Increasing Human Happiness Through Video Games

Donald Trump. At best, he’s a bit like Marmite. Some love him, and some wouldn’t put him anywhere near their morning toast.

Whatever your feelings towards America’s current president though, it’s hard to ignore his recent attack on the world of video games, and his misappropriation of big titles as a scapegoat for gun crime and violent attacksThe issue of video games and violence is nothing new, nor is it exclusive to Trump. It’s a debate that’s been raging for years, and while there are certainly games that have pushed things too far in the name of entertainment (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, I’m looking at you), these are in the minority.

The ‘No Russian’ mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, while optional, took things too far, forcing players to mimic a terrorist attack in an airport, killing countless innocent civilians

There is a huge catalogue of games that bring joy to people around the world in a variety of ways, many of which don’t resort to violence, or at least not the excessive and gratuitous violence you might associate with the world of gory horror films.

But just because a video game is violent, doesn’t automatically mean they make people violent. This has even been proved by German scientists, but that’s a bigger debate for a different blog.

At Unity, we’re all about increasing human happiness, and we firmly believe that video games are one of many entertainment mediums that provide this. Here are just some of the ways we think that video games promote happiness, encouraging play and learning in our increasingly busy lives.

First and foremost, video games are a form of escapism, allowing people of all walks of life to forget about the stresses of work, helping many relax after a long and taxing day at the office. You could even argue that, despite the misconception that video gamers hole themselves up in a dark room away from the real world, they actually help us make friends.

What’s more there are genres available to meet all needs. Do you wish you could command your own space fleet and visit distant worlds? Then why not fire up something like Mass Effect for some sci-fi antics, harvesting vital materials from planets and moons. Have you always wondered what it would be like to run your own farm? Well, indie farming simulator Stardew Valley may hold the key as you calmly tend to your crops and livestock on a daily basis, balancing crop cycles and weather patterns to your advantage. In fact, they should really use this game as a stress and anxiety therapy tool, it’s that peaceful.

To some, the idea of running a virtual farm fills them with nothing but boredom, but for others, it’s a chance to escape to a different life, and practice time management and even budgeting

I remember as a young gamer, wishing that I could one day escape the real world and transport myself into the life of a Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG), losing myself in the rich and beautiful landscapes that seemed to go on for miles, and save the world from evil. I know now that this isn’t possible, unfortunately, but playing the hero in these JRPGs offered me the ultimate feeling of escapism, and they still do.

Outside of the luscious environments, these games teach players key skills in strategy, tactics and team management, without making it feel like hard work. Facing off against the three giant dragons that make up Final Fantasy XIII-2’s final boss-battle made me rage-quit several times, but the feeling of winning once I’d re-evaluated my tactics is one of the best feelings in the world.

Big and scary? Yes. But no match for the right tactics

Under the umbrella of play, video games teach us skills that many don’t realise. Even the simplest of games, such as restaurant simulator Diner Dash, teach us time management and multi-tasking, while appealing to our competitive human nature. Even real-time strategy favourite Age of Empires teaches us team planning and strategy, while also educating us on key historical dates and landmarks.

Morality is also used as a creative plot device and fun gameplay mechanic in video games, with titles such as Fable physically transforming your character based on your good or bad decisions, and novel-style games from developer Telltale present us with difficult choices that will impact the ultimate outcome of the story. These are similar challenges we may face in our daily lives, but they’re presented in such a way that makes them fun and rewarding.

Will your character look like an angel, or more like a devil? Only you have the power to decide

Games also provide joy to people with physical disabilities. Thanks to the fantastic work of organisations such as Special Effect, games of all genres are being made accessible to everyone, and you need only watch one of their YouTube videos to see just how happy playing games makes people; I make no apologies for the inevitable tears of happiness.

Lastly, games are a creative platform that don’t always get the credit they deserve, allowing people to express themselves and tell their stories in unique and interesting ways. They are full of emotion, with titles like That Dragon, Cancer offering an outlet for the creator as he went through the unimaginable grief of losing his young son to cancer. Even first-person adventures games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture evoke a certain level of emotion through their unique storytelling, and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Yes, this is a video game, and yes, it’s beautiful

While some games are violent, and we can’t escape that, it’s important to remember that at the end of the day they’re not real. Instead of focusing on the amount of blood and gore in them, we should be giving game creators across the globe kudos for the ways they help us relax, the happiness they bring, as well as the key skills they teach us.

So, keep playing Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty if it makes you happy and helps you switch off after a long day, but if you feel yourself getting too angry, perhaps try something more soothing, like Stardew Valley, or even Candy Crush, and hone your life skills in a fun, and playful way.

This piece was originally published on the Unity blog, here.

The Biggest Gaming Pet Peeves

We all have those little things that grind our gears in video games, but sometimes they become more than minor annoyances, and turn into the bane of your existence. Here’s just a hand full of the things in games that really wind me up.


Static camera angles

I think I hate this more than anything else. I want to swing the camera angle around freely in all my games, but in some you just can’t. Why can’t I see what’s behind that wall? What do you mean I can’t swirl the camera round and give myself motion sickness? Dammit, give me some control over what I see, and from what angle.

Multiplayer achievements

More often than not, I’ll fire up a new game and have a quick browse through the achievements list, simply to see how many I am going to be able to get. I’ve started to notice the ever-increasing presence of multiplayer achievements, and while I have nothing against them personally, I start to get a bit annoyed when they take up half of the achievement list. I don’t want to play the multiplayer, and it makes me look bad when I only have half of the achievements in a game because the rest of them require someone else to get them with me. I wish I could opt in or out of these achievements.

Retracing your steps

I’m all for side missions, but I really hate it when you’re forced to go between A and B countless times to complete one mission. Go speak to person A, they send you to person B. Person B sends you back to person A, and so on, and so forth. It’s just frustrating, and it makes me not want to play any more. If you’re going to send me halfway across the map, at least make it worth my time, and for the love of God don’t send me straight back to where I came from.


Doors that don’t open

There have been too many times in games where I’ve seen a door, and I can’t enter it. Why do they do this? I don’t want decorative doors in my game. If there’s a house in front of me, I want to be able to go into it. I don’t care if there’s nothing inside, I want to open that door. Doors aren’t there to look pretty, they’re there to be opened, let me interact with the scenery.

Quick time events

I started out not really having an issue with QTEs, but as time has gone on, I’m learning to loathe them. They’re like an electric jolt to wake you up. Oh hey, were you enjoying that cut scene? Well, heads up, you gotta press the A button now, otherwise it’s game over! They’re completely unnecessary, and require no skill except for the skill to pay attention.

Steep difficulty curves

I like a game that steadily ramps up the difficulty. It would be no fun if I walked into a new area and I could annihilate every enemy in sight. I want some sort of challenge, I want to use up my potions and I want to grind those levels up so I can kick ass. What I don’t like, is when a game suddenly decides it’s time to go all badass, and kick me into the ground, when in the last area I was walking all over the enemies. I don’t mind grinding my levels, but sometimes it’s ridiculous how much you need to grind to progress when a game ups the ante too much.

Why The Sims still rocks

I love The Sims. I have many fond memories of the very first in the series, and spending many hours drowning my Sims in the pool, then having a little chat with the grim reaper. What? Don’t look at me like that, you all did it too.

There’s something about The Sims that just makes it so damn addictive, but it’s certainly not for everyone. When I first started playing it, I liked to watch my Sims live out their lives, and I left them to it. I would move them into an already built house, get them a job and let them live their lives. This wasn’t enough to keep me satisfied in the end, and I started building houses a lot more when The Sims 2 came out. I could never build them as grand as others, but I was always happy with my creation, and saw it as my own virtual version of Grand Designs.


When The Sims 3 came out I really started to get into crafting my own Sims instead of leaving it to the random button. This was obviously because the technology and graphics had come a long way, and I could do a lot more than I could previously with their appearance. The point is, with every new version of The Sims, I became much more interested in designing them. I don’t care so much about how they live their lives or their jobs, I’m more interested in crafting the perfect home, and more often than not I would design the kind of home that I would like to live in. I never make them grand or over the top, but I give myself vast amounts of space for a living room, a huge bedroom and a packed study. The bathroom is never massive, but I don’t spend as much time in there as I do in other rooms.

With the announcement of The Sims 4, I can start to get excited about new design prospects, and building the perfect Sim once again. I can already hear the collective groan from those who don’t play The Sims, shortly before they shout about EA cashing in on a whole new series of expansion packs, and I understand. Trust me, my wallet groans in discontent with them, but with each new expansion comes a new set of furniture for me to decorate my elaborate house with, and I simply can’t resist.


Sure, they may be churning out the same game over and over, just with a few added extras, but I don’t mind. It’s about the experience, it’s about the new lifestyle, it’s about the new collections, and it’s about me escaping for a little bit from the stress of daily life.

I don’t have a God complex, and I don’t want to control other people’s lives, but The Sims gives me the opportunity to give myself a virtual life where I can create myself, even my family and friends if I really want to, and I can build my dream house without physical financial limitations. It’s like living in a dream, and I have no doubt that if I ever get the money to build my own home, I would love to do an initial design of it on The Sims, whatever version number we may be on at that point.


I’ve just been watching the current Sims 4 videos, and I have to say I’m very excited to see how the addition of emotions works. Just one more thing to get excited about for the new generation of The Sims.

That little green plumb bob will hold a place in my heart for a very long time, maybe even forever, and I don’t want EA to ever stop making these games, because they still rock my world.

Changing Teams

Well, it’s been a long time again, and that’s been for a multitude of reasons. First of all, I informed you all in my last post that I was going on a week-long work placement with a certain official console magazine, and I can reveal now that I went to work with the wonderful people at the Official Playstation Magazine. It was a great week, full of lots of research, writing and general journalism goodness. I actually got a feature published on the website which can be read here, so please go and give it a read.

There may also be several articles I assisted with, and news articles being published in the next issue, so if you’re a PlayStation fan, pop down to the shops on the 27th and pick up a copy. I won’t know until it comes out, so it will be one big surprise.

Then I had a nice long week with the man who I hadn’t seen in two months, so unfortunately blogging was the last thing on my mind. I didn’t even really do any gaming that week if I’m honest, and the lack of new games, and my ever decreasing funds aren’t helping.

I downloaded Puzzle Quest because it was on offer on XBLA and that’s keeping me going, but it’s an old game, and will only occupy me for so long. As always, I crave a JRPG, but they just don’t appear to be out there. I might have to raid the Classics library on the PSN.


Simple and fun, an instant winner

Anyway, I have been thinking about the new generation of consoles, and which one I”m going to be getting, but also thinking about what’s on offer from the current generation. I’m sure that many Xbox 360 owners feel my frustration at the mostly un-inspirational Games For Gold. I’m downloading them all because they’re free, so don’t get me wrong, I’m taking advantage of it, but this months first release leaves a lot to be desired and I just feel a bit let down by the whole ‘offer’.

I’m intrigued by card games, but I can’t confess to be very good at them. Baten Kaitos is one of my favourite JRPGs, and that featured a bizarre battle system utilising cards, and I enjoyed that. I appreciate anime such as YuGiOh for its use of cards, but I really can’t get my head around Magic The Gathering. Personally, I think card games belong on tables, not on consoles. The tutorial completely baffled me, and because it was so long-winded I basically just pummelled the A button just to get through it. I managed to beat about 4 opponents and then I got stuck because there was so much to remember, and so much tactics involved that I simply gave up.


Too many stats make this a confusing experience

The thing is, when I look at PlayStation Plus, and all the free games they get, it makes me wonder ‘What am I paying my Gold subscription for?’. I don’t do online gaming. When I do, I’m just racing around a track with the man in my life, and that’s once in a blue moon. It seems pointless to me now to even have a gold subscription, I don’t appear to be getting much out of it, aside from some games I’ve already played, or are so old that you’d have to give them away anyway.

I am seriously considering taking on a PlayStation Plus account in the future, not only for the free games, but also for the decent discounts. Sony just appear to be so much more clued in to what people actually want. Sure, if you cancel your PS+ subscription, then you can’t play the free games you downloaded, but that’s just an incentive for me to keep a subscription going. I have no reason (unless someone can give me one) to keep my Gold subscription on the Xbox 360, so it may be time for a change of allegiances.


What are your thoughts? Are you thinking of changing teams, or are you sticking with your first choice?

PS4 or Xbox One? Well, probably both

I hated it when Microsoft announced all their ridiculous policies regarding the new Xbox One. I know that a lot of players felt angry and betrayed by Microsoft when they announced these very unpopular policies, and I can’t say I blame them. Not everyone hated them, some were excited, but the angry outweighed the happy. The internet was awash with gamers full of rage, declaring their newfound love for Sony and the PS4, and hey, who wouldn’t after that tremendous end to their E3 conference?

All of this has changed though. Microsoft have seen the error of their ways and reversed pretty much all the policies they first announced. This week they even announced that the Kinect wouldn’t have to be connected to the console in order for it to function. Personally, this is music to my ears. I never liked the first Kinect, and as much as I would never rule out giving it another chance, I strongly objected to having it plugged in all the time simply for my console to function. I make my feelings on motion control very clear on here, but if Microsoft had promised more than voice control and sports, I may have been swayed towards their camp.


The question of which console to get is one that is still flying around though. It’s a tough one for me, because I don’t really have a preference in some ways. I’m a student, I can’t afford either console when it comes out, so I’m going to have to wait anyway. Any money I make from my part-time job goes into paying rent, affording to eat and spending time with my friends and boyfriend. I wait for games to go down in price because quite simply I can’t afford £40 every time a new game comes out. I’m also entering my final year of university, so as much as I’d like to sit and play all the up to date games, I can’t see myself having the time. This is all personal circumstance though, and if my financial situation were different, well, I’d probably own a Wii U and a PS Vita by now.

However, before all these policy reversals, if I had the money I would definitely have purchased the PS4 on day one. Why? Well, it’s cheaper, and just looks a lot more consumer friendly. I’m still high-fiving Jack Tretton in my mind for Sony’s landslide victory at E3 (in my opinion anyway). Now though I’m a little bit torn. I love my Xbox 360, and I spend a lot of time on it. I’d like to spend more time with my PS3, but when I fire it up it’s got so many updates to do, that it’s like waiting for your friend to get off the phone before you can ask them if they want to do something. I just can’t stand the waiting. The PS4 looks sleeker than the Xbox One, and I’ve been a Sony fan since the days of the PSX and PS2, but Microsoft have won me over ever since I got my Xbox 360. The PlayStation controllers may be tiny, but they’re comfortable and they’re what I grew up with. The Xbox controllers may be fat, but you get used to them. It’s a tough call.


I’m glad that Microsoft have reversed all their policies. Yes, it’s true that we will never know exactly what the Xbox One could have been us in terms of being different, and yes, both consoles are offering very similar features now, but at least I don’t have to check in with Microsoft every 24 hours, nor do I have to watch the Kinect keeping it’s eye on me all the time. Okay, so it wasn’t going to do that, but I just don’t like the thing.

I’m still more excited about the PS4 than the Xbox One, but the playing field has been evened out a bit now, so it’s a bit of a free for all when it comes down to release dates.

Have Microsoft’s policy reversals changed your position in the never-ending console war, or are you sticking firm with your initial choice?