Video games pegged as source of ‘meaningful entertainment experiences’

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A new study has suggested that video games are more than just mere fun as they provide meaningful experiences with many users appreciating games’ abilities to provide a much deeper meaningful experience.

In the Penn State 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, encouraging video game developers to invest in producing games that examine more meaningful, poignant or contemplative topics.

Researcher Mary Beth Oliver said that video games are often stereotyped as something that is just fun and entertaining, but not something that is deeply appreciated, adding that 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 and indicated that more meaningful games were associated with heightened feelings of insight or enrichment. That insight could be anything from an emotion or virtue, like courage, to an insight on human spirituality, said Oliver.

Oliver noted that the research suggests that contrary to stereotypes, games have the potential to be as meaningful to players as other, more esteemed forms of entertainment such as literature or cinema.

Games may also provide players the opportunity to experience valuable situations and emotions that other forms of entertainment may not do as frequently, Oliver added.

Whereas viewers and readers typically watch characters make decisions in movies and books, many video games allow the player to actually make those choices, resulting in feelings such as guilt or pride, she added.

The increased focus on narrative and emotions is a natural evolution in video games, said Nick Bowman from West Virginia University, who worked with Oliver, adding that such an experience gives players a space to challenge how they see the world, just as movies like ‘Schindler’s List’ or novels like ‘Animal Farm,’ did for past audiences.

The study appears in Psychology of Popular Media Culture.