Have you ever finished playing a game and wondered, “What if I could drink a potion and heal my ailments in real life?” or “I wish there were a quest list for real life, so I knew what to do next.”. Well, you’re not the only one. People who are avid gamers will all agree that there are some game mechanics that they wish worked in the real world. But why wish for something when we can use game mechanics to improve our everyday lives right now?
There are similarities and differences between our physical and digital adventures. For example, we eat certain foods and take medicines when we’re sick to “increase our health bar when we’re down”. But, unlike in a game, we do not respawn, so we have to take extra care not to fall off the edge of a map. 👀
Play is part of everyday life. According to an IGEA report, over 8.6 million households play games in Australia alone (0.1% of the global population). We can use video games to improve everyday life. People can learn new hobbies and improve their skills. People can also interact with each other and the game to improve their social lives.
In this blog, I’ll explain the basic definitions of game mechanics and how they work within a game. Then I’ll walk through why games positively impact our lives and some key examples and research into this. Finally, I’ll list a few examples of good game mechanics and how they can impact and improve your life.
What are game mechanics?
Game mechanics are specific systems or rules that govern how a game functions. While the systems are the same, how they are applied to each game can vary. Game mechanics could be the quest system that informs the player of what to do in a level or the rules of how they move around that level.
Don't confuse this with gameplay! Gameplay is how these systems interact together to create an engaging experience. If the game mechanic is the movement system, then the gameplay uses the movement system to traverse a level and overcome challenges.
There are many different examples of mechanics in video games. One of the most common is the quest mechanic. The player has to complete a quest or mission in a video game to get a reward. They are primarily seen in role-playing games and help the main story progress. We can use a quest system to increase motivation to finish daily or long-term tasks.
We can make tedious tasks more enjoyable by breaking down goals into sub-tasks and assigning narrative importance to the overall quest (the ‘why’ behind what you want to accomplish). Creating a story or receiving rewards for completing quests will motivate us differently. This is essentially a new way to frame classic goal-setting systems, but by looking to games for inspiration, we can continue to expand on and improve the system.
Some examples of game mechanics are
- Tetris: The simplest example of a game mechanic is the rotations a player can make to fit a complete row in Tetris. Many people and organisations apply similar Tetris packing rules to their everyday lives to help them better pack boxes and furniture when moving.
- Minecraft: As it says in the name, this game's ‘crafting’ mechanic teaches users to gather material and make better or more efficient tools. This can teach people to be more resourceful and pick up problem-solving skills.
- Candy Crush Saga (and many other mobile games): Use a 3-star system to rate the player’s performance. This is great for communicating to players where they could improve while remaining positive. This same system is being used in classrooms all around the world!
How can games improve our lives?
We’ve talked about game mechanics and some basic examples, but before diving deeper into other practical examples, let’s look at games' social and psychological benefits. Playing games can positively impact our lives; for example, co-op or cooperation games can teach us the value of asking for help or solving problems as a team. Games like It Takes Two show the reality of learning how to tackle hardships together. While games like Overcooked show the importance of clear communication. Playing these games with friends or colleagues can help build communication skills, teamwork and higher motivation to finish tasks. Let’s review more examples and research done into this space:
Games can motivate us to eat better and exercise more.
In games, we know that consuming food is a way to recharge health. This is also true in real life! We can use this system to teach people about the importance of regular meals. A study by Carnegie Mellon University attempted to promote healthy eating habits in children through a video game. In the game, the children’s avatars gained strength and speed based on the food they ate and fought monsters representing junk food. After playing just twenty minutes of the game, the children were likelier to pick healthier food options.
Games can also help us learn and retain information.
Studies have shown that people who play video games have better problem-solving skills and are more creative. Games challenge us to think outside the box and develop new solutions. Games also teach us never to give up, even if we fail. It has a resilience-to-reward system that can transition into everyday practices.
Games can help us be more social.
In 2020, many people turned to video games to interact with friends and family. An IGEA report found that 75% more Australians were connecting to their friends through games. A similar study in the UK by Xbox had identical results of people admitting that games were an excellent way to meet new people. Some games have competitive game mechanics that increase their social aspects as well.
But how can we incorporate game mechanics and gamify our lives?
We can use game mechanics in real life to help us achieve our goals, improve our relationships, and learn new things.
Video games can show us how to stay motivated through instant gratification.
If we wanted to improve our health by eating better and exercising more, we could look to a common game mechanic, health bars. We can instantly see progress by visualising our health goals and adding or removing health points based on our actions. We could create a physical token kept in clear view to keep the system front of mind. This system could be tailored to your goals, with some delicious foods you don’t want to cut out entirely, taking away a bit of health, which needs to be balanced by other positive actions.
Video games are inherently built around some form of goal completion.
Many video games track players' progress through missions. The more goals you complete, the faster you pick up skills and reach the end game. You could take the goal-setting framework from a popular game to create targeted daily goals - taking apart a more significant long-term goal and breaking it into smaller goals or tasks to help you stay on track and motivate you to finish. A great game to look at for inspiration, SuperBetter, helps some workers and students with anxiety and depression related to their professional and personal life through goal setting. It has been shown to reduce stress and improve mental health.
Another mechanic used outside gaming is music.
Video game music is designed to be ambient and to keep you focused. Research shows that listening to music while working can increase productivity by up to 15%. However, Video game soundtracks are designed to change and build to communicate progress or dictate a player's emotional state. For intense levels, the music is more fast-paced, while end-game battles have levels of dynamic ranges. It also cycles through highs and lows to help the player progress through repetitive tasks. We can learn from this to create playlists subliminally dictate our workflow and emotional state throughout the day. Due to everyone’s taste in music, I suggest experimenting with what works for you!
As we can see, game mechanics can be a great inspiration for making minor adjustments to your day to improve your life. You may have already used some of these tips to help improve your workflow without realising how in tune they are with games!
Now, take it to the next level!
Video game mechanics can be a tool for personal growth. We can incorporate them in ways that make us feel better, more accomplished and more motivated to work on the things that matter most to us.
In video games, we can be whoever we want, do whatever we want, and go at our own pace. That is something that we don’t often get in real life. So, the next time you’re stressed, why not challenge yourself to implement a game mechanic into your everyday life?
Start by asking yourself this: What are you going to do today? What do you want to change? Which areas of your life do you need help with? Then look for similar game mechanics that you can use to gamify your life!