Good video games are just as meaningful forms of entertainment as books, plays and films — at least according to a new study. Many people dismiss video games as mindless entertainment, but gamers can support the findings of the study with their own experience.
They know many modern video games offer no less of an emotional impact – as well as insight – than books and movies.
The study showed that the experience gamers have with meaningful video games gives them an appreciation of those titles on a deep level. Researchers hope this will encourage developers to continue making games with narratives that drive emotional reasoning.
"It's certainly true that there are some games that are silly or shallow, but that's the case for almost all forms of entertainment," said Mary Beth Oliver, professor of media studios and co-director of the Penn State media effects research laboratory.
"Our research suggests that contrary to stereotypes, games have the potential to be as meaningful to players as other, more esteemed forms of entertainment such as literature or cinema."
The research team asked 512 players of video games about titles they have played that were either fun or meaningful and then asked them to rate their perception of those games. The results of the survey showed that whereas the players enjoyed both kinds of games, they had greater appreciation for the games they found more meaningful.
The researchers found that certain games – ones that offer the player moral choices – may have even more meaning on a deeper level, because they allow players a depth of experience that is inaccessible through other forms of entertainment. Playing a video game in which you choose whether someone lives or dies leaves more of an emotional mark than watching someone in a movie make a similar choice.
In The Walking Dead video games, choices the player makes can result in the deaths of other characters — or even worse, in another character becoming a zombie. Being directly engaged in what happens provides an emotional response of greater dimension than watching something similar happen on The Walking Dead TV series. The game, unlike the show, is interactive.
Video game players in the study pointed out that the narrative of a game heightened their appreciation of it and gave them more feelings of insight about their emotions and even their spirituality.
"Such an experience gives players a space to challenge how they see the world, just as movies like Schindler's List or novels like Animal Farm, did for past audiences," said Nick Bowman, assistant professor of communication studies and a research associate at West Virginia University. "Video games have grown up."
The findings of the study are also supported by the outcome of a recent video in which senior citizens played The Last Of Us — a game with a strong narrative. The video showed the older players connecting with the world of the game on a level they had not expected — leaving some in tears by the end.