Interface Context.

To those people who don’t play games on a PC, the PC is a device for spreadsheets, word processing and the internet. You use the mouse to select things, click on links and open files. Those functions are all related to work.

There’s some validity to the idea that PC gaming works because all the time you are using the mouse in a work context you are actually refining your gaming skills because you use the same interface devices for work and play.

When somebody sits down to play a game, there’s a context shift, often it’s quite subtle, but on the base level when people start playing a game there are actively not-working; often people play games to intentionally avoid working. A lot of PC games make use of the mouse and keyboard in a manner similar to that of a non-game application, they use the standard “drag and drop” mechanic and require selection and navigation of menus. Such mechanics are easy to learn because people using a PC will be familiar with a mouse heavy interface. For a lot of games such interface mechanics are ideal, real time strategy games being a prime example. Worth considering however, is that using such interfaces requires players to interact with the game in a fashion very closely related to working. By using such an interface you are effectively asking players to perform work tasks in a play environment.

This might go some way toward explain why first person shooters and real time strategy game are very popular on the PC. You are using the same basic mechanics, pointing and clicking the mouse and using the keyboard, but the context is very different. In an FPS your click doesn’t select or open a file, it is the “Click of Doom” (Pun intentional). If such basic mechanics are related to work then it’s an interesting relationship; instead of clicking to open a report, you are clicking to destroying something. Is it possible that on some sub-conscious level players are actually imagining their work in place of the multitude of enemies on screen. When they shoot a hostile creature, might some part of their mind be putting a shotgun to their annual report thereby blowing that, and all the other work related stress, “back to hell”?

When people play games on a console the interaction mechanics are a world apart from their usual work activities. No mouse, no keyboard, no drag and drop. Every action they take, right down to the most basic interface level is entirely within the context of a state of play.

This leads to an interesting question: Is PC gaming doomed because it’s too much like hard work, or are PC games going to remain popular because the core interface mechanics offer a degree of catharsis in themselves?

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