Meaning of Games Jack Yuan

One year ago, I talked to this dude who started one of the largest MMO gaming companies in China during the 90s and served as a C-suite executive at “Perfect World”, one of China’s largest gaming companies today. I naturally approached him thinking that he would have a lot of good things to say about games and lessons that I could learn in order to understand why games are so appealing.
– Instead he first asked me “Do you play video-games?”
– I hesitated, “Sometimes… I used to play CSGO and League of Legends a lot, but now I play more board games with friends.” “Stanford kids probably don’t spend time gaming much huh” “I guess… haha” It was getting a little awkward, so I was about to thank him for his time and walk away.
– “Modern games are ancient Roman’s [[bread and circus]] — their sole purposes are to distrach the poor away from important issues in the society that needed to be fixed, and are cheap entertainment for the rich to control the poor”.
– I was shocked because not only was he bashing the industry that he is supposed to love (since he worked 30 years in it), but I learned about his reality where our society could be a zero-sum game. Is that what games are actually for?
– Taking CS247G, I was less focused on the techniques of what made a game interesting or fun to play with, but I was more interested in understanding the ethical implications of creating experiences that would draw people in to forget about the real world, and most importantly, should I allow myself to be drawn in these virtual worlds?
– At the very beginning of the class, there was this one concept of learning that really stuck with me. After hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, humans were entrained to be rewarded when they learned patterns about how the real worlds survived because a better understanding of the world equates to a higher chance of survivals in the wild, such as understanding where lions like to hunt, when is the best time to plant seeds in the field, or how to become the strongest caveman in the group. Naturally, our brain developed biological mechanisms when we “feel” like we are learning. Bad games did a really poor job of creating that experience of “pattern-learning” for players, and good-games not only can unlock biochemistry rewards in humans brains, but could also occassionaly teach players a thing or two about the real world. And if we put our value system around maximizing total-human-happiness, then these “good games” are in-fact positive contributors to our society.
– This is when I ealized human brains are increditbly great at finding satisfaction through pattern unlocking… That’s why gamer’s brains respond similarly when they run a car over a pedestrian in GTA 5 and when they successfully catch a small ball with a moving stick on a 2D computer screen. Although on the surface the games are drastically two different games with different narartives, but the underlying principles are exactly the same: Aiming at something and taking an action. And when humans stop learning new patterns in games, they begin to get bored… This is why basketball players after 20 years of playing the game get tired because they know too many patterns, or why tic tac toe gets boring. People don’t like deterministic rules, the more rules the more restrictive your game is. For example, when I modded the werewolves game into a “COVID-test kit” game, that wasn’t fun. However, when I included a new “mechanism” that the prophet only had a 5/6 chance of guessing the werewolf it made the game a lot more fun.
– At the end of the day, my hypothesis of what makes a perfect game is a world that maximizes the reward/penalization ratio that adjusts for the intellectual limits of our brains. For example, the real world might be too difficult for some people to succeed at certain pattern recognition processes to figure out what they find meaningful in life, then as long as financial resources permit, I don’t believe there’s any moral dilemma if one is immersed in games 24/7 if that is what maximizes their happiness.
– In the future, instead of delving into playing video games, I hope to delve into understanding what specific game mechanisms brings out happiness from the human brain, and apply them to create new fun physical experiences.

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