Why We Play Games
Brain activity monitored during game play reveals basic human drives
on Thursday 15 January 2009
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A study that monitored the region in the brain associated with reward and addiction reveals clues to not only why we play games but also why men and women enjoy them differently.

Have you ever wondered why people obsess over video games, sometimes to the point of forsaking meaningful relationships and even gainful employment? Well, you’re not the only one. Recently this has been the subject of a scientific study as reported in the Journal of Psychiatric Research [1].

In this study, groups of men and women were monitored by an MRI scanner which showed which areas of the human brain were activated during game play. The study concluded both sexes where stimulated in the mesocorticolimbic centre, the region associated with reward and addiction. Three structures in particular, the nucleus accumbens, amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, were purportedly very active during game playing.

It was also noted that the amount of activity in these areas in women was proportionally less when the main activity was the taking of territory. This fits well with our understanding of the sociological difference between sexes where males tend to be more territorial than women.

This study left me wondering if this was true for the more mature, let us say, intelligent gamer.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but the kind of games I enjoy the most involve, not the taking of territory, but instead the solving of puzzles that are integral to the structure of the story the game is telling. Frankly, nothing irritates me more than a game that introduces an arbitrary puzzle that has nothing to do with the story and can only be solved by purchasing the game guide. To me, the most enjoyable games contain a combination of motor skill challenges, logic puzzles germane to the game, and a great story, in other words a concept similar to an interactive novel.

I suspect that the study cited oversimplifies the process by categorizing only between men and women but, of course, I can offer no proof of this conjecture. I look forward to a more comprehensive study.


[1] Journal of Psychiatric Research
Volume 42, Issue 4, March 2008, Pages 253-258

Gender differences in the mesocorticolimbic system during computer game-play
Fumiko Hoefta, Christa L. Watsona, Shelli R. Keslera, Keith E. Bettingera and Allan L. Reiss, a, Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research (CIBSR), Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, 401 Quarry Road, Stanford, CA 94305-5795, USA

I can't really speak for other females, but I know for me that I much prefer gaming as a single-player activity with limited multiplayer activity assuming I know the people I'm playing with. Jumping on a random Unreal Tournament server isn't my thing, but I've no problem throwing down with my gaming group and showing them exactly who is boss (sadly, it isn't always me...)

I love a good single-player adventure game. Scratches, Barrow Hill, Overclocked, Still Life, The Lurking Horror, Syberia, Zork, The Longest Journey...anything with a great storyline and enjoyable plot with puzzles that aren't too intrusive is wonderful for me. It's what I grew up on. :)

By contrast, I really dislike RTS games like Warcraft III or Command & Conquer, though this is mostly because I don't have the sort of mental faculty to process multiple tasks on multiple fronts at the speed with which those games demand I do so.

Nice find on that study. :)

[ Comment by Areala :: 21 Jan : 18:14 ]

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