponder whether we all have the same things driving us to continue down, what for many, becomes a lifelong path?

Nah, me neither, now who’s for Battlefield?


Wait…I suppose I’ve started so I’ll endeavour to finish.

Since I was a little kid I’ve always loved games. No surprise there, most children love games. But, as I enter my fourth decade on our third rock from the sun, it occurs to me that I’ve never really stopped playing. I’ve been a board gamer, a computer gamer, a Fighting Fantasy book reading gamer, a role-playing gamer, a console gamer, a solitary gamer, a social gamer, a bloody social network gamer, and now, I’ve rekindled my inner boardgame flame and once again become a tabletop gamer. Over forty years on planet Earth, my own nerd rock from the sun, you could say I’ve played some games.

Now these things were addictive! And easy to cheat at.
Now these things were addictive! And easy to cheat at.

I know I’m not alone in this either. There are many out there just like myself. Sure we mix things up with other loves of our own; sports, books, movies, music, polar bear wrestling, flower arranging, just the usual fare, but we always find time to play. But, what is it about our games that keeps us coming back day after day, year after year and decade after decade? That is the question, now let’s seek out some answers.

For myself, my current time spent playing falls into three different categories; social interaction, escapism, and competition.

The rebirth of my love for board games has truly opened my eyes once again to the absolute beauty of playing around a table rather than a TV screen. Video games, as great as they undoubtedly are, offer very little time in-between the action for real interaction with those around you. The focus on that screen is intense, and results in quite a solitary experience. Even when playing online, a voice in your ear doesn’t quite cut it socially. However, a board game with great people around the table becomes something that transcends the actual game itself. It becomes a wonderful experience that simply builds foundations upon the board game. The game is purely the means to bring family and friends together, if it happens to be a little gem, then that’s a bonus. The real joy is in the chat around the table, the friendly competition or bond building cooperation, and the stories you get to tell together from a few drawn cards and rolled dice. The social element of these sort of games is priceless, and is something I relish every time we gather at the table.

You can tell this isn't one of our own gatherings by the lack of crispy snacks on the table.
You can tell this isn’t one of our own gatherings by the lack of crispy snacks on the table.

Escapism however, is something that the video game does with ease. I love stories, I enjoy reading them, watching them unfold on the screen, but, more than anything, I enjoy living them through video games. It’s so easy to become completely absorbed into the fabric of a game that the surrounding world fades deep into the background. I will always remember my time playing games such as, The Walking Dead, Grand Theft Auto V, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and unforgettable moments such as, Ghillies in the Mist from Call of Duty 4, and when I do think back to these games, chances are I’ll go a little glossy eyed at the memories. Games hold moments of immense power and emotion, as I type that I picture The Walking Dead and Duck’s Mum walking to the woods with him wrapped in her arms for the very last time…shit…anyone got a tissue?..They also hold wonderful humour and unforgettable characters like, like, that guy from thingie, you know, the one who did that mad stuff that time. Joking aside though, the time where video games run parallel to film is upon us and I’m loving every magnificent second.

Games tell stories in much the same way a book or film does, but to be able to step into the hero’s shoes and forge the tale is worth its weight in escapism gold. Real life doesn’t need to be dreary or grey to appreciate escaping to other worlds, you simply need an adventurous heart, a wandering imagination and a desire to get lost for a few hours. And I think deep down we all have that spark.

Gets me right in the feels every...single...time.
Gets me right in the feels every…single…time.

Competition within games is definitely the thing that least fires my desire to play. Until that is, I actually become pretty good at a game. Call of Duty 3, countless hours fighting online, a dwindling population, a hardcore band of devoted players, and some of the best multiplayer maps ever to grace the digital battlefield, results in friendship, conflict, and a burning desire to be the best. Sort of. The only game I’ve ever felt any desire to beat my opponent, and felt any anger at losing in, was Call of Duty 3. That it happens to be the only game I was ever also decent at plays a huge part in this. When players jumped ship from CoD3 to the next instalment, and the next and the next, what was left at CoD3 was a good sized group of players who all gradually began to know each other. And from this knowledge, some genuine grudges were born. Everyone had a nemesis or two. Everyone had that one player they just had to beat. Fingers pressed tighter onto controllers as matches became ridiculously tense affairs, and it was all about bragging rights. I loved it! In fact, this is still going on today, a whole decade after the game released.

Call of Duty 3 was the first time that, Xbox LIVE, felt like the playground I had always imagined. Where reputation went before players, and opponents weren’t lost after a game to the millions searching for a match. I’m not really big on competition in games, but there is always that one exception!

These are a small number of the reasons I still play games, and why I’ll probably still be playing for years to come.

Here are what a couple of other folk had to say on the matter of playtime:

Why do you play?

Anthony still loves to play video games decades after he first encountered them, he told us, “As a teenager, I grew up over an arcade and certain styles of games have always appealed to me – mainly those with either a tactile or competitive nature, especially those that required either hand eye coordination or creative thought. I still like the challenge of beating a high score and beating my peers at something that as an older person I may not be expected to win at. This combined with the social interaction where relationships are created is of great comfort to me – since its often pleasurable to reminiscence about some of the great triumphs and the occasional absolute catastrophes of your games.”

Rachel is part of a family that enjoy taking time out to play games, she said, “Board games are all about family time. It’s all the kids around the table laughing and talking, it’s something we can all do together. Also it’s time spent not glued to some form of tablet or device, which seems to be getting rare in life these days. Video games are just about personal enjoyment, unless I get killed…getting killed just makes me angry…in a good way.”

I had a quick delve into the dusty archives of the internet to see if the topic had already been broached prior to this (of course it had, is there anything that hasn’t been said on the old world wide web?) and to see if our reasons for play as we enter adulthood follow a similar path to our gaming counterparts.

I had a quick look through a couple of popular forums and based on the responses drew up the following graph.



Perhaps unsurprisingly, fun, rules the roost when it comes to reasons to play games. However, the social aspect of gaming runs it a close second, and interestingly there is a difference between the video gamer and the tabletop gamer. For the video gamer, fun was the clear winner, but, social reasons came in third spot just behind escapism.

Meanwhile in the tabletop realm, social was the top of the pile closely followed by fun, and no tabletop players declared that they played the games for competition. They should have asked me!

Never stop playing games

In terms of my own reasons for play and the subsequent trawl through a few forums, I would have to concede that although I failed to mention it specifically, fun, is the overriding reason I play, and I suppose, social, escapism and competition are simply branch lines off that main track. Whatever the reasons though, and no matter how good one’s own reality is, I’ll continue to embrace every opportunity to shelve it for a few hours and bring some unreal adventures to rooms where chatter fills the air like tavern smoke, smiles spill across faces, and we enjoy the simple act of play.

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