Why do humans play games?Whether it's a video game or a board game or a physical game, like soccer – or football.
I don't have to put the ball in the net to survive, and, even if I did, whywould I invite a goalie and another team? Games are weird.
This lead Bernard Suits tosay in the 70's that a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.
So, why do we play sports and games? How should we feel about intellectualism vs.
athleticism?But, most importantly, why do Americans call this game soccer while the English, and therest of the world, call it football? It turns out that the word “soccer” doesn'tcome from the United States of America.
Instead, the blame for the word goes to the Britishthemselves, specifically Oxford, where, since 1875, it has been popular to add the suffix”-er” to the end of words.
For example, calling Radcliffe Camera the “Radder, “or these “fivers” and “tenners.
” We have been playing games with balls andour feet ever since ancient times, all over the world.
In fact, as recently as 200 yearsago, many of these games called themselves “football.
” A lack of standardization meantthat it was difficult to all come together and agree on what you could and couldn't dowith the ball or your feet.
But, luckily, in 1863 the Football Association was foundedin London, England.
Association football is what we most commonly mean nowadays when talkingabout football, or soccer.
But what's the connection if the Oxford “-er” was added to Associationfootball, shouldn't we be calling the game “Association-er?” Well, let's take a closerlook at the word “association.
” You see what's hiding in there? There she is.
” But we're getting ahead of ourselves becausesoccer, football, is just one type of game.
Ultimately, what is a game? Well, one of myfavorite ways of defining “game” comes from computer game designer Chris Crawford.
Let's begin with a book.
This is a great book, it's really fun, it's entertaining, but it's not a game.
TV shows and movies are also not games because, fundamentally, they aren't interactive.
But as soon as something is both fun and interactive, well, now we've got ourselvesa play-thing.
There are two types of play-things, according to Crawford.
If you can play withthe object and it's fun but there's no goal or objective associated with it, it's a toy.
If, however, there is an objective, something you're supposed to accomplish, well, now you'retalking about a challenge.
But there are two different types of challenges.
If the challengeinvolves no other people or other agents, it's just you, for instance, playing alonewith a Rubik's Cube, you've got yourself a puzzle.
If, however, there are other peopleinvolved, well, now we've got ourselves a conflict.
In a conflict, like a foot race, you aren'tallowed to interfere with the other participants.
This is what Crawford calls a “competition.
“If, however, you are allowed to interact with and interfere with the other players andthey can do the same to you, well, in that case, we are talking about a full-fledged game.
So, a game is interactive, goal-oriented, and involves other agents, for instance, other people who can interfere with and influenceeach other.
Which means, technically speaking, that life is a game.
I mean, real life.
My life, your life, easily fit many definitions of “game.
” And, in life, there are games thatwe tend to call “sports.
” Now, competency at sports can divide humanity into two groups.
Jocks, who are good at sports, and nerds who aren't.
Jocks are literally named afterthe Jock Strap, which keeps your genitals supported while being athletic.
But jocks are cool, right? They're fit, attractive, they get invited to all the cool parties where, in high school, they can do dangerous, cool things like get drunk.
And who are you ifyou don't get drunk? Well, what's the word “drunk” backwards? You are a “Knurd.
“But that's not the origin of the word “nerd.
” There's much debate about where the word comesfrom, but what we do know is that it emerged as a slang term for “lame” or “square” inDetroit in the early 1950's.
The first known use of the word in print camefrom Dr.
Seuss himself and, fundamentally, it may come from the word “nut, ” which meanta crazy person, and was later altered to “nert, ” and, finally, “nerd.
” It exists today as a wordfor un-athletic people largely because it was popularized through its frequent use onthe US TV show “Happy Days.
” Whether your spend your time on athletic pursuitsor intellectual pursuits, or both, games, in some form, are a part of your life.
So, why do we play games? Humans, and many other animals, play.
And, perhaps, “play” originatedas a way of physically preparing our bodies for life's real challenges later on.
Thatidea makes sense, but the evidence isn't convincing because, in the wild, “play” can often leadto a wasting of precious resources, injuries and hardly comes close to simulating realattacks and life-threatening situations.
The New York Times wrote a great article aboutthis conundrum, pointing out that physically preparing the body may be less of a priorityfor “play.
” Instead, the point of “play” might be preparing the brain.
Play is good for thebrain, especially during formative, juvenile years, when most of us have an instinctive urgeto goof around, play and pretend anyway.
Young rats confined to cages with adult rats, who refused to play with them, grew up with smaller, less developed brains.
This has ledto the hypothesis that games play a role in the development of certain brain structures, especially the cerebellum when we are young.
But, to be clear, the evidence does not showthat play is vital for the development of these regions.
Other methods, like exercisesor teaching, may have a similar effect.
They might not be as fun, but this is knownas equifinality.
So there's debate as to just how vital play and games really are.
Well, let's take a look at the rewards that games give us.
In the first half of the 20th century, AbrahamMaslow constructed a hierarchy of human needs.
The concept is popular in developmental psychologyas a way of thinking about human growth and what motivates us to do things or to notdo things.
In general, until the needs of a lower tier are fulfilled, an individualcan't move on to fulfilling higher ones.
For instance, achieving confidence, or satisfyingthe desire to learn and explore, aren't important to a person in fear for their life and safety.
Play might be motivated by higher needs.
Animals play, but as we've seen in nature, not theones who are stressed or starving.
The thing is, lower needs tend to be prettyclear cut.
If I'm hungry and I eat what I need, I'm done.
It's not that complicated.
But, as creatures and brains and cultures become more complicated, so do their needsand the behaviors required to fulfill them.
This brings us back to the fact that lifeitself fits Chris Crawford's definition of a game.
Arguably, life is the largest andmost complicated game on Earth.
But playing your life usually isn't as easy as simplyremembering to eat and drink and breath.
In life, knowing what the correct next moveis isn't always easy.
Feedback is rarely immediate.
I don't know if the choices I made were thebest, most perfect choices for me until way after I've made them, if even then.
Is this person, or city, or career right for me? In life, the rules are complicated, the goalsare indeterminate and the methods for achieving them are often unknown or different for everysingle person.
Plus, the rewards themselves are often slow to come or non-existent.
So, in the face of all of that, it's no surprisethat we invented games within the larger game of life itself that ensure fast, easy-to-achieveand understandable rewards.
Animals play too, but the complexity of ruleshumans follow in their games, in many ways reflect the complexity of the needs we findourselves able to pursue.
In life, I don't always know the right choice.
I don't know the right job to apply for.
How to explain something to a child.
How to best help my friends or when to call my mom.
But in Bomberman, I know exactly what every power-updoes, every time, all the time.
In poker, a royal flush beats two-of-a-kind, no question about it.
Couldn't be more clear.
But in my life, is an acquaintance or colleaguereally on my side? Well, in team sports there's no unknown, everyone is color-coded.
Games and sports are a phenomenal way to feelthe rewards we need, without all of the unknowns of life.
Even watching games and sports, merelybeing a spectator, can fulfill some of Maslow's needs.
I can feel a sense of belonging bysupporting a team, and by supporting a team, their successes can kind of become my successes.
What a great way to get respect without doinga lot of work.
It's known as BIRG-ing: Basking In Reflected Glory.
The opposite is CORF-ing:Cutting Off Reflected Failure.
If a team is disgraced, I can easily say I was not reallyever that big of a fan anyway.
BIRG-ing and CORF-ing extend beyond sports.
We BIRG and CORF workplace projects, school projects, celebrities, election candidates.
The point is, life is a game, but winning and losing are nebulous.
So, we invented simplergames to provide psychological rewards faster and more efficiently than life itself does.
Which is why, at their darkest, games can lead to procrastination or addiction.
But don't fear.
You have the potential tobecome a jock at the game of life, it's just not always that fun.
And whenever you playman-made games, rest assured that it's simply because you, and all of us, are able to pursuethe fulfillment of needs higher than any other creature on Earth.
And as always, thanks for watching.
Oh, and if you want some soccer science, whynot check out my video with Copa90, where we investigate whether or not it's possible to kick a footballwith so much spin that it not only curves, but boomerangs back to the kicker.