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.

Skyrim first impressions and Android failure

I’ve had Skyrim for nearly a week now, and I am shamed to admit that I haven’t even managed to get more than 10 hours into it I don’t think. Regardless of most of my coursework being finished for this term of uni, life in general has been getting in the way. I have spent this weekend doing my Christmas shopping and generally just mooching about with the family (enjoying some yummy meals out too). While it has been nice to do all of the above, I really wish I could have engrossed myself in Skyrim just a little bit more. I’ll post my initial thoughts though.

I had to choose an Elf as my race. I’m not a Dark Elf, as pictured above, but a High Elf. I wanted to really go for the magic this time around. If I can’t use guns, then I don’t really want to be swinging my sword around and getting hacked to shreds. I’ve never really enjoyed being a magic user, but the idea of it in Skyrim just seemed right. I think it helped that I knew I could dual wield spells. I knew that in one hand I could have burning flame, and in the other soothing restoration. Pretty much I just wanted to burn things down.

I have noticed in my short play through so far that Skyrim has many paralells with a lot of my favourite games. Obviously I love Bethesda anyway, but Oblivion was lacking in oomph for me; it was dull and dreary. Skyrim has elements of Fable, World of Warcraft, Bioshock and even Red Dead Redemption. The last two have probably confused you a bit so allow me to explain. The Bioshock element comes form the visual aspect. It’s the magic hands on screen, they just remind me of plasmid infused limbs. It’s the way your character holds them. The RDR element comes from the wide open spaces and the horses. The horses are very expensive so I find myself stealing them and then paying a small fine every time I accidentally stumble into a guard. It is also the collecting of herbs and various flowers that remind me of RDR.

I am enjoying the free roaming aspect. I can go wherever I want, whenever I want and speak to whoever I want. It would be nice to have a little more guidance every now and then, but I’m not complaining. I’ve currently gone to see the mages and be trained further in the ways of magic. I’m struggling a little bit so I’ve gone off on a bit of a wander to get my skills up a little before I carry on. I like the fact that I can do this, and I also like the fact that there are so many companions dotted around so soon in the game. They actually help as well (When they’re not dying in a crumpled heap on the floor because I’ve taken them somewhere scary…).

So all in all I am enjoying my jaunt through Skyrim at the moment. I can’t wait to get myself on the property ladder and start buying things because I am intrigued to see exactly how much like Fable this has the potential to be. I know I can invest in things, and for some sick reason this excites me.

In other news, my phone broke and I spent yesterday fixing it. All my Kairosoft data completely wiped. I won’t lie, I think a few tears may have slipped out. Thankfully the man came swooping into my rescue with his tech knowledge and fixed it! I now have the latest Android build (Gingerbread) and it is so much prettier than Froyo. I suppose the only good thing that’s come out of this is that I have en excuse to play all my Kairosoft games again. Value for money? I think so.

Day one of E3; The highs & the lows

So the first & biggest day of E3 is over and done with, and in a way I could not be more relieved. Living in the UK meant that I was up until 3am watching everything, and had been watching it for 10 hours straight after a morning at work as well. I have never wanted to just curl up and die in bed more so than I do today. Anyway, yesterday had some highs for me, but also a lot of lows. Here’s a brief look at what I reckon to E3 so far;

The Highs

  • Dance Central 2 is getting a campaign mode. I mentioned that I wanted something like this in my Dance Central review previously so I am quite excited to try this out.
  • Need for Speed; The Run. I’m not a massive racing fan, but the NFS games have always intrigued me and this just looked stunning. I’m not sure about the QTE’s in the out of car sequences, but we shall see.
  • The new SSX looks awesome amounts of fun. I haven’t played SSX since the N64, so this had better be good.
  • Overstrike announced by EA. Looks like a fun to play TPS, capable of four player co op.
  • Battlefield 3. this looks amazing even though I haven’t played any of the series before. Infinitely better than COD already in my books /controversy
  • Raving Rabbids coming to the Kinect. I don’t like the Kinect, but I like Raving Rabbids. Instant win for me.
  • Assassins Creed Revelations. A gameplay trailer was shown and it looks like an incredible ending to an incredible series. I just hope we get to find out what it’s really all about in Ezio’s final chapter.
  • Cross platform functionality between the NGP/PS Vita & the PS3.
  • YouTube partnered with XBL.
  • New Tomb Raider. Live demo was shown & it looks incredible, although they may want to consider investing in a new voice actor for Lara.
The Lows
  • Way too much emphasis on Kinect. Not everyone wants this peripheral, nor do they have the money to afford this peripheral.
  • Fable with Kinect. This looks awful. Who the hell wants an on the rails RPG adventure game in 2011? I don’t care if it has motion control, it looks terrible.
  • Just Dance 3 is going multi platform. This might be a good thing, but I’m unsure. Just Dance on the Wii has unresponsive controls and a tiny catalogue of tracks that come with the actual game. Will they learn from this mistake on the other consoles?
  • Driver San Francisco. This wasn’t so much a low for me, as a bit of a confusing moment. Only because I remember playing a demo of this in London a year ago. I honestly thought this had been released already. Old news.
  • Cross platform functionality between the NGP/PS Vita & the PS3.
  • The Sims Social. I was initially excited about this last night, but I think I’ve changed my mind. It’s a little bit stalker-ish and looks like EA’s answer to Habbo Hotel.
  • ME3 uses Kinect voice recognition. Some people were excited, I thought it was pointless. Don’t be so lazy and just use the controller.
  • Kinect Disneyland Adventures. Enough said.
  • Bing partnered with XBL.
So far there are few things that have wowed me without then delivering some form of disappointment. I am interested to see what Nintendo pull out of the hat today though as so far Microsoft have failed me miserably, and EA & Ubisoft are beating the top dogs.  I won’t be impressed with the Wii 2 if that is announced, nor do I care about more remakes for the 3DS.