The Gift of Games

There are few things that can bring people together and break through barriers like a game can. This is one of the primary reasons I love gaming. The framework it provides for social interaction is unlike  any other activity. Whether it is a card game, board game, or role playing game face-to-face gaming is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to meet new people.

When you think about it, what makes meeting people and breaking the ice so difficult? For me it is the lack of shared experiences. Conversation and interactions are all based off of the experiences of each individual, but true friendships are formed only when those people share an experience with each other. Games provide that experience immediately by breaking through social stigmas and becoming a platform for interaction.

  • Games provide rules. Rules determine the “social norms” of the game and allow everyone to act and become comfortable within those norms. Since everybody knows them, everyone knows what to expect and how to act.
  • Games can often times provide a shared goal. Games that involve teamwork immediately give a reason for people to work together and interact. Even competitive games usually have a single goal that is wanted by all the players.

Games and game mechanics can also provide value in other ways. In Aaron Dignan’s book Game Frame he addresses the two causes or sources of the apparent apathy of many young people. First there is a lack of volition. Volition is the will to do something; it is what motivates us to take action. Faculty is our confidence that we have the skills and expertise to accomplish something.

Often times people limit themselves because they lack either volition or faculty. Games can change this by providing what Dignan calls “flow.” Flow is a state where a person’s skills and expectations rise at the same approximate level as the challenges he or she faces. If a challenge is to hard and our skill level too low it creates anxiety, whereas if our skills are more than adequate for the challenge then we become bored.

Games optimize flow so that when you first start out you are confronted with challenges that you can overcome with a limited skill set. As your skills grow so do the challenges. This provides a strong model on which to improve skills and confidence.

These are just a few things that games can teach us, and only part of the reason I love them so much. If you are interested in this topic I suggest you check out Game Frame or the work of Jane McGonigal.

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