The Reason He Plays Video Games

If you aren't big into video games, you may think that playing video games is a waste of time. 

It's just nice to be in a place, for a while, where things are simple.

I've been playing video games since the second grade, which means I've been gaming for about two decades.  I understand that to far too many people, especially dating advice columnists, this means I sit around the house and smoke drugs before going to my convenience store job.  And I get a lot of questions along the lines of "Why the hell does he play these things constantly?"  And with "Batman: Arkham City" set to ruin productivity figures for the week, I'll probably get it more.  

Well, I'll tell you!

People have thrown billions of dollars and millions of hours at research at this, in an indirect way.  They've been trying to figure out why some people hate their jobs and other people don't.  And they've figured out that in order to feel satisfied with your job you need three things:

A say in what you do and when you do it

Tasks that are challenging in various ways and require you to use different parts of your brain (complexity).

A clear connection between the effort you put into something and the rewards you get from it (effort-reward balance).

It sounds a little simple, but stop and think, and think hard, about how much you have that at your job.  Heck, do you have all three at anything? This isn't a minor thing, either: without one or more of these, it's been proven you have employees that goof off on the Internet all day, employees more prone to substance abuse, workplace bullying, the list goes on.

This is why, you may notice, there have been huge shifts in the workplace.  After all, if your work is rewarding, you like your job and want to do more of it.  But not everybody gets all three of these in their job. Your average fast food cashier is not finding their job terribly complex, or rewarding in any sense.

But video games, especially well-designed ones, offer this by their very nature.  In a modern game, if you defeat an enemy, you get money, weapons, and experience points to improve your character and make him better.  The push for "sandbox" games has given a huge sense of autonomy: if you want to climb to the top of the largest building in the game and jump off, for giggles, go for it.  And complexity comes in the various goals you get in the game, ranging from "go here and kill this guy" to "solve this complex puzzle with multiple parts."  You even get trophies for completing certain tasks.

Add to this what it's like being a guy in your early twenties.  Maybe you just got out of school, or have been working full time for a while.  But either way, it's fairly likely that whatever cranial circuitry you have is not being substantially challenged by your job.  For example, my first "real job" out of college was essentially filling out and faxing forms, making phone calls, and data entry.  For twelve bucks an hour.

I was miserable.  I was living off of eggs, carrots and ramen, I was barely getting my student loans paid, and I had just moved to a city where I had no friends.  So I spent a lot of time gaming.  I'd come home to my apartment, make myself dinner (eggs, carrots and ramen), sit in my butterfly chair, and play "Resident Evil 4" or "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker" for five solid hours, go to bed, and repeat until the weekend.  If I wasn't gaming, I was probably watching a movie.

I did this for about six months.  As I found friends, I stopped gaming quite as much, but realistically speaking, having something vastly more rewarding than my alleged career was what helped me get through that.  And, honestly, gaming has its appeal even if you like your job.

So, in short, it's not because of a lack of maturity, or an addiction, or anything like that.  It's because he gets something out of it that he doesn't get elsewhere.  It's just nice to be in a place, for a while, where things are simple.

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