Growing up, I felt more comfortable playing physical sports than playing video games. But I think team sports are greatly informative for understanding and making good video games. I’ve always liked the transitive property- anything you learn and know about one thing can be applied to another different thing. It just means I really enjoy thinking in metaphors and direct comparisons between things that are not overtly the same.
I liked running around and kicking things just like most kids. I played sports like soccer and baseball early on in life. During those years of mostly playing sports, I watched my dad play a lot of video games. I’d like to think during those early years I had some wires cross between sports and video games. I’d like to think that physical and mental learning I’ve done playing sports come in handy now as I make games. I want to look at spatial problem solving, motivation, and flow state in video games and team sports.
Problem-solving in 3D
As I got older, I started to really enjoy the spatial aspects of sports. I like functioning on the field as a sub-unit of my team, and using that point of view to strategize, predict, then act. A game that asks you to use different parts of your brain and body to accomplish your goal is a good game.
Video games are two dimensional, but we move through them like the real world. How will your opponent approach you? How will your comrades serve you? Battle sequences are a good example of 3D reasoning in video games. You have to consider trajectory of weapons, location of your enemies, and location of your teammates. Where will you move yourself on the map to get the upper hand? The same question exists in team sports. The calculation is never ending during play to find or maintain the upper hand.
Why do people play games? For many reasons! I think the motivation for playing sports is part of the universal motivation of humans– you play to triumph, to persevere, to feel powerful. You prepare yourself through dedicated and focused practice to prepare yourself for the tests along the way.
Video games match up with these motivators as well, because it is still humans playing after all. It’s a safer place to become someone more than human and to try your hand at a high level of competition. I think even spectating falls under these types of motivations. We like to experience these kinds of stories for ourselves or vicariously through someone else.
Your motivation is directly related to your flow state during a game. That is to say, understanding why people play games will inform a designer’s creation of the optimal flow state underlying their game. Sports maintain your attention for an hour or more. Players and even spectators get into the flow of the game and become consumed by the story unfolding in front of them. For many players and watchers, the story stretches back in time as well as forward. We are striving for more for our future, and we are motivated by our effort and results in the past and present.
In video games, game designers control the on-boarding, game play time, and off-boarding. In every aspect of the game creation, designers are trying to keep players moving in a flow state. The on-boarding and off-boarding have a lot to do with getting players in the zone and making sure they want to come back once they leave. Game designers are crafting the motivations because they are making up the world and the interface and the story that the players experience. Underlying the actual game play are the universal motivators that permeate sports as well.