We as humans like to think of ourselves as dominant in just about every aspect of life. And the truth is, we are mostly right. No other species can match our development, nor our achievements. But when speaking about the human experience, one can't ignore our multitude of shortcomings, both as individuals and as a larger group. Interestingly enough, those shortcomings seem to be one of the things push us the most as a collective. When we see others fail, we utilize the knowledge gained from that failure to go farther than ever before.
Watching people go at endeavors that stretch the limits of human physical and mental capacity is what motivates us. Whether those endeavors succeed or fail, we are motivated by either the achievement, or the failure which asks us to do even more. Watching individuals and groups of people test the thresholds of human experience is an immense driver in our continued existence. I say watching, because most of the time I am far too lazy and unmotivated to try pushing anything to the limits. But video games let me do that, and in a comfortable, yet competitive, environment.
A great number of video games are designed to challenge the player, usually through their mechanics, puzzles, and overall gameplay. More so these days, developers are trying to create games which also challenge us with their stories and ideas. But the point is, video games are around to challenge us in some manner. It might be a fun challenge, like unlocking a perk which enhances gameplay, or maybe a ridiculously hard challenge, like just about every boss in Dark Souls. Of course, it can often be more than just the game challenging you; it can be other players using the rules of the game to test your skill.
Speedrunners try to conquer games in the fastest way possible, and pro gamers are out to conquer the opposition in the form of others who are the best of the best. People I know who would never claim to be gamers are seeking to unlock the next level of Candy Crush, which yes, can still be a challenge. We as gamers, and people in general, seem to love challenges. You would think that life throws us enough already, but here we are, paying money for even more challenges. It might seem different, but at the core, all these challenges, created or otherwise, are something we couldn't do without.
We are shaped by challenge, and challenge shapes us in return. I would compare playing video games to picking our fights, choosing our battles. By living vicariously through a created character, or taking on the roles of a character created by another person, we are essentially constructing, and then crushing our own trials. Whether it's the next level, the next unlock, or the next pile of loot, we as gamers are continuously challenging ourselves and our community to do better, be better, and utterly destroy high scores.
Whenever I get asked the question of why I play video games, I have a hard time nailing down my exact reasons. But this would seem to be at least part of the equation: the thrill of a challenge conquered. Basic? Yes. Timeless? Definitely.
Header image from Dead End Thrills