Games are everything you’re not. Video games make players feel powerful, they give players a purpose and players are well rewarded in games.
In Monopoly we become rich; in World of Warcraft we save the world; in poker we are devilishly strategic.
People can often use games to escape the negatives and the anxieties that reality provides. In some cases it’s just a bit of fun, in other cases it can be unhealthy. I deal with anxiety on a daily basis. I can sometimes be in a constant state of anxiousness for reason beyond my control. In some cases it feels as if I’m floating in air watching me do things with no feeling of what these things are doing for me; there can often be a lack of emotion and in some cases a lack of identity. When you’re in a constant state of negative emotion it can be exhausting and can lead to depression.
Games provide me with an escape into a world where my worst fear is the “Game Over” screen. Games provide me an escape from anxiety. I decided one day that I’ve had enough of spending so much time playing games without getting any rewards out of reality. What was it about games that replaced what I was lacking in the real world? Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in love with games. I play with my Rubik’s cube every day, I just recently bought Rare Replay and I’m only about half way through The Witcher 3. I wanted to feel as if I didn’t NEED these games in my life but rather that I WANTED to play these games. No one should “need” anything that isn’t food, water, and shelter. But the truth is I needed “play” and “games” a lot more in my life than I realized, just not in virtual reality but in reality itself. I needed to escape escapism.
Jane McGonigal writes about “gameful work” in her book SuperBetter. It was after the first couple of chapters that something clicked in my brain. “Games are work that we choose for ourselves” she explains. I began examining my life and taking a look at the things I struggle with, the problems in my life and why I was sometimes so unhappy. I began to realize that all of the things that were making me so unhappy, and realistically could be triggering my anxiety, were things I wasn’t intrinsically motivated to do. I needed more gameful work. I needed to do more work that I chose for myself, so I began brainstorming. (As a side note if you haven’t read Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken it was absolutely an inspiration)
Customer Conqueror was a game I came up with because I hated my job at the time. It was work I wasn’t choosing for myself; it was work I was doing for extrinsic rewards. I decided I would create a game to increase both my engagement and my motivation (but mostly to make the shift go by faster). In the couple of times that I have played the game I can honestly say that I’ve been happier. I’ve been happier with the work I’ve been doing; I’ve been happier with myself as an employee and I’m more energetic after each shift. This was a huge win for me.
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The next thing I took a look at was my weight. I’ve always struggled with weight loss and I finally said to myself “If a game doesn’t help me lose weight, nothing can”. No generally they say you shouldn’t weigh yourself more than once a week. The problem with that, and I assume for most gamers is that when you get on that scale, the detriment of not losing any weight hits harder than if you were to weigh yourself every day. I weight myself ever day and I use it as a feedback system. There’s nothing better than weighing yourself before and after a workout and seeing the actual weight you burned off. That instant feedback system makes you want to keep going and makes you want to see more results. And if you happened to have gained weight, just take it as a sign that you have to be a little more creative or a little more diligent in your weight loss, like if you were to fall in a pit in Super Mario or get eaten by a wolf in Tomb Raider.
What was the biggest factor in the whole process was my need for games. Most of my life I would come home from work or school and dive into a video game headfirst for hours on end. In the last little bit of this gameful experiment, I haven’t felt the need to be bigger, stronger or faster. I’ve felt powerful battling both customers and fatty foods. I’ve created a purpose for myself in my weight loss. I’ve even slept better; a specific indication to me that my anxiety levels have been lowered.
Games are an amazing and immersive experience. I can’t wait to dive into Banjo Kazooie and the Witcher 3. But I needed to limit my play in virtual worlds and increase my play in the real world. Customer Conqueror and Weight Quest have both made me happier and have created a rewarding experience in reality. This is just the beginning of my journey to escape escapism and I can’t wait to share my experiences with you in the coming years.
If you have a problem you would like to share or are dealing with some mental health issues that you think alternate reality game design could help you with please feel free to reach out to me. Message me on Twitter @GameSavvy or email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be happy and honored to listen and share my experiences with you.
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