Psychology within Video Games: What can you learn from them?

I am bad at school and good at video games. There is a video on YouTube titled “Why You’re Bad at Exams… But Are Great at Video Games!” I’ll link the URL below before continuing.


In the video, the commentator / narrator shows a chart with two axes worth of information with the vertical axis being treated as an actor for the information on the horizontal axis. This chart and the associated information comes in at 0:42 into the video, and it can seem overwhelming to have to remember all of this information that will be used on a test later without having access to the chart during the exam. To some people this will be simple to remember but to others (such as myself) who are not good at memorizing things, especially numbers, this will be a very difficult task. However, at 1:24 into the video he changes the example chart from an array of numbers to the type matchings from the game series Pokémon™. My nerd status is going to be on full display here and I’ll probably lose some people, although I can say with some level of certainty that a lot of people played Pokémon GO and as a result have some knowledge of the game.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have the type matchings of Pokémon essentially memorized to perfection and can tell you without even referring to the chart what is bad or good against what or even what is neutral. Well why is this? The two charts featured in the video show the exact same thing and as stated, they are exact replicas of each other but the information is changed so it seems more mundane and arduous compared to its video game counterpart.

It is the manner in which this information is presented to you and how it grabs your attention. I know it may sound childish but everything about Chart Y is bright and colorful and those things often hold your gaze more than something that is colorless and drab, like almost everything about school is. Let’s be real here, no matter how much you like school most of it is very dry and monotonous; it’s just another part of your routine. Attention is an important part of imprinting things into your memory, and the more attention you hold onto the something the more likely it is to stay within your memory long enough to be stored away into your long-term memory. If someone tried to teach me about the information on Chart Y in a classroom, I’d probably get bored of it and start browsing the Internet or playing a game on my phone.

There are so many psychological factors within video games and for me that has a lot to do with why I put so much effort into doing well at them and regrettably not as much into doing well at school. Behaviorist theory comes up a lot when it comes to games because there are systems of rewards and punishment, but they aren’t so severe that when you fail, you’re out thousands of dollars, facing academic probation, expulsion from the college, and a life of debt without anything to show for it. Video games give you extra chances and allow you to learn from your mistakes in a more controlled environment that is very low risk. People would probably argue that the high-risk nature of college is what makes it worth it, and that it’s just real life. But does it really need to be that way?

Take it from someone who actually has performed poorly and faced both academic and financial aid suspension, it is not at all a good feeling when you fell seven points short of a passing grade to progress onto the next level of a course and that also put you in bad standing with the academic committee and the financial aid office. And the only way to rectify your mistake is to try again, but without the benefit of grants or loans you’re expected to pay for everything out of your own pocket, and so you get a credit card to pay for classes for a single semester which equals out to about $6,000 of debt you’re now facing because of that. The argument is that there is a “high risk, high reward” nature of college but a lot of people never reap any benefits from a university degree and are stuck at a dead-end retail job for seven years.

But I digress, this all ties into the ideologies of behaviorism because it gives you motivation to not perform poorly but it is such negative reinforcement and not everyone responds well to that. More often than not, positive reinforcement and a system of rewards will allow someone to perform better with higher motivation and morale than someone who is constantly pushed down by failure. I’m not so out of touch with reality that I expect life to be like a video game, but it helps to try and tackle life like a video game. As was stated in the YouTube video, it helps to gain your experience and knowledge through your adventure and journey instead of rushing to face the final boss from the very beginning and only attempting to apply knowledge on your last challenge instead of through practice runs in controlled environments that will prepare you for the endgame encounter you will face at the last leg of your journey.

Hopefully this doesn’t seem like an incoherent mess and it conveys the concept of how much psychology can be applied to something like a video game and how much it can actually teach you about various concepts of psychology itself. At least that way no one can say to you, “Well you’ll never learn anything from a video game.”

Good luck gamers, and enjoy that last bit of cringe.

Don’t worry, I cringed while writing it.

P.S. By all means if you have critiques or disagree with anything I’ve said here, I’m open to any comments. I’m not exactly the best at conveying thoughts that seem sensible to me, and I’d love to get feedback.