Why We Play Games

On my first date with my wife, we played games together. It was just me and her, and the competition was fierce. Afterward, I went back to my roommates and told them how awesome the date was and how I really wanted to take her out again. Mallory went back to her roommates and said, “Well, we didn’t really talk very much.”

According to the American Psychological Association, there are three intrinsic needs that drive behavior; Competency, Autonomy, and Relatedness. People play games because games meet these needs in multiple ways. Here are my thoughts, please share if you have others.

Competency

  1. To develop our minds
  2. To learn new things
  3. To feel a sense of accomplishment

Autonomy

  1. To make choices without lasting consequences
  2. To feel a sense of ownership
  3. To participate in creating.

Relatedness

  1. To build relationships
  2. To establish dominance
  3. To match wits

And lastly, FOR FUN!

Competency

All of us have a need to feel like we are competent in something. Games are a very quick way to feel competence. When I play games, I can engage my mind in something that is interesting to think about. I’m able to draw connections between things that I hadn’t seen before.

I learn things while I play, and I feel a sense of accomplishment when I finish that last route or get rid of my last card. Think about the game you like best. Does it give you a sense of accomplishment, or develop your mind?

Autonomy

You have the capacity to accomplish great things. Your choices have lasting consequences, for good or ill. Playing games gives you a place where you can try things out, make choices, with immediate consequences. You are the only person that gets to make the choice, but if it doesn’t go well, it isn’t permanent; you are able to try again, immediately.

Games give you a sense of ownership. You become the character in your game, or you feel ownership of the properties and things that you build. In Carcassonne, you lay your tile and place your guy in the city, and you own it. It is yours to do with as you wish. This is also the reason why people get so mad when you sneak into their city.

Some games, (eg: Blokus) allow you to create. You feel empowered as you lay your pieces and create your world. This is also why Lego’s are so successful. You are creating something new that no one else has created before.

Relatedness

The last intrinsic need that games meet is the desire to feel connections with other people. Psychologists call this relatedness. Games are great for building relationships. You feel closer to people when you spend time doing fun things together.

The fun part of competition is matching wits with like-minded people. Losing and winning, make me feel closer to the other people. If I won every time, I wouldn’t feel like I was being challenged, and would try to play with someone who can match wits with me. (That is one reason why my wife is so great. She beats me all the time.)

 

In the end, playing games is fun. How have games helped you to meet your intrinsic needs?

One thought on “Why We Play Games

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