March 21, 2018

Increasing Human Happiness Through Video Games

Donald Trump. At best, he’s a bit like Marmite. Some love him, and some wouldn’t put him anywhere near their morning toast.

Whatever your feelings towards America’s current president though, it’s hard to ignore his recent attack on the world of video games, and his misappropriation of big titles as a scapegoat for gun crime and violent attacks. The issue of video games and violence is nothing new, nor is it exclusive to Trump. It’s a debate that’s been raging for years, and while there are certainly games that have pushed things too far in the name of entertainment (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, I’m looking at you), these are in the minority.

The ‘No Russian’ mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, while optional, took things too far, forcing players to mimic a terrorist attack in an airport, killing countless innocent civilians

There is a huge catalogue of games that bring joy to people around the world in a variety of ways, many of which don’t resort to violence, or at least not the excessive and gratuitous violence you might associate with the world of gory horror films.

But just because a video game is violent, doesn’t automatically mean they make people violent. This has even been proved by German scientists, but that’s a bigger debate for a different blog.

At Unity, we’re all about increasing human happiness, and we firmly believe that video games are one of many entertainment mediums that provide this. Here are just some of the ways we think that video games promote happiness, encouraging play and learning in our increasingly busy lives.

First and foremost, video games are a form of escapism, allowing people of all walks of life to forget about the stresses of work, helping many relax after a long and taxing day at the office. You could even argue that, despite the misconception that video gamers hole themselves up in a dark room away from the real world, they actually help us make friends.

What’s more there are genres available to meet all needs. Do you wish you could command your own space fleet and visit distant worlds? Then why not fire up something like Mass Effect for some sci-fi antics, harvesting vital materials from planets and moons. Have you always wondered what it would be like to run your own farm? Well, indie farming simulator Stardew Valley may hold the key as you calmly tend to your crops and livestock on a daily basis, balancing crop cycles and weather patterns to your advantage. In fact, they should really use this game as a stress and anxiety therapy tool, it’s that peaceful.

To some, the idea of running a virtual farm fills them with nothing but boredom, but for others, it’s a chance to escape to a different life, and practice time management and even budgeting

I remember as a young gamer, wishing that I could one day escape the real world and transport myself into the life of a Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG), losing myself in the rich and beautiful landscapes that seemed to go on for miles, and save the world from evil. I know now that this isn’t possible, unfortunately, but playing the hero in these JRPGs offered me the ultimate feeling of escapism, and they still do.

Outside of the luscious environments, these games teach players key skills in strategy, tactics and team management, without making it feel like hard work. Facing off against the three giant dragons that make up Final Fantasy XIII-2’s final boss-battle made me rage-quit several times, but the feeling of winning once I’d re-evaluated my tactics is one of the best feelings in the world.

Big and scary? Yes. But no match for the right tactics

Under the umbrella of play, video games teach us skills that many don’t realise. Even the simplest of games, such as restaurant simulator Diner Dash, teach us time management and multi-tasking, while appealing to our competitive human nature. Even real-time strategy favourite Age of Empires teaches us team planning and strategy, while also educating us on key historical dates and landmarks.

Morality is also used as a creative plot device and fun gameplay mechanic in video games, with titles such as Fable physically transforming your character based on your good or bad decisions, and novel-style games from developer Telltale present us with difficult choices that will impact the ultimate outcome of the story. These are similar challenges we may face in our daily lives, but they’re presented in such a way that makes them fun and rewarding.

Will your character look like an angel, or more like a devil? Only you have the power to decide

Games also provide joy to people with physical disabilities. Thanks to the fantastic work of organisations such as Special Effect, games of all genres are being made accessible to everyone, and you need only watch one of their YouTube videos to see just how happy playing games makes people; I make no apologies for the inevitable tears of happiness.

Lastly, games are a creative platform that don’t always get the credit they deserve, allowing people to express themselves and tell their stories in unique and interesting ways. They are full of emotion, with titles like That Dragon, Cancer offering an outlet for the creator as he went through the unimaginable grief of losing his young son to cancer. Even first-person adventures games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture evoke a certain level of emotion through their unique storytelling, and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Yes, this is a video game, and yes, it’s beautiful

While some games are violent, and we can’t escape that, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day they’re not real. Instead of focusing on the amount of blood and gore in them, we should be giving game creators across the globe kudos for the ways they help us relax, the happiness they bring, as well as the key skills they teach us.

So, keep playing Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty if it makes you happy and helps you switch off after a long day, but if you feel yourself getting too angry, perhaps try something more soothing, like Stardew Valley, or even Candy Crush, and hone your life skills in a fun, and playful way.

Debbie Lloyd, Unity Account Manager. Read the original piece on her blog here