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?

Playing Games for Christmas

Games are a great present for Christmas. A brand new game can bring energy to the house, and will create great memories. When I was about eight, my family got Hero Quest for Christmas. (Super nerdy, I know. Check out the classic early nineties design).

hero-quest

Every day, right after lunch, my brothers and I sat around the table with our dad and played one quest. I still remember the quest when an invincible ghost appeared. It could only be defeated by a certain sword. I had it! As an eight year old, I loved the feeling of working together to a common goal: defeating our dad.

How do you create these moments in your home? Here is what you should do.

  1. Pick the right game
    1. Fits your Christmas crew
    2. Long enough
    3. Replayability
    4. Full participation
  2. Plan time
  3. Prevent fights with food

Picking the right game

Choosing the right game can really help. I recommend checking out this Holiday Gift Guide from the BoardGameFamily. Trent lists out 11 different categories that will help you pick something that fits your Christmas crew perfectly.

You’ll need to pick something that gets people together. The game should be longer than 30 minutes, but not so long that people aren’t interested in playing again.

Replay-ability is also key. Some games are really fun, but you don’t really want to play them again right away. Hero Quest was fun because each quest was different. Dominion is another great one. Each play is almost a completely different game. The key here is finding a fun game, that takes long enough, that can be played lots of times over the holiday.

Lastly, it needs to be a game that doesn’t have long turns and that everyone can play through the whole game. (Risk is very fun, but once you are out, you are just sitting around)

Plan time

I can’t stress enough how important it is to set aside specific time every day during the holidays. We did it every day after lunch. It also works well to play to play every night after cleaning up dinner.

The kids (and those of us who are kids at heart) will appreciate looking forward to the time.

Prevent fights with food

Games add a lot to our lives, but they also can add some tense moments. When someone clobbers you in Blokus, (LINK), or eliminates you early in Bang, you have to have a positive attitude, and it really helps if there are snacks around.

What other ideas do you have to make game playing a part of the holidays?

Gaming with children

My church is launching a Light the World program for the month of December. The idea is to serve in 25 ways over 25 days during the month of December. In following that theme, I encourage you to serve a child by playing a game with them.

Think back on your childhood. Where did your love of playing games come from? It probably started with your parents playing with you. If not them, was it a sibling or a friend that introduced you to board games?

My dad often played games with us, but I remember the first time I ever got to attend one of his real game nights. A bunch of the youth from church came over to play an intense game of Risk. I had played once or twice before, but never a serious game. I went into the game pretty nervous.

My dad was my partner, and he guided me through the play. I wasn’t the first one eliminated, but I definitely didn’t win. This was a great memory. If I was going to be like all those wise teenagers, I would have to learn how to play games well.

This leads me to the strategy for playing with children, regardless of the game. Your purpose as the adult is to help guide them through the game process in such a way that the following things occur:

  1. They learn how to play
  2. They feel loved by spending time with you.
  3. They have fun.
  4. They gain a love for board games.

Notice how I didn’t say anything about you winning? Of course you can beat them in games. You are the dad, and they know you are awesome. The important thing here is raising children that will want to play games with you when they are older and can actually beat you. Here are a few strategies that help without letting them win. (No one wants to realize that they only won because you weren’t trying.)

  1. Change the rules to give them an advantage.
  2. Play on their team against another sibling.
  3. Play games that are mostly luck.
  4. Stack the deck against you.

Change the rules

When I was growing up, we had the Stoker Olympics (situps, pushups, stepups). We made the competition fair by giving the younger kids a handicap. It ended up being a competition of who improved most. This is what you do with games.

Some games lend themselves well to changing the rules. You could let them draw two cards instead of 1. You can let them roll twice and take the better of two roles. You can give them extra money, or let them see your cards, but don’t look at theirs.

The options here are limitless, and it allows them to know that you are trying your hardest, but giving them a slight advantage.

Team play

Being a kids teammate is great for meeting three of the four criteria, but some kids don’t feel like they have as much fun when you are coaching them along. Watch for this. If this is happening in your family, it may be time for you to back out and just let them play.

Play luck games

Some of the best games for kids have no skill at all. These are perfect for kids because they can legitimately win! Candyland is one of my kids favorites. It is pretty painful to play. “You are just moving along, and then you draw plumpy”. We adapted it so that you never have to go backwards. If you draw plumpy, your character goes back and has a “snack”, then moves right back to where they were. This really helps everyone to have fun.

Stack the deck

Sometimes you just have to stack the deck. It is actually quite fun to try to win after setting up your children to get most of the good cards. You can even play up the discrepancy by saying things like, “Awe man, I got the 2 again. That’s the 3rd time in a row!” They love it. and laugh and laugh.

Your competition of tomorrow are your children today. So play a game with a child, and make it great.

Please comment and let me know how it went.