To people outside of the video game bubble, playing games is usually deemed a waste of time. It is irritating, and it shows we still have some way to go before the stigma is removed. Yet it also comes down to people forgetting what exactly ‘play’ is.
Play in human culture is an absolute requirement for a society to function. Without the ability to play, a society loses a sense of identity. Play, as entertainment, has been involved in every civilization. The Romans had their great Colosseum which gathered thousands of people to witness gladiator’s battle to the death. They weren’t primitive people; they lived in an age in which it was normal. They enjoyed watching people battle it out, they also enjoyed more simple activities like board games, or if they felt physical they might have hunted. The Ancient Egyptians also enjoyed their share of board games. Senet is one of the most commonly found artefacts found in burial sites, which is a board game that was widely popular during their era.
Each generation has bought a new form of ‘play’ with them, one which mirrors the time in which they were in. Joshua Diltz describes it as, “Like human beings, the mediums in which concepts and ideas are expressed are constantly changing.” This is true in that over time, people have found various means of ways to express themselves. There are so many different forms of art, and video games are one of the newest. It allows creative designers to express themselves through digital means for others to enjoy and immerse themselves in a fabricated world.
In modern terms, we live in a society which is dominated by media, the internet and the entertainment industry. While we still possess more simple forms of play, our forms of play have branched out in a way which connects every person. Throughout history and in present terms, play is something that brings members of society together. Whether it be going to the home stadium to see your favourite football team, or dragging your gear to a LAN party. Play is an absolutely vital part of society and a massive influence on its generation’s culture.
“There can be no doubt that play is, as Huizinga claimed, central to human culture.” Most people strive for an abundance of knowledge, for excellence, for purpose and power and to get what they feel they deserve. Whether it through small or large effort, people are constantly busy. When people look at play, certain people tend to look at it as a needless activity. The Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga, was also one of the founders of modern cultural history in which one of his most famous works, Homo Ludens detailed heavily of all the different forms of play, “So it seems we are deeply contradicted in our cultural attitude toward play. Play is the antithesis of the productive, sensible and useful. Yet for all its shortcomings, play has always been with us and has always been pervasive, popular, and engaged in with passion“
Play is often seen as a way to have a break or relax, yet people still view it as something which can be missed. It is one of the most important activities a person can undertake and without it, life would be mundane. To stay sane you need something to which you can step away from reality and enjoy yourself. Play is vital to a person’s motivation, a stress reliever, and a way to enjoy the time you have.
Ronit Kark extensively researched how video games are increasingly becoming involved within workplace and management skills, “Play has become increasingly acknowledged as an important factor in offices and organizations.” It is a good sign to see video games being utilised in situations like workplaces, because it is something which can be used for much more than pure entertainment. For me, when I finish a shift or finish an assignment, the only thing I want to do is play some videos games. If someone were to take away that privilege from me, what am I motivated to work for? If I can’t enjoy my favourite thing, how will I enjoy anything?
Gaming has been my most time-consuming activity ever since I was a young kid. It has been an ever-present figure throughout my childhood, and my most enjoyed hobby. From board games like Monopoly, to video games like World of Warcraft, these titles have been a huge presence in my life. M.Csikszentmihalyi is a man who excels in studying happiness and creativity as a psychology professor. His notion of ‘flow’ is something that can easily describe what happens when I game. It is when I am so involved in a game that nothing else really matters. It allows me to break away from ‘reality’, to use as a form of ‘escapism’ but also to immerse myself in another person’s creation. It is also exactly as Csikszentmihalyi (don’t bother trying to read it out loud) describes it, it is where I am the happiest.
Each game has been designed to capture a gamer and immerse the play into their created world, well some company’s more than others (particularly movie-game titles), and show what they have worked hard for. With Monopoly it is very easy to get into that ‘flow’ when you are playing with family/friends. Games of Monopoly can often go for hours and hours, yet no one really notices because everyone is so involved in the game. Same goes for when I use to play World of Warcraft, a huge MMORPG that at its peak reached over 11 million subscribers. Day after day I would spend hours levelling up characters and gearing them out. It was very easy to get caught in the flow of the game, and hours would go by without me noticing. Civilization V is another example, it would be about 3 a.m before I realised how late it was because it was so easy to get into that state of flow.
It is just incredible how easy games like these can get a player so involved in the game. But it’s not just gaming which can reach that state, athletes, workers who love their job, basically any form of activity. There are so many different kinds of games to immerse you in; we are definitely a spoilt bunch. I recently played Last of Us, which is perhaps the best game I’ve ever played in terms of storytelling and immersion. Games like Last of Us are why gaming is such a big influence in my life.
Play is one of the most essential products of life, and one that we cannot live without. It is our break away from reality, it is our form of happiness and it is ever-changing. Every civilization, every generation has adapted play and mirrored it to their age in history. It can gather thousands of people, it can make your alone time not so lonesome, it can connect the world. It is a hard thing to define, context is everything, and in terms of play it can vary. When people ask what makes a good game, it all comes down to what form of play they are asking. Some aspects of a game can be better for a certain game, and that same aspect can ruin the experience for another. For me, play is my most cherished activity, one that will always been ever-present.