Throughout this article I’ll be using Resident Evil 6 gameplay to illustrate how games completely f**k with your mind (in a good way). . .
Gaming. Many deem it a fantasy escape from reality. Yet there is one part of gaming that is very much real. It is the part of gaming that sells millions of units every month: The fulfilment of basic psychological needs and desires. When you pull the trigger in Resident Evil 6, the gun may be fake, the NPC (non-player character) may be fake, the ammo may be fake; every seemingly quantifiable part of the game may be fake, except one: The basic human desire to perform an action and see a response. You pull the trigger, you see the dead enemy. Simple, yet incredibly powerful. In it’s ways like this that the best games like Resident Evil 6 are able to make something very real out of something very fake. They take a cirtual world (fake) and use it to fulfil many of your most basic psychological needs (real).
Game designers design Resident Evil 6 gameplay (and other games) to fulfil basic psychologiycal needs. In Resident Evil 6 gameplay, for instance, when you pull the trigger, you might be firing a fake bullet, but what’s REAL is the sense that you, as a human, performed an action and saw an immediate response. This give the gamer a sense of power, which is what makes Resident Evil 6 gameplay enjoyable.
Lost among six billion other people on this planet, feeling isolated from the important stuff in life (which often comes down to what happens on TV, in politics or big business) and with no super powers, nano-suit technology or abilities to throw fireballs, oftentimes we feel like we don’t exist in the real world. All we really want is to perform an action and see an immediate response. We want to pull a trigger and see the result. We want to fulfil a basic human desire that in real life often seems so distant, but in gaming never is. We want to know our actions make a difference. In this elemental psychological need, gaming is more real than real life, because it provides more feedback for our actions, more stimuli for our mind, more food for our senses. And this is just one way in which the psychological rules that govern game development are not only real but can be turned to your advantage to make life as fun, easy and exciting as a game.
So far from being damaging and corrupting to youth (sorry, but as a gamer I have to LOL at the stupid and wild accusations gaming suffers) games like Resident Evil 6 actually provide a very clear example of one of the keys of positivity; the key rules by which people can live positive lives. Games don’t magic-up some evil potion to have gamers play games for hundreds of hours. They succeed because they abide by psychological rules that keep the gamer’s brain involved in the game. By understanding that process, one can easily transfer the so called “addiction” of gaming to commitment and motivation in the workplace, at home or wherever else, or to a sense of empowerment in the world and in their social lives, or to any other positive sensation that games produce. This first set of psychology lessons from gaming will reveal how games illustrate important psychology lessons that all can readily benefit from.
Lessons 2: Realise your Purpose — How Resident Evil 6 Gameplay Constantly Reminds Us of Purpose
The first, most obvious and arguably most important psychology lesson presented by games is that they always frame your actions by putting a purpose around them. In Resident Evil 6 your purpose is immediately obvious: survive. You’re constantly reminded of this purpose through the game. The monsters of Resident Evil 6 aren’t just there so you have something to kill; they’re there to remind you of your purpose, to stay alive. In fact, everything that happens in Resident Evil 6, and indeed in all good games, serves to remind you of your purpose. Here are some examples:
When you get a first aid spray in Resident Evil 6: You’re being given a way to fulfil your purpose of staying alive, by healing.
When you kill an enemy in Resident Evil 6: You’re not just killing someone, you’re getting rid of a threat to your purpose of staying alive.
When you watch a Resident Evil 6 cutscene, it reminds you of your purpose probably by a) using a plot point to show that you’re getting closer to achieving your purpose or b) show a new enemy which is a threat to your purpose.
It goes on and on. Everything that happens in Resident Evil 6, as in all good games, reminds you of your purpose. In Resident Evil 6, that purpose is to stay alive, but in other games it might be to earn money, to kill a certain enemy, to save the princess and so on. Whatever the purpose is, you’re constantly reminded of it.
Every time the gamer performs an action it is driven by this story and this purpose. It is a heightened life, a heightened sense of importance, that sparks the player’s imagination and motivates their actions. The first true realism of gaming then, and the first psychology lesson from gaming, is to always frame one’s actions with a genuine sense of purpose.
Game of Life: Games As Psychology Lessons 3: Remember to top-up your Motivation
The second psychology lesson from gaming is really an extension of the first, but nevertheless important. It is vital both to gameplay and to life that one takes the time, whenever necessary, to top-up their motivation by a) remembering their purpose and b) always being aware of how their actions, no matter how small, are continually pushing them closer and closer to their goal.
The best illustration of this comes from online gaming where a points system is used to rank players. Let’s take Street Fighter 4.
In Street Fighter 4, thousands of players compete online in “ranked battles.” Essentially, the players are competing for points that wil either move them up or down the ranking ladder. Players are told at the end of every game how many points they won or loss as well as being told, even during the actual matches, their position in the leaderboard. The reason this is so addicting is that it constantly gives the message “You are this, but THIS is what you could be!” Naturally, players always want to play another game to continue to move up the ladder. Imagine if such an effective form of motivation and clarity of purpose were applied to work. The result would be a greatly heightened level of motivation ni the workplace
Game of Life: Games As Psychology Lessons 4: Focus on Change
As mentioned earlier, we all suffer at times from a sense of irrelevance. At times we feel like we’re lost in the big world where other people make the decisions and our own actions have absolutely no effect. And so we turn to games. Why? Here’s why.
Games are designed to show the maximum output for the gamer’s actions because doing so produces a sense of empowerment in the gamer. Yes, when you decapitate a monster in Resident Evil 6, or when you blow up a building in a FPS, you feel empowered. Games are constantly telling us “Your actions matter.” Games are continually reassuring us of our own importance. So, the next psycholgy lesson from gaming is to focus on the effects of your actions, to always be aware of the changes your choices make in the real world. Doing so naturally heightens your sense of importance and your awareness of your own power.
Game of Life: Games As Psychology Lessons 5: Always be Mindful of your Resources.
Good games always have an immediately accessible representation of the player’s resources. Both third and first person shooter games, like Resident Evil 6, for instance, have an easy-to-use inventory that shows what guns you are carrying, how many bullets you have and all other items available to you. This is beneficial for two reasons. Firstly, the player can very quickly do a mental run-through of all their items to see which might be helpful in their current situation. Secondly(and this may be a big one for some of us), it negates the need to use your memory; you don’t have to question what you do and don’t have. If you need an item that isn’t in your inventory you go and get it. None of that “Do we need more cheese?” whilst you’re at the grocery store; if the cheese isn’t in your HUD, it’s not in your fridge, so get it!
Psychology Lesson Number 4 : Always have your resources in a convenient, easy to reach place. Else when you’re being eaten by a zombie president in Resident Evil 6 you’re going to forget you’ve got a first aid spray.
So, that’s it for The Game of Life number 1. Hopefully this article has shown that games, despite what many critics may say, actually hold very positive lessons of life for those with open eyes (as well as providing a new way of looking at Resident Evil 6). By being aware of the process through which games entertain and motivate you, you can readily transfer those attributes to your own life, and in doing so produce the positive sensations of gaming in your day to day lives.