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Why Do We Play Games?

Why Do We Play Games?

I’m no psychologist, but I’d like to take a crack at an interesting question: why do humans like to play games? A few reasons are obvious. Some games include funny or entertaining themes. Lots of games require strategization, and we enjoy the mental challenge. Other games involve the opportunity to bluff or trick our friends, and we all like to be devious sometimes. (Our first game happens to incorporate all of these features!)

But I think there is a deeper reason why we like to play games: we like to have goals. Yes, we all have goals in life, but many require years of hard work. Setting out to graduate college or buy a lakehouse are rewarding endeavors, but they are not “fun” in the traditional sense. 

Our lives are made up of decisions which we hope will help us achieve our long-term goals. When we feel lost or confused, it’s because we can’t figure out how to achieve our goals — or even what they should be. Life requires us, consciously or unconsciously, to confront the complex question of how we should live.

In our lives, which can be fuzzy or confusing, games provide a sort of oasis. When we play a game, we have only one, concrete goal: to win the game. Every action we take is with that single goal in mind. Nothing else seems to matter for a little while. The big and complicated world that we live in shrinks down to the game in front of us. Games provide us with a healthy and refreshing mental clarity.

This concept applies to different types of games, including sports. I love to play sports. I may not be an athletic prodigy, but my friend Corey can tell you about my agile pickleball moves. Anyway, sports bring a similar opportunity for healthy single-mindedness. The only difference is that sports are mostly a workout for the body, while games are a workout for the mind.

Life’s big questions are not impossible ones. I think people can resolve to live their lives with optimism and meaning, even despite some inevitable uncertainty. I don’t claim to be a guru on how people should live, but I am confident that games ought to be part of the formula.

*Lakehouse photo courtesy of Justine Rudy Photography