This is Your Brain on Video Games

We’ve probably been there at one point or another. You zone into a battleground or dungeon and there’s the one person who just isn’t with the program. They fight in the middle as the enemy flag carrier breezes by and your own flag carrier dies a painful death. They like standing in front of the boss as the non-tank because they believe in fighting a monster face-to-face, despite the terrible cleave it has.

Then someone (maybe even you) utters, “Ugh, damned kids don’t know how to play!!”

Warcraft, if anything, has made us extremely goal-oriented from the get-go with our first quest of “Kill N number of X things.” Those of us who are older or, perhaps, don’t have much time to play, often feel like we have to get stuff done. Here we are, playing a game for recreational purposes, and we’re still driving to win a match or defeat a boss, obtain a piece of loot or complete a set. Winning is fun. Getting something accomplished feels good. That’s just how we’re wired.

But when was the last time you just went around chopping stuff up with your staff as a caster because you could? Or flew from zone to zone just to see the scenery? Maybe there’s a spot you like to hang out and just have a moment of quiet solitude, doing nothing?

My guildmate and dear friend Necropoke was telling me about his weekend yesterday. He and his wife babysat a nine-year-old boy for the day. All the boy wanted to do was play video games with my guildie, and so they did. But partway through, Necropoke starts getting annoyed the kid.

You see, the young man just wanted to, for example, play Madden Football with Necropoke rather than against. Or he wanted to make shots from half-court in NBA JAM when, apparently, you’re supposed to literally “jam” with the ball. And that’s when Necro realized that he’s forgotten how to play a game for the sake of playing– not to win, not to accomplish any grand goal, but have fun in the only way a kid knows how to have fun.

In Necro’s own words, “That kid doesn’t care about a goal or a strategy, all he knows is that ‘Moonfire’ is one helluva cool looking spell and oh what’s that… I’ll go over here tra-la la…”

Goals, strategies, and objectives are all good and such. This is not an argument for or against it. What’s come to light is an utter disparity between the adult brain and kid brain on video games.

Such larger concepts are outside of the scope of a kid’s thinking. Their idea of fun is quite different from an adult’s. In fact, their main (and sometimes only) objective is just to have fun in the way they think would be best. As Necro says, “Eventually my own son is going to show interest in these games and I had better learn how to deal with ‘losing’ for the sake of having a good time. Its paradoxical and boggle minding [sic].”

My daughter doesn’t really care whether I’m dying in PvP or trying to save the group by CC’ing the thing eating the healer. She likes to see my character jump. So, everything else be damned, she’ll smash the space bar and watch my character jump up and down for minutes on end. For a while, she liked sitting in front of the login screen because she found Deathwing’s animations utterly fascinating. Lately, she likes watching wind riders fly because their leathery wings flapping up and down is intriguing.

And to her 21mo brain, that’s fun! In my head, all I can think about is how idiotic I might seem to everyone else on the server or if I’m going to need another new keyboard in case she destroys the space bar on this one(which is actually a Christmas present from last year because she destroyed the space bar on my last keyboard… You see the trend here.).

My former GM Aeka used to regale me with stories about his son who liked to find “The Angel Lady” and create inventive ways to seek her out. After a couple of times, he realized his son was referring to the spirit healer who hangs out at graveyards. Sure, it means a corpse run and repair bill in the adult brain; to the kid, however, that’s something spectacular and awesome!

Once, I went AFK atop my flying mount to tend to something in the kitchen. When I came back to the computer room, I heard the click of my space bar followed by an angry squawk then a delighted giggle. Again and again and again. Turns out my daughter figured out how to reach the world ceiling and she thought the dragon (or “Big Bird” as she likes to call all of them) squawking was the most hilarious thing to grace mankind.

So maybe it isn’t those “damned kids” who don’t know how to play, but we adults instead. Maybe we’ve lost sight of “fun for the sake of fun.” Especially when it’s just you and maybe one other person, what’s the rush? Why all the pressure?

A lot of complaints arose with the announcement of Mists of Pandaria. Some called it childish and “Disney.” Others called it “silly” and “cuddly,” obviously not something you’d use to describe a game called “Warcraft.” There’s going to be war, killing, and all of the other things we love about the game. But at the very essence of the next expansion is one thing: adventuring for the sake of adventuring.

A departure from the norm isn’t always a bad thing. It makes us think about things differently, look at them with another perspective. When achievements were introduced, I think that was one of Blizzard’s ways of nudging us toward the same idea of playing the game for the sake of playing. It gave us objectives that people like myself need but integrated the notion of doing things in-game other than killing things and getting loot.

And this idea is important for parents to remember. A well-rounded kid isn’t just someone who has a million things on her academic resume. She is one who can cope with a departure from the norm and look at things from a million perspectives. In my childhood, I remember many parents pressuring their kids to learn an instrument and “be good” at it. While that’s a valid goal, it’s also imperative that the child realize the art in the music and play for the sake of playing instead of, say, rote technical recital.

I’m very guilty of overlooking the simple things about Warcraft. I’ve spent so long trying to use the game as a learning device, an educational tool, touting its merits and such, building up to be more than what many perceive it. And yet I, too, have lost sight of playing the game for fun. Sometimes I really have to stop and ask myself, “Why so serious?”

It sounds simplistic but sometimes… Simple is good.


About Toriah the Mom

Mom, quasi-librarian, gamer, writer
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4 Responses to This is Your Brain on Video Games

  1. Bravetank says:

    Totally agree and it’s great your daughter is enjoying the fun aspect of it that way! The little loving the Spirit Healer is so understandable too- I think I would have been awestruck as a child seeing that on the screen!

    • Oh, absolutely! As I go through the game on an alt, sometimes, I’ll see something I totally missed because I was in such a hurry to level, get rewards, etc. Just yesterday, I was levelling my Alliance druid through Deepholm and suddenly had a good look at Therazane’s actual throne. I was floored! It often feels like I learn more from my daughter than she learns from me. lol

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