After I finished Kingdom Hearts 2 on the PlayStation 2 in 2007, I took a 10-year break from gaming. I was in university, an officer in three college organizations and about to start my internship at a pop culture magazine. I was feeling like quite the proud, busy bee at the time (from a corner, adulthood was probably snickering away). And since my brother and I shared the console, I couldn’t take it with me to my apartment near the university I studied in.
The decade of zero gaming was not devoid of entertainment. I read a myriad of literary books, from fiction to poetry. I binged on a lot of TV shows, especially sitcoms. I expanded my musical tastes. I learned how to drink wine properly. But those things lacked a participatory element to them. I was a passive consumer — like a chick with an open beak waiting for food to drop.
In December 2016, I saw Chaos Rings 3 on the Google Play Store. It’s a turn-based role-playing mobile game by Square Enix, the developer of Kingdom Hearts and the Final Fantasy series. The silent protagonist gracing the cover could seriously bonk Kingdom Hearts’ Sora on the head and take over his identity because they look that much alike. The holiday season afforded me some free time so I said, why not?, and downloaded the game on my tablet.
The first thing that struck me was how gorgeous the graphics were. My god, it could give the PlayStation 2 titles a run for their money. Had technology advanced that much that I could play PS2-caliber games on the go? More than that, however, the story and turn-based gameplay stimulated something in me that books and TV shows had not.
In Chaos Rings 3, you play as a young protagonist about to embark on an adventure in a post-apocalyptic world. You meet friends who each have their respective motivations to join you on your journey. You find out that a great evil threatens the world once again and it’s up to you and your friends to save everyone. In short, classic JRPG stuff. The execution, though, gets a perfect score from me. The narrative has twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat.
Along the way, the protagonist finds out that using the magical powers granted to him was transforming him into a monster-like creature. Apparently, it’s the only way to get enough power to defeat the great evil coming. But through his friendship with the well-developed characters surrounding him, he is able to retain his humanity.
As the player, I played an active role in the events unfolding in the game. I had to think of the best strategy to defeat various enemies. This entailed getting the right equipment, fusing the right cards (vessels for magic and strength) to get a higher one, and maintaining everyone’s health.
I took care of my team members by making progress with their side stories: I got a special healing card to heal Daisuke’s mother who was suffering from a terminal illness; I helped the girl Leary find her father who was abducted by a known criminal; I assured the girl Elroux that even though she was an artificial being, she was just as real as any of my other companions.
Making decisions as the protagonist made me feel more immersed in the excellent story as compared to just reading a book or watching a YouTube video. And getting to know my companions also made me invested in how their individual stories turned out. I was hooked. I could not remember why it took me that long to play video games again.
Since then I have played games with equally excellent narratives such as Ni No Kuni (about a boy wizard who wants to find a way to resurrect his deceased mother), which won RPG of the year in 2013. That game seriously broke my tear ducts. Games that are just cute, mindless fun also made their way into my roster, like the 3D platforming games A Hat in Time and Super Mario Odyssey.
As I swiftly revived my gamer side, I felt more focused and my daily life also became more fulfilling. 20 games later, I searched for academic studies about video games and I found one from 2015 detailing an experiment examining how video games fulfil specific psychological needs in players.
Titled “Video games as meaningful entertainment experiences,” the paper describes how video games can satisfy both hedonic (pleasure) and eudaimonic (meaning) needs. Fun or enjoyable gameplay arouses both positive and mixed emotions that give gamers that signature “high”. A person feels it when he accomplishes something or overcomes a hurdle by learning skills, say by improving hand-eye coordination. It’s related to the concept of “flow” — that positive mood state that arises when engaging in a creative activity.
This emotional gratification relates to gamers specifically by utilizing their ‘Autonomy’ (sense of control), ‘Competence’ (perception that they can accomplish tasks), and ‘Relatedness’ (social interaction). It’s easy to imagine that in terms of Relatedness, single-players who interact with non-playable characters could feel a simulation of social interaction. Multi-player gamers, on the other hand, feel this more directly by interacting with other gamers online.
The study states that video games can also contribute to a person’s search for meaning through ‘Insight’. This occurs in videogames that offer a narrative for the player to engage in, such as in role-playing games with stories receiving critical acclaim.
In a time when statistics tell us that people are playing video games now more than ever, especially given the various ways you can play nowadays (from consoles to PC and smartphones), it’s enlightening to find out that they can improve our emotional well-being as well as stimulate us intellectually. We’ve come a long way from the days wherein people thought video games spelled doom for our brain cells.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to play Dragon Quest 11 on my PS4.
Oliver, Mary Beth; Bowman, Nicholas David; Woolley, Julia K.; Rogers, Ryan; Sherrick, Brett I.; and Chung, Mun-Youn, “Video games as meaningful entertainment experiences” (2015). Scholarship and Professional Work – Communication. 145
Photos: Bandai Namco; Square Enix