A common issue gamers encounter is being labelled as lazy for their attachment to videogames. From an outside perspective, it is difficult to comprehend the thought processes that occur as a result of gaming. While, as with all things, an over-indulgence can be problematic, sitting down to game is not inherently a mindless activity. The exception can be found in games designed as study-tools or fitness activities. Beyond simply enhancing hand-eye coordination, they can enhance creativity and inspire the imagination. What’s more surprising is how our time within a game can leave a lasting impact on our thoughts. Some have even created a gameplay-loop that consequently results in a desire to emulate similar gains in real-life. It is from this premise that we shall consider games that have this positive effect on players. We shall explore how games encourage self-improvement.
Study and Stats
Gamers are often taught a very simplistic approach to progress; you need to level up to advance. While the real-world does not operate on a number-based stat system, the concept of study and experience remains. You rarely find life so accommodating as to simply allow you to brush past all obstacles through luck and willpower. In order to better face life’s challenges, you need to accumulate experience to prepare yourself. An important aspect a game’s designs is how they go about showing this learning process. In some cases, it’s as simplistic as fighting a bunch of enemies and growing stronger as a result. In games like these, fighting is the core purpose, and so it’s less-applicable to everyday life. However, some evolve and provide players with skills requiring more nuanced methods of enhancement, such as Persona 5‘s social stats.
The protagonist, Joker, must build up social stats in addition to his fighting level. This includes skills such as Knowledge, Guts, Charm, Kindness and Proficiency, which don’t level up from fighting. To improve these vital gameplay skills, Joker must dedicate his time and effort to various activities, such as studying. The benefits of these skills include better test results, stronger bonds with confidants and crafting skills. The lesson that Persona 5 teaches is that these things don’t happen on their own, but rather through commitment. The way games encourage self-improvement is through rewarding hard work. But in the case of Persona 5, it also shows the importance of branching out and covering all your bases. To get momentarily meta, if Joker just sits at home playing games all day, his social links suffer. It insists upon diversity to your routine.
The Rewards of Repetition
Another important lesson that games often impart is the necessity of repetition. Whilst that might sound tedious at first, in many ways that’s the point. While most games find a way to at least make this sequence of repetition fun, it’s still vital. The likes of The Sims or even Skyrim involve skill systems that advance through continual use. Unlike levelling up and putting a skill point into your desired ability, these games only enhance what you use. This is true to life, even if the skills of the Dragonborn are not quite the same as the players. Getting good grades in one subject doesn’t reward you with the ability to automatically upgrade another class. If you want to be good at something, you need to put in the time and work with regular practice.
If a player spends the entire game only using a one-handed weapon, they will struggle switching to a two-handed equivalent. Similarly, a sim that exercises all the time will be less adept with skills such as logic, cooking or charisma. However, where it gets interesting is when the games introduce the need to evolve your repetitive tasks. Whilst it is true that using a sword will gradually increase your skill with it, eventually you experience diminishing returns. Fighting a weak enemy with the same weapon over and over gradually becomes less beneficial. As such, to continue improving you must increase the challenge and fight stronger foes. Sims encounter similar issues, taking longer to level up if they don’t up the stakes. The concept is the same as adding more weight to your bench press over time. Games encourage self-improvement by reminding players of the very simple mantra – practice makes perfect.
Time Management and Goals
Much of what has been previously mentioned occurs as a result of another skill that games teach – time management. This can be as simple as managing the time you have available for gaming, but it goes even deeper in-game. Most properties now incorporate a form of gameplay clock or day and night cycle. This often determines when certain activities are available to the player, and so they must plan accordingly. This is at its most extreme in life-simulators such as Stardew Valley or Story of Seasons, providing an in-game calendar. The number of things you need to achieve within the set time limit means you need to plan accordingly. You can rarely accomplish everything you want, and so gamers must learn to prioritise appropriately. In farming-simulators in particular, they also encourage forming routines to ease the struggle of regular work.
Games similarly promote player agency by formulating their own goals. Gamers become quite adept at mapping out the course they need to take to achieve the desired rewards. While the previously mention simulators echo realistic goals we might emulate in real life, others also encourage it. Even a fantasy game like Monster Hunter shows us how important it is to plan ahead. Whether it be through studying your target or forging the required gear, it all takes time and persistence. Ultimately, the way in which games encourage self-improvement can be somewhat traced to the limited playtime we have available. As with life itself, time is ever moving forward, and so you need to make the most of each limited second. They encourage us to look ahead and remain driven to achieve our goals. This could even be applied to trophies and achievements that give players more ways to push ahead.
It All Adds Up
As mentioned at the beginning of the article, games have garnered harsh and naïve criticisms from outside perspectives. From supposedly perpetuating real-world violence, to simply being a waste of time, their value can often be overlooked. However, videogames have progressed a long way from the barebones nature of actives like Pong. They stimulate the mind, causing us to consider the nature of what is on screen and how its echoes reality. Nowadays, they can inspire creative minds wishing to write their own stories. Some games motivate people to pursue new outlets, like fans of Assassin’s Creed attempting parkour. Games don’t require you to switch off you brain and pass the time; they engage our mental health. It is from these multiple avenues of inspiration that games encourage self-improvement.