Just as with neurology, where impairments due to injury can tell us a lot about the structural layout of the brain, dysfunction in games can tell us something about their properties. One such dysfunctional state occurs when a game is solved, or mastered, or “dead”. When we have mastered a game completely it ceases to hold our interest, and so for the master it ceases to serve any function. From this we can determine that there are two vital elements in games, at least one of which must be a source of pleasure and a motivator; the sensation of improving or gaining mastery, and the acquisition of new information – learning.
In this essay I use the terms ‘emotion’ and ‘mental state’ interchangeably. I think they are largely the same thing, the commonly recognised emotions are simply the clearest and most consistent mental states people experience.
I have recently become interested in the idea of exerting control over my mental state. Most people live their lives entirely responding to outside stimuli, having their emotions and behaviours dictated by the events they are subjected to. But it has become clear to me that we have a lot more control over the state of our own minds than we think, and that this concept is rarely mentioned in our society.
It seems only natural that we respond emotionally to the things that happen to us, but thinking about emotions and their Darwinian origins have made me realise that they serve a few basic functions.