Gaming and Happiness

Once again, I might be full of shit, but what I understand, psychologists studying happiness seem to believe that happiness has to be intrinsic (come from within us) to last. However, right now, most of our society seems to be geared towards getting extrinsic (from outside us) happiness.

This might sound like some New Age garbage, but this wasn’t told to us by the universe (at least not personally), but its a real result of real studies.

So, why am I writing about this in a gaming (sometimes comics) blog?

Nerds tend to have a good grasp on extrinsic happiness. We have a tendency to collect things. In the long term, this doesn’t make us happy, but we do get a buzz from it. Most of us have beloved possessions. Unlike most people, who only get a preprogrammed buzz from the actual act of purchase, we tend to enjoy these belongings time and time again, although we also tend to gather so much of this stuff that most of it becomes meaningless.

However, nerds are very good at intrinsic happiness. The best source of happiness is being able to do something that challenges us and has a clear goal. All true nerds have a bunch of different projects we work on which do just that. However, games are also a great source. They clearly challenge us, but they also have a clear goal.

Compare with your job: Often the goals in your job are elusive and abstract. Some manager may have an idea on what’s going on, and the company might try to communicate the goals to you, but they often remain distant and you don’t really get the feeling of success when you complete a task. Feedback is also as elusive, and is often based on personal tastes and prejudices of the management rather than actual performance.

In many cases, the only problem with games is that they tend to end. This is where games like MtG and WoW come in. They provide a continuous flow of new content (and have huge backlogs as well), which keeps the challenging part going. (I’ve heard WoW is going to be phased out in the near future, but I’m not sure and I’m not interested enough to dig out this information. MMORPGs are not really my thing.)

These games also – in their way – have solved the problem of feedback. Its basically constant. In WoW, you’ll pick up levels and equipment while you’re playing. In MtG you can gain levels (I’m level 33 planeswalker as of this writing, with 1845 points and 228 sanctioned match wins), but of course you can also feel the same accomplishment (or actually better) by simply winning in events, or your friends. There’s also many types of things you can feel accomplished over, like using cards or combinations of cards in new ways. Building unique decks is its own reward, as people like Travis Woo and Conley Woods are demonstrating.

This is also where boardgames fail. They can’t provide a similar feeling of accomplishment through constant feedback, but boardgames generally have a limit to how much you can noticeably achieve. By playing a boardgame enough, you can probably win quite often, but at some point you don’t really have a way to identify how you are progressing.

RPGs are a bit tricky. They often have a feedback mechanism in experience points, but they seem quite arbitrary (at least to me) and don’t necessarily follow the same strict rules as those of a MMORPG. Even if they did, the game is supposed to be about something else (mostly). You are trying to create stories, but if you get rewarded for massacring goblins, that feedback isn’t matching your goals. Of course, better systems have better reward systems as well. (As has been made clear in this blog, I – like Lauri and Ville – enjoy AW and its hacks, which often reward simply for being active, which has its own problems in this context.)

Well, on the other hand, you’ll get burned out by MMORPGs and MtG, or they change in ways you don’t really like. All in all, games can be frustrating at times, but the rewards they provide in simple happiness outweight that. At least as long as you are having fun and not things too seriously. Even if you are, you are probably going to be happier with this hobby than any other, or your job.

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