The Role of Psychology in Computer Gaming

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"The Role of Psychology in Computer Gaming"
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Games have been part of our lives since the dawn of civilization and perhaps even before. Primitive peoples play many types of games. Some help to develop, and master, necessary skills for survival, others are simply for fun and social interaction. Our games draw us closer together as a community, allow us to compete in non-combative ways, and may even define us as a culture.

Designing games has become a highly competitive business. With the flood of games on the market the ability to get and hold the attention of the gaming public is getting harder and harder. Part of that design has become a work in basic psychology. Game theory has been around for some time. It is the study of how games work, why we play them, and what keeps us playing.

As with any good game, from card games to board games, computer games stimulate certain drives within our unconscious and stimulate our intellect. Most basic with any game is what most people think of as the desire to win, our competitive nature, but in fact it is a more basic need to perform well and gain acceptance. Computer games have been able to tap into that desire much like any other game. Yet there seems to be much more in the case of electronic games as compared to their predecessors.

Modern games have added a whole new psychological dimension to our playtime, "Role Play". Used as a tool in therapy for many years, role playing has found its way into our games. Many games that you would not think of as role play games (RPG) , such as RTS (real time strategy) or FPS (first person shooter) games, have subtle role play elements. They put you in the place of playing the role of the hero as you move through the game, some allowing you to make decisions that effect your "character" along the way. Classical elements of any RPG.

Modern life has many complexities, social and psychological. The rat race of day-to-day existence have stresses that our more agrarian ancestors could not imagine. Though our technology and civilization has eased the physical burdens in our lives, the emotional and intellectual stresses have multiplied a hundred fold. Therefore modern games have changed to reflect that trend.

Computer games are at the height of this new kind of play. That is not to say they are the best kind of game, that is very personal and subjective, we play what we enjoy. They are, however, the most advanced psychologically and the most removed from classical types of games. These new games are a reflection of our complex lives and the developers insightful effort to fulfill our modern psychological needs and desires.

MMO (massively multiplayer online) games add a whole new social dimension. Looking at these games we see an amazing reflection of Jungian Psychology. We have taken our myths, our dreams, and even our cultural arch-types and given them life in worlds where we can interact with them, alone or in groups. Worlds where thousands can cooperate, compete, and interact, within a shared mythology. We are able to experiment with varying Persona through the characters we create, living out our Anima (our feminine aspect), or our Shadow selves (our dark side), or any mixture of our varied subconscious aspects. We can, within the confines of the game world, live out our fantasies and dreams.

These new games allow us to express aspects of our selves that we suppress in our day-to-day lives, or become that which we would like to be but can not achieve otherwise. The Personae we create can be as much like our mundane selves, or as different, as we choose. One can be an alluring female elf, or a brutish orc warrior, or even a grotesquely gothic undead. We can explore the world through these characters and the part of us that they subconsciously represents. We can fight in epic battles to save the world or get drunk and stomp on bunnies, its our choice.

One of the chief tenets of modern psychology is to recognize, and deal with, our innermost thoughts, desires, and feelings. These type of games allow us to do that in a safe environment, behind the mask of our character. Some will claim that they do not Role Play, but only play the game. Yet by creating a character and making choices within the game that affect that character, and others, we are role playing even if only on a subconscious level. Anyone who has guided Lara Croft through the dungeons of Tomb Raider has, if only subconsciously, entered into a deeper interaction with their Anima. It is even more true in games where we are allowed to create the characters we play, build them up over time, cloth them as is pleasing to us, etc.. There are deep psychological principles at work in those choices.

These virtual worlds have potential for being a type of therapy that can lead us to greater understanding of ourselves and others and lead us toward what Jung would call Transcendence (embracing all sides of our personality). In these virtual worlds we can face, or even become, the things of dreams or even nightmares. Whether we choose to be a hero in shining armor, or a darkly sensuous female undead, we are affected by those choices.

In our games, unlike our lives, we can freely experiment with different aspects of our unconscious in how we interact with our surroundings and those we play with. The multiplayer aspect of these games allow for social interaction between our contrived personae making these worlds as real', on a psychological level, as our day-to-day lives. Our characters become an extension of ourselves and we a part of our characters.

Our games still help us cope with our day-to-day lives, as they always have, day-to-day life has just gotten a lot more complicated in our modern era.

More about this author: Maxwell Cynn

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