BY: ERIK HUSTON
With Fallout 4 now released, gamers everywhere will be hunkering down for a long winter of blasting mutants. Video games like Fallout get people really hyped up, and it all has to do with the immersion. The allure of a cinematic experience is great – that is why the movie industry is so huge – but combine that with the ability to control how you go through that experience and you have a video game.
Video games were a huge feature of my childhood years. I started playing Half Life while sitting on my dad’s lap, eventually moving on to The Legend of Zelda in early grade school, and then on to Halo and Gears of War, and now Fallout 4. I have always been a gamer. And I am not alone.
In a recent TED Talk, Jane McGonigal spoke about a statistic from a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University: “The average young person today in a country with a strong gamer culture will have spent 10,000 hours playing online games by the age of 21.” This is huge when you think about the fact that a child with perfect attendance will be in school for exactly 10,080 hours from fifth grade to high school graduation. McGonigal states that children have an entire alternative education derived from games that is completely self-motivated, and no one pays any mind to it. But what are children learning in this virtual education? McGonigal makes three generalizations based on her research and they parallel my personal experience as a childhood gamer.
1. Urgent Optimism
McGonigal says “think of this as extreme self-motivation” – and she is right. When we play games we don’t do it grudgingly, we have a fire in our belly to get to that next level or defeat “Phogoth, the Untamed” for example. For me this has carried over to my work life. When I am in my flow – as I am right now, writing this article – I feel the same kind of intensity as I do when I am battling some massive beast in a video game. I don’t know if games have taught me this kind of “extreme self-motivation” or if they taught me to find what it is that will bring this kind of feeling out of me. What I do know is that there is a connection between the feelings I have when playing video games and the feelings I have when working on a project.
2. Social Fabric
Every one who knows me thinks of me as a very social person. I may have always been a talker but it was playing Halo 3 custom games that made me blossom. I remember gathering together with all of my Halo friends and blasting each other to bits. It was good fun and definitely shaped my sociability. McGonigal explains “there’s a lot of interesting research that shows we like people better after we play a game with them.” She says that because we have to trust each other to invest our time and play by the rules, we form friendships faster.
3. Blissful Productivity
A huge part of my personal philosophy is that we are happier when we work hard on things that make us feel fulfilled. McGonigal validates this point wonderfully: “We know that we are optimized as human beings to do hard and meaningful work. And gamers are willing to work hard all the time, if they’re given the right work.” I often wonder if my affinity for blissful productivity came from games.
4. Epic Meaning
This is huge, and it is more than just building stories in game worlds. McGonigal explained that the World of Warcraft Wiki is second in size only to the real Wikipedia. With 80,000 articles and five million visitors a month, this is a prime example of what games are capable of evoking in people. But for me, the meaning goes a little deeper. Sometimes when I see something beautiful in real life, my mind naturally wanders back to a game with a similar scene. And this opens Pandora’s box of meaning. Every detail and epic experience that I had in that game comes flooding into real life, filling me with wonder and pride.
Sure, we gamers can kick mutant ass in Fallout 4, but we can kick ass in real life too. Not despite the fact that we play games, but because we play games. We are as much heroes in real life as we are in our virtual worlds. We just need to open up the fact that we have been training to change the world all our lives. Every quest we complete and every achievement we get is another qualification to show you what you are capable of. You are a beast, now let’s use those qualities outside of video games and work towards scoring an epic win for our world.