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Researcher Asks "Why Do We Play Games?"

| 8 Aug 2011 19:05
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An upcoming research project attempts to explain the appeal of videogames.

I'm assuming that since you're here on The Escapist you probably enjoy the odd videogame or two, but can you tell me why? I certainly can't explain my fascination with the medium and why, of all the different ways I could entertain myself, I always end up coming back to games. A new study, due to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, seeks to explain why so many people are attracted to the hobby.

Working with academics in Germany and the United States, Dr. Andy Przybylski, a visiting research fellow at the Department of Psychology in Essex University, studied thousands of dedicated gamers playing games such as Call of Duty, World of Warcraft and The Sims in a laboratory environment. The research discovered that gaming is the ideal platform to "try on different hats" in that it allows gamers to take on characteristics of their ideal self. The research found that taking on a new identity in game, even one drastically different from the gamer's own, made them feel better about themselves and view themselves in a less negative light. Dr. Przybylski does mention that games offer a sense of accomplishment and competence that gamers might not be able to achieve in meatspace, but on the whole he is astoundingly positive about the experiences games can offer.

"I was heartened by the findings which show that people were not running away from themselves but running towards their ideals," he said. "They are not escaping to nowhere they are escaping to somewhere."

While some might dismiss Dr. Przybylski's research as stating the obvious, personally I think it's pleasant to see a scientist trying to find the positive aspects of the medium rather than just the negative ones. On the other hand, if the games we enjoy the most are those that represent our ideal selves, then my ideal self is a sexually ambiguous, genderless, asbestos-clad mercenary that scuttles around burning people to death and collecting hats. Hmm ...

Source: Psychological Science via Eurogamer

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