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The Psychology of First-Person-Shooter Games

Far from isolating us in a virtual world of violence and gore, first-person shooters can create a sense of community and solidarity that some people may be unable to find in their day-to-day lives—and a sense of effectiveness and control that may, in turn, spill over into non-virtual life.
via The Psychology of First-Person-Shooter Games : The New Yorker

It’s about teamwork and community. It’s about working together to carry out a goal.

In 2009, the psychologist Leonard Reinecke discovered that video games were a surprisingly effective way to combat stress, fatigue, and depression—this proved true for many of the same titles that critics once worried would be isolating, and would negative impact on individual well-being and on society as a whole. In other words, the success of Doom and the games that have followed in its footsteps haven’t sentenced us to a world of violence. On the contrary: for all of their virtual gore, they may, ironically, hold one possible road map for a happier, more fulfilling and more engaged way of life.

video game controller
From Unsplash by Pawel Kadysz

Games give us a common goal to work towards. It brings us together and it allows us to carry out goals and be rewarded for it. The reward could be more experience, or better weapons, or armor.

It’s the same idea as playing any game where you’re invested in it. Growing up, two of my favorite games to play were NBA JAM and Secret of Mana. My brother and I would play both of these games for hours.

They were both perfect because they allowed he and I to play cooperatively. NBA JAM was perfect since it was 2-vs-2. My brother and I played and we’d keep our own records. We’d try to most dunks in a game, most rebounds, more steals or assists. We’d try to blow the other team out as much as possible.

We’d try to keep the other team scoreless. We had a whole list of scores and records we kept on a notepad next to the Super Nintendo.

Secret of Mana was perfect for the same reason. We could play through the adventure together. We both enjoyed playing role-playing games for the adventure and the exploration. We would sit for hours and explore icy worlds and desserts. We’d hone our character’s skills and take on evil forces.

As we’ve grown up and no longer have long summer days and weekday afternoons to lose in the foreign lands of our youth, our habits have changed.

I’ve started playing first-person shooters, usually with other friends. I miss the adventure and the teamwork. But I don’t have the hours and hours to devote to a character.

Instead, FPS games allow me to pickup and play for a few minutes or a few hours.

It isn’t just the first-person experience that helps to create flow; it’s also the shooting. “This deviation from our regular life, the visceral situations we don’t normally have,” Nacke says, “make first-person shooters particularly compelling.” It’s not that we necessarily want to be violent in real life; rather, it’s that we have pent-up emotions and impulses that need to be vented.

There’s a reason violent games exist and are so interesting to many people. Where else can we, as grown adults, blow off steam constructively without the use of controlled substances?

“If you look at it in terms of our evolution, most of us have office jobs. We’re in front of the computer all day. We don’t have to go out and fight a tiger or a bear to find our dinner. But it’s still hardwired in humans. Our brain craves this kind of interaction, our brain wants to be stimulated. We miss this adrenaline-generating decision-making.”

There are days, when I come home from work I’d love to go out and fight something. I want to punch things, or take on a bear. Unless I had a job as a professional football or hockey player I can’t go out and hit someone.

Video games are how I blow off steam. Video games are how I relax. They’re how I goof off with friends. They’re how I get to recapture those long days with my brother adventuring.

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