People are said to be the sum of their experiences, and their reactions to those experiences. Games are a kind of playground where we can find out more about ourselves and how we react – but how do their experiences influence us? Time spent in games is time spent nonetheless, and considering the amount of it spent by those who count it amongst their hobbies, the final tally couldn’t help but leave some kind of mark. Hence I’m not asking if games influence our behaviour, but how.
I’m not approaching this academically, because A) I don’t want to, and B) most if not all the research done regards that dead-dog of a topic I’m too bored to mention. I’d rather approach this personally, because while I can see some of the effects games have made on me, I have only questions to pose. I’d rather encourage others to partake in their own reflection for their own answers. So how do our choices on what kind of games we play impress our behaviour in the rest of our lives?
Save for my netcafe stint, I’ve very much been a man of the singleplayer, chiefly because I prize narrative and challenge. Soldiering on, sometimes literally, for thousands of hours inevitably cultivates certain thinking when you’re the only one who has any impact on the outcome. It says, “nothing will get done, nothing will change unless I do it – and no one else can help.”
A lot of single-player games, particularly action ones, work off hero fantasy. You’re supposed to be the only one who can save the world – everything is up to you. I’ve redeemed hundreds of worlds just from my abilities, and probably adopted some sort of hero complex. Every time I play one of these games I’m inadvertently telling myself “everything is up to me.” Eventually that message becomes second-nature, then behaviour, then personality. So games have made me independent – fiercely independent. I’m self-reliant and confident in my abilities, but I’m also stubborn, I overestimate myself, and I don’t ask for help when I should.
Even NPCs don’t much alleviate your burden. Playing Mass Effect: Andromeda, my teammates are consistently helpful, if for nothing else than causing distractions. But I don’t rely on them. They don’t drive the progress. They won’t save the Heleus Cluster for me if I do nothing.
Nowhere was this more evident than Resident Evil 7 – a game which gave me a bad case of the willies. With an atmosphere made of trepidation, no one was going to help me complete the game. No one was going to remedy my apprehension if I kept playing. No one but the imaginary girlfriend would sit with me for the full course, and no one could play it for me.
Of course you can always ask for help where the rest of your life is concerned, but that certainly isn't my immediate response, because through practice and repetition I've learnt to respond with the single-player answer. So are we then living more empowered, or are we needlessly sequestering ourselves from help and cooperation?
Obviously there are more factors involved in a person's independence, but in retrospect, games have probably been the most significant for me – almost like behavioural prep to adapt for rest of life. We all have different play habits, and we all react to different circumstances in different ways, so I wonder what somebody else would be like who's subsisted on MOBAs and team-based games. I imagine they'd have a greater sense of their role as part of a collective body – what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Though I'd also wonder how they fare as an individual. Do they struggle to complete tasks on their own? Would they still be trying to rely on other people even when other people aren't around to help?
Playing Overwatch has been somewhat of a truth-bomb, being so antithetical to the games I'm use to. I'm no longer a lone maverick – instead I'm part of a fully-functional team with a specific role to play. When I'm feeling particularly altruistic and I'm playing as Reinhardt or Mercy, other players are depending on me to shield or heal them, and I'm depending on them to take out the opponents I'm trying to resist attacking – the ones I'm so accustomed to killing by my lonesome in single-player.
Games are subtle teachers. For better or worse we adopt the lessons they put forward. We learn new behaviours and new ways of thinking, often incognito, from the kind of games we choose to play. Whether a game has any message or not, we’re often learning something regardless. I didn't even recognise what had happened until years later, after looking through the games I own. And while my independence has become a double-edged sword, which I can't really blame on games, that I can also counteract my behaviour using the same medium is truly unique.