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.


The Silent Relationships

An interesting thought occurred to me the other day while I was on the bus going to class. I was sitting next to a woman and due to the large number of people riding that day it was cramped and everyone had to squeeze as best they could. This closeness, which broke down the personal space bubble that is the norm in American society, got me thinking. What if there are some people who feel so alone that even the short time of being on the bus next to someone, feeling their leg touching yours, was comforting to them?

The intimacy of relationships with others isn’t something we think about often, but when we hug a friend, shake a hand, or give a friendly punch on the shoulder to a buddy we are engaging in an intimate act. Each time we do that it can strengthen a bond and these types of interactions make us feel appreciated and loved. But what about people who feel cut off from the rest of the world? Do they take these intimate acts for granted too or do they even experience them at all? Does something as simple as a bus ride with a familiar face or a interaction with someone at a grocery store mean so much more to them?

Some people (notably the elderly) often shop at the same store for the majority of their needs even if that place doesn’t offer the best service or have the best prices. Many times it is the (perceived) relationship that that person has with the stores employees that keeps them coming back. To those men and women shopping is not just a chore, but a social experience where they can see people they know and feel the kind of intimacy that we all crave. These are often the silent relationships, the ones that people take pleasure and comfort in without the other person knowing.

This may sound creepy, and it can be taken too far, but is it really that far out of the ordinary? Stopping after work at a gas station and being recognized and acknowledged by the attendant. Enjoying your co-workers talking (but not complaining) about their kids or their family. Saying hello or a quick word of thanks to the janitor. Everyday occurrences to us but to someone else it might have a deeper impact.

Do you know anyone like this? Maybe they don’t have many friends or they are dealing with depression or some other emotional issue. Sometimes we are all guilty of treating them as an annoyance and trying to distance ourselves. I’m not saying that you have to go out of your way to cater to someone’s  every whim or try and fix their lives, but a simple act of kindness, or the effort to make them a familiar, friendly acquaintance can go a long way. We all see our relationships in different ways and I think if we considered the value that other people derive from a relationship it would do us good. Instead of considering in a selfish way what you can get out of it, try and be a person who gives in your relationships. You may just find that you mean more to the other person than you realized, or even the other way around.

I’m not really even sure where I was going with this post to be honest, but it has been rolling around in my brain for a while now and I thought I would get it out and published. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Am I just insane? Well maybe don’t answer that last question. 😉 Leave a comment below with any thoughts or comments!

S*** Colored Glasses

When I took my required psychology course a few years back my professor told a story about a man he said had “shit-colored glasses.” He told this story to emphasize the idea that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it. By having this disgustingly skewed and tinted view of the world and everything that happened to him, the man with the shit colored glasses reacted negatively to whatever came his way. Always taking the pessimistic side and reflecting on the worst aspects of situations, his life reflected the nature of the lense through which he saw the world. In other words: it was shitty.

Now the opposite of this extreme, the more commonly recognized “rose-colored glasses”, is descriptive of someone who always sees the good in everything and is overly optimistic. They think things are more pleasant than they really are. While this type of outlook on life is not as destructive as the former one, it can still be dangerous. If you don’t take into account the negatives in life you can never adequately prepare for them. If you are constantly overlooking the flaws and bad things in your relationships you can become trapped and ignorant of the greater truth.

So what color of glasses do you see life through? are you always focusing on the negative and reacting in detrimental ways? Are you too optimistic and don’t take decisive action when needs call for it? Obviously most people fall somewhere in between these two categories, but I think it is good to bring to mind every now and then the fact that our attitude towards and reactions to life have a huge impact on our happiness and the outcome of our lives here on earth.