When I was nine years old, my parents purchased an Nintendo 64 for me. It was my first real experience with video games outside of occasional visits to an arcade. My first game was Star Fox 64 and over time my library expanded to include the original Super Smash Bros, Mario Golf, and early Madden titles. I loved those old games and assumed, like me, everyone enjoyed video games. I still remember playing (and mostly losing) Madden or Mario Golf with my dad. But one day, I asked my mom if she wanted to watch me play Star Fox because I was near the end of the game. She refused and to quote her reason, “Watching you play those games is as interesting to me as watching a faucet drip.” I realized then that while I may enjoy playing video games, it’s not a universal experience.
I’m an adult now, with a wife, kids, and other major responsibilities. Yet, I still enjoy and find time to play video games. Until now, I had never stopped to ask why. Why do I like playing these games? How is it fun to sit on your couch for a few hours and click buttons? I came up with five reasons. These are subjective reasons, but I think universal enough to apply to people besides me. There are five major reasons that video games are fun: fantasy fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment, overcoming a challenge, unwinding after a long day, and an activity with friends.
Like other media, such as books and film, video games entertain through fantasy fulfillment. People play video games for the same reason they read books and watch movies. It’s fun to read about King Arthur and his knights because as you’re reading you’re picturing yourself in Medieval England along with those heroes. It’s fun to watch action movies like Die Hard or Taken, because you live vicariously through them. As you watch Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson overcome extreme odds, a small part you feels like you could do it too.
Video games are fun because instead of passively fulfilling a fantasy, you’re actively involved. You’re the hero and you can be anything you want to be. Sports star, heroic knight, rugged cowboy, mercenary, soldier, there’s a game for any idle fantasy. And what person hasn’t dreamed of being a cowboy or a sports star? And instead of just watching Clint Eastwood shoot up the town or Lebron James dunk, you can do it through a video game.
The most fun I’ve ever had playing a video game was when I played Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. From the moment I was able to read, I loved pirates. I must have watched Muppet Treasure Island a thousand times. I read books all about Jason Kidd and Blackbeard and would often construct fantastical tales with my toy pirate ship and its buccaneer crew. Any time my family visited Disneyland, I rode “The Pirate Ride!” over and over and over again. So when I stole a ship and began piloting it on the open waters in Black Flag, my inner ten year old leapt for joy. The whoosh of the wind against the sails, the hearty shanties of my crew, the thunder of my fusillade as I broadsided the enemy frigate, and the clash of steel as I boarded the ship and cut my way through the enemy crew, all combined to create an previously unmatched euphoria (the birth of my son was slightly higher on the joy list). This feeling came from finally being able to recreate and vicariously live out a lifelong childhood fantasy.
Video games also provide a great sense of accomplishment. This is occurs through earning trophies or achievements for completing goals. Beat the game? Hooray gold trophy! Finally crushed that troublesome boss? Silver trophy! It’s a nice pat on the back for doing something. Video games also provide accomplishment from earning items or other special things within the game. Did you finally clean out that dungeon full of skeletons and demons? Hooray, now you can access the secret chest that has the magical sword or an item needed to achieve the quest and became hero of the little town that sent you. These little things add up over the course of the game and enhance your overall experience.
Video games also present challenges that you can overcome. There’s no thrill quite like beating a game on its hardest difficulty or overcoming that enormous enemy that keeps stomping on your face. For example, beating a From Software game, like the excellent new Bloodborne DLC (click here for my review), is uniquely cathartic. Finally breaking through after spending hours banging your head against a wall, is a fantastic feeling.
Video games are also a great activity to do with family or friends. I played sports games with my brothers and my dad growing up. It was a great way to bond. Even though my brothers don’t play many video games now, whenever they visit my house we pull out an old NBA game and compete for old times sake. I loved the weekly Madden game against my Dad and his frequent comments that the refs are cheating just like in real life. Some of the best memories from college are the red bull fueled late night gaming sessions with my roommate and other people in the dorm.
Finally, video games are a great way to relax after a long day. Killing a horde of zombies or leading the Giants to the World Series can really help you unwind after a particularly difficult day. Personally, focusing on something simple, like pitching a few games with my MLB character or completing a quest or two in Skyrim, clears your head so you’re not carrying your work day around with you while you’re at home.
In conclusion, these are the five main reasons why, even as a responsible parent and adult, I still play video games. It’s a blast reliving your favorite childhood fantasies. It’s a great activity when you visit friends or family. It helps you unwind after a particularly stressful day. Completing games and overcoming challenges provides a feeling of accomplishment. Feel free to comment your reasons for playing video games below.