Why do we play video games?

Manuel Thomas
March 19, 2019
Gaming is currently experiencing a boom. Around the world, 2.2 billion players regularly immerse themselves in virtual worlds on PCs, consoles or mobile phones. But why do so many people spend time gaming?

What is the fascination of battles in Fortnite, bank heists in Grand Theft Auto V, creating worlds in Minecraft, or venturing out on lonely quests in The Witcher 3? In short: Why do we game? The worlds of psychology, philosophy and economics each have their own answer to this question.

Games are fun

Psychology tells us that gaming is fun. Fun means different things to different gamers – for some it means putting their skills to the test in battles, for others it’s all about spending time with friends. Market research institute Quantic Foundry asked 300,000 gamers the following question: What makes gaming fun for you? They distilled the following six reasons from the responses.

  • Action: A lot of gamers love the sheer joy of causing destruction and mayhem, blowing off some steam, letting their inner child run riot – and doing things they wouldn’t even think about doing in real life. We hope. Example: Grand Theft Auto V

  • Socialising: For many gamers, gaming is all about playing together, winning together, losing together and sharing your experiences together. Example: Rainbow Six Siege

  • Mastery: For some gamers, the appeal lies in maxing out the grey matter and carefully considering the consequences every decision might have in the pursuit of their goal. Example: StarCraft II

  • Achievement: Man is a hunter-gatherer. For some people, gaming is about collecting everything. The rarer, the better. Example: World of Warcraft

  • Immersion: RPGs are where the action is for many gamers. For them, gaming is all about completely immersing themselves in a different role. Example: The Witcher 3

  • Creativity: Creating new worlds or modding existing ones is what motivates a lot of gamers to pick up the controller. Example: Minecraft

Things that make gaming fun

Gamer Motivation Model

Games are distraction

Philosophy views playing games as a distraction. The roots of this idea go as far back as the seventeenth century, as French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” In an empty room, people start thinking about death and life’s lack of meaning. For Pascal, there were two possible solutions to this problem: devoting oneself to God and prayer or finding escape in diversion and pursuing enjoyable distractions. He compares diversion with hunting a rabbit – it is not the rabbit itself that distracts us from thoughts of sorrow, misery and death, but the hunt itself. So playing is a lot like hunting, in that we are always in pursuit of our next target, the next reward, the next game – the next diversion.

Performance improvement

Gaming improves performance. “For, to speak out once for all, man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.” This long quote is from Friedrich Schiller, a German philosopher, who was discussing the aesthetic education of man. Schiller saw playing as the perfect opportunity for people to show their true selves, to be who they really are, to forget everything else – politics and war for Schiller or death and misery for Pascal. The effectiveness of games can be perfectly demonstrated in the office – we forget petty squabbles, silos and differences of opinion and play together. We work together. Playing games at work like "Keep Talking and nobody explodes" in a digital or Sarah's Vision in an anlog form helps us to break out of the usual routine and improve the performance of each member of the team.

What do you think?

Why do we play? We got some answers from the worlds of psychology, philosophy and economics. Which answer do you agree with? Vote anonymously.

Vote

  1. Fun

    Whether alone, together or head-to-head, gaming is all about fun.

    Fun

  2. Distraction

    Games distract you and let you forget the stresses and worries of everyday life.

    Distraction

  3. Performance improvement

    Gaming is something that helps you improve your performance – whether alone or in a team.

    Performance improvement