As a game designer, I know how creative and inspiring it can be to play. But we can all benefit from being more playful—and the act of playing a game can be more about just having fun. Ready, set, play!
1. They make us more social.
Games bring us together. Think of how many people you've met while playing sports, board or video games. Yes, we often think of the stereotype of a gamer playing in their locked room but, as many of us know, playing games is an experience that is enjoyed best when you share it with others—online or offline. There is value in the social nature of games.
When playing together we share a common ground, what in games we call a "magic circle" that helps break the ice between people who might not know each other—and often marking the beginnings of a new friendship. The magic circle defines the invisible yet unbreakable boundaries set by the rules of a game. Within it we feel safe to be playful and share common experiences without being judged.
Imagine playing a simple game like the folk game Ninja. Before the game began, you were wondering around your usual business. But while playing, you are transformed in this fierce ninja, battling your opponents within the magic circle of the game. In the game, you don't care who the person you are playing with is, but how well you play together.
2. They empower us to be creative.
Games trigger our creative juices—through solving problems, navigating complex systems, and managing resources. What games do is present us with hard problems; like solving a puzzle or defeating a boss. As players we need to be creative and come up with good ideas to solve those problems.
Games also empower us to change the rules. Whether it's creating fan art for your favorite Final Fantasy heroes or building your very own Minecraft Empires, there is no reason why we shouldn't look at games as open systems. With a variety of easy and free to access tools more and more players are becoming makers of games.
While we might think changing the rules is hard to do, think of kids-play and how you might have hacked your favorite toys or games when young. Growing up in Athens, Greece, I played with all the kids on the street, and some were older and some were younger. We played soccer and tag and we would change rules and tweak them so the younger kids could play and it would work for all. There's always freedom to change the rules and turn a game you love into something new.
3. They help us develop empathy.
Consider the act of playing with others. You're trying to guess your opponent’s strategy and think what are they going to do next. Or you think of your team and wonder, how can I support my co-player to beat this goal?
When playing games, by default you have to develop these sorts of skills such as understanding someone else's' point of view. There’s the great Plato quote: "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."
4. They make us act playful and silly.
There is a shared sense of humor when you play games that creates a safe environment for us to be silly. And when you think of our everyday endeavors and going through life as adults, we're not really encouraged to be playful. But when we play games, we relax and become more receptive and less judgmental. They make us more playful in our way of being and experiencing life.
I particularly love games that take place in public spaces or offices for that reason since if you think about it in these worlds we're encouraged to be kind of serious since there are social norms of how to behave. But playing a game creates a safety net for us to act out silly things without feeling afraid of being judged.
5. They force us to tinker.
There is something to be said about the action of tinkering within games. It's all about trial and error. Any game you play—ever—you will probably suck at it in the beginning. And you will fail many times. But, strangely, even if you will fail, you probably won't feel so bad about it.
So let's say you are playing a super hard game and you're really struggling and you're like, I lost again! But then you say, now I know what I'm going to do next. And you try again. Whereas in real life you might fail and be depressed about it and not try again because you think, I'm not good at this. In games, you are in the state of flow and you still have confidence. It's a strange but lovely thing.
Join the GOOD community in Organizing an Office Recess—and to create your own game. Click here to say you'll DO it, and get tips on creating your own game from this toolkit, which is part of Mozilla's Maker Party. Find out how you can be involved—to attend an event, make something online to share with the community, and/or create your own event and teach or learn with your peers.
Illustration by Jessica de Jesus.