Getting Into The Game
June 20, 2014

Getting Into The Game

Recently I got back into playing Guild Wars 2, much to the chagrin of my free time. Unlike a lot of other MMOs, GW2 is pretty easy to come back to. Rather than a monthly subscription, it only asks that you pay for the initial game, much like any other video game, which makes returning to it a rather easy process. It helps that the game itself has quite the immersive story, especially at a low level where you do not necessarily need to grind your way through in order to experience it, and the game plays very intuitively. It is a game that claims to let players play how they want to play, rewarding them regardless, and was not far off the mark with those claims. In the past week I have gotten an Elementalist up to level 25 — fairly slow progression by most MMO playing standards, I will admit — and have been having a lot of fun with it.

It is not hard for gamers to invest themselves in their games. For some, when they do, the world could very well be burning to cinders all around them and it would not stop them from trying to rack up more kills on Call of Duty or hit the next level in World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2. When things are going your way, you can become lost in the experience. Note that this is not always a bad thing. Games like these are meant to be both entertaining and a method of escapism from our every day lives. When you become lost in your game, you have successfully escaped. It only becomes a bad thing when you cannot always find your way back.

According to psychologists, this experience of loosing ourselves to the game may be gamers experiencing something called “inattentional blindness.” This is something that occurs when a person elects to focus themselves on one specific thing, such as a video game, and that results in them becoming blind to everything else going on around them. We – that is, human beings and not just gamers – do this all of the time. If we did not, we would be simply overwhelmed by all of the stimuli we would be taking in. Even now, taking a moment to stop and listen, I have become aware of the feeling of the air conditional blowing air against my foot and the feel of both the carpet beneath me, the sound of my floor fan circulating that air, my neighbors outside working on something, their dog barking, cars going by, the hum of my computer’s fans, and the music coming in over my speakers. That is actually a lot going on, and I did not even go into my visual perception. Without the ability to filter out excess information, it would be much more difficult to accomplish anything. This is, in fact, a common issue suffered by those who are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. This is what leads them to feel overwhelmed and are unable to focus their attention on any one thing. As human beings, it is our nature to focus in on just a few things so we are able to ignore others.

In a rather interesting set of tests, a research group from the UCL Interaction Centre decided to test inattentional blindness in gamers. They used similar tests to those done when studying inattentional blindness back in the 50s and 60s, only their focus here was on video games. One such test involved playing a driving game until they were told to stop. Some time later, a small window appeared at the bottom corner of the screen telling the subjects that the test had concluded. It was noted that those who were doing well in the game took longer to quit than those who were doing poorly. These players also admitted to feeling “in the zone” as it were. Another experiment involved playing a space-ship game in which the researchers told the gamers to ignore any distracting sounds while playing. During the session, they would then begin broadcasting messages such as “space games are boring,” person relevant messages like “London is boring,” and even things like “stamp collecting is boring.” Then, at the end of the study, the participants were asked to recall as many of these messages as they could. Again, participants who were performing well in the game were more likely to have blocked out those distractions.

Do to these and other similar experiments, it is believed that video games are able to draw people in and thus trigger inattentional blindness due to them being interactive and the players receiving feedback from them. Positive feedback is a powerful drive in gaming, as most people know. That is why there is so much fanfare in MMOs for leveling up. There is the bright flash of light, your avatar will usually throw up their fist or let out an excited cheer, guild-mates will “grats” you in the comments. It’s why you level up quickly early on in games, it draws you in. It makes you want to experience that.

Gaming is a powerful thing, though I do not believe that it is necessarily a bad thing. Anything taken to excess can be bad for you, after all. Gaming is a medium of entertainment that allows players to be a part of what is going on rather than just being an observer as you are in a book or a movie. It lets you take center stage and be the main event.

Just be sure to notice if your house catches fire or something. You can always get those “cheevos” later.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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