Research confirms that games can provide meaningful experiences

To a gamer, the title above might sound somewhat snide. But I’m sure there are people out there — non-gamers, I’d imagine — who would be surprised to read such a thing.

Matt Swayne, for Penn State News:

In a study of people’s experiences with video games, players indicated that they not only enjoyed playing games, but that they also frequently appreciated them at a deeper, more meaningful level. These findings should be encouraging to video game developers who want to invest in producing games that examine more meaningful, poignant or contemplative topics.

“Video games are often stereotyped as something that is just fun and entertaining, but not something that is deeply appreciated,” said Mary Beth Oliver, Distinguished Professor in Media Studies and co-director of Media Effects Research Laboratory, Penn State. “Video games do not seem to have the same critical acclaim as, for example, books and plays or even music.”

Participants in the study suggested that story details in the game were critical to feelings of appreciation. They also indicated that more meaningful games were associated with heightened feelings of insight or enrichment.

For a gamer who grew up playing Infocom’s text adventure games, it comes as no surprise that games can be immersive, compelling, and give you the sense that a thriving world exists independent of the user’s session. In the decades that followed that early era, games embraced pretty lights, and, with few exceptions, became roller coaster rides, going for the easy visceral thrill. And it was fun! But we’re entering a more exciting time for gamers. Virtual worlds are larger and more immersive than ever, sure. But developers seem to be embracing story and character development, which harkens back to those early Infocom adventures, where the narrative was all we had. It’s no longer just about the pretty lights.