“I think there’s a good case to be made that having fun is a key evolutionary advantage right next to opposable thumbs in terms of importance. Without that little chemical twist in our brains that makes us enjoy learning new things, we might be more like the sharks and ants of the world.” – Raph Koster in A Theory of Fun for Game Design

Sometime in October, I will be giving a talk about Videogames in relation to Children, Adolescents and Mental Health. This was the topic I chose for my fellowship research/talk. It’s been a while since I gave the talk, so I’ve been looking for newer material to add. A book that I just read for this purpose and think is quite excellent is A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster.

In what seems to be a conversation with his late grandfather, Koster encapsulates a lot of what is good in games. Koster’s grandfather echoes the voices of our society who seem generally wary of videogames and what they mean. As such, Koster is able to address the concern without the customary hostility that has been seen in previous cultural rifts of society such as those during the onset of Rock & Roll or comics.

During the course of the book, he describes what makes a game, how and why the brain enjoys the system of games, how games contribute to a person’s learning, and even whether or not games can be considered art. His concepts are generally applicable to both videogames as well as conventional games.

One of my favorite points is the importance of play in learning. Too often, learning is associated with some painfully boring ritual of either forcing oneself to listen to a monotone speaker or staring down at a book attempting to stay awake.

Games are a restriction of reality. One takes the “rules” of real-life and restricts them to only a few. The player then has the responsibility of focusing upon the resulting world. This provides the opportunity to meditate until this world and its rules are mastered. These aspects are then naturally generalized and translated by the mind to the real world. I would consider this, a major essence of Play.

Certain games are incredibly elegant. For example, the game of Go is wonderfully simple yet the most difficult to master game that I know of. It reduces the world into separate vertices and the placing of stones yet somehow teaches of life, growth, competition, territory, greed/desire, patience, focus, among other important topics.

Another nice quote:

“I have been using the analogy of a trellis. If people are the plants and the game is the trellis, it should not surprise us that the plants are shaped to some degree by the trellis. It also shouldn’t surprise us that the plants grow to escape the trellis. Both of these are merely in the nature of the plant. It learns from its environment and its inborn nature both, and it works to escape those confines, to progress, to reproduce and be the tallest plant in the garden.”

Arguably a quote that could be used to describe good therapy, parenting, teaching, etc…

Moral of the story: vacations are great for reading books. 🙂