Psychology / Psychological Benefits of RPGs in a nutshell:

-They develop mindfulness (a key psychological skill that is used in wide ranging fields from self help for depression to sports psychology)

-They develop creative thinking skills via puzzles (creative thinking is important to many jobs, from a career in teaching to Information Technology)

-They train our minds to work progressively towards a goal

– They are arguably the most relaxing form of game

– They teach our minds to spot how things will logically progress (important to both personal and professional life)

Psychological Benefits of RPGs

RPGs arguably offer more benefits than all other genres. They develop the player’s ability to spot how things will logically progress (both by their storytelling, which is usually significantly deeper than other games, and by character levelling, which develops our ability to see how baby steps lead us to become great characters). They develop pattern recognition and creative thinking abilities–both of which are core components of puzzles–and they even develop our patience as we are often stuck around levelling up for hours on end as opposed to simply progressing through the game–psychologically this serves to teach our minds to slow down, to recognise the importance of small steps and to not expect everything in life to just fall into our laps (a key shortcoming of other genres). More important than all of these benefits, however, is their ability to develop mindfulness and listening and observational skills.

Mindfulness, which can be defined as being openly aware of your environment, is one of the most universally recognised virtues through all societies in the world. In religion it can be found principally in Buddhism, where meditation is used daily to quiet and still a person’s mind and thoughts such that they are less critical and more openly aware of their environment. In self help it is a key part of treatment for depression (because it teaches a person dealing with depression–or anxiety or other psychological issues–to remove negative thoughts). It is used by sports psychologists to help professional athletes increase their focus (among many other things) and finally, it is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world to promote relaxation and happiness.


Mindfulness is great psychologically, but where do RPGs come in?

Glad you asked. Mindfulness is developed through RPGs in two key ways. Firstly, they require the gamer to be mindful (openly aware) of their environment by their inclusion of hidden items and areas. More often that not, hidden areas are marked out only by the subtlest changes in the environment (the music might change slightly, a wall or patch of grass might be a slightly different colour, your character might react in some almost imperceivable way when you approach a hidden item and so on. Because the player wants to locate every hidden item and area, they will continually remind themselves to be very aware of the game world in case one of these change of colour, sound or character animation occurs. Over hours and hours of gameplay, the player then learns to naturally be more mindful in real life and this has myriad benefits, as discussed above.

The second way in which RPGs teach players to be mindful is via the nature of their storytelling.

A truly great RPG game will be told through the words of many non-player characters as they all reveal little but important parts of the plot, parts that, when put together, serve to instruct the gamer of how to progress through the game.

The ability to do well in a good and challenging RPG will require the gamer to pay great attention to all the words of characters they meet and then to put those words together so they can read the whole story. And how important a skill is that to life?

In life, every one of us is only able to perceive but a small part of the big picture. It is imperative to our success in real life that we find both the patience and the willingness to listen to those we meet, even though oftentimes we might not agree with them. It is only by listening with an open mind that we can ever hope to achieve enough knowledge to go on to do great things in the real world. Thankfully, in RPGs we gamers have an immediately accessible and highly enjoyable tool with which to develop our listening and mindfulness skills.

The Other Psychological Benefits

Creative Thinking: Puzzles in RPGs more often that not require the gamer to visualise how certain shapes or objects will interact with one another. Take the puzzle from Skyward Sword where Link has to extend the bridge on the Isle of Songs. This puzzle essentially requires one thing of the gamer: an ability to see how different objects can be brought together via a set of movements to create something new. It is a typical creative thinking activity.

Valuing the Small Steps: In titles where character levelling is particularly important the player is encouraged to develop their understanding of how baby steps lead us up the mountain. Psychologically speaking this is an essentially skill throughout life, from crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s in order to appear professional to valuing the importance of every single healthy meal in a weight loss program in order to get thin.

Relaxation: The relaxation of RPGs is self explanatory, with them taking place often in large open areas (offering exploration which encourages our minds to wander and leads us to relax) being significantly slower than most other genres and with artistic direction that is intentionally designed to chill the gamer out (lots of green grass, slow and melodic soundtracks etc).

These are the key psychological benefits of RPGs and they are rich and plentiful. Should anyone ever ask you why you spend so many hours playing RPGs, simply look up at them curiously and say, ‘Why, I’m developing my mindfulness. If you’d like to know more might I recommend the work of Thich Nhat Hanh or perhaps Deepak Chopra? Or failing that, here [hand over controller], just explore Skyrim for a few hours. You’ll find it most enlightening.”

Paul Harrison

Paul M Harrison is an entertainment journalist, novelist, and blogger, and a specialist in the theory of storytelling. Paul Harrison can be contacted via his personal website or on Twitter or Facebook.


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