Watching Dr. Jordan Peterson’s lectures on Personality and Maps of Meaning has been incredibly enriching, and as a result I’ve been thinking about what makes games meaningful. When Peterson describes the state of mind where one is engaged in something meaningful, it sounds nearly identical to the state of having fun: you lose track of time, are completely invested in what you are doing, and all the suffering in your life seems to fade away. I believe that what makes a game feel fun is exactly the same as what makes any other activity feel meaningful.
Your brain is attuned to identify meaningful activities. Experiencing a good drama, whether in the medium of video, literature, or music, feels meaningful because those dramas provide you with patterns of action that you can utilize in your own life. When you see someone in a good movie deal with a problem that is facing them, that provides you with a possible pattern of action that you can carry out should you ever face a similar problem in your own life. This is also what happens when we ask each other “How was your day?” We aren’t looking for a scientific answer detailing every muscle movement from the time you woke up; we’re looking for a narrative where you came across a problem and were able to overcome that problem, and we want to know how you dealt with the problem because it provides us with strategies for our own lives.
I believe that games feel meaningful for the same reasons that reading a good book or watching a good movie feel meaningful: they train you to better face problems in your life.