Video Games That Promote Purpose and Finding Meaning

Can playing a video game or using social media help a child to feel a sense of purpose and meaning? Can game play help an individual to practice caring skills or other activities that helps an individual find more direction and value in their life? In this special LearningWorks for Kids series we explore how the positive psychology skill of purpose and meaning can lead to a sense of well-being and improve social emotional learning skills.

Purpose: The ability to find meaning outside oneself. Researchers have found that happiness can be gained through the expression of empathy and altruism and by purposefully doing good.

A sense of purpose is born from the positive feelings that arise from doing good in the world. Group-level civic virtues can move individuals towards better citizenship, resulting in feelings of responsibility, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethics.

Games help practice, support, or acquire purpose when they:

  • Incorporate quests and missions where players help someone, such as saving a village’s water source or bringing a thief to justice.
  • Issue in-game rewards for “doing the right thing” within the storyline.
  • Involve responsibility for the well-being of others.
  • Establish nurturing skills and caring for others such as raising a virtual pet.
  • Incorporate civic duties and thinking about others’ needs into the structure of missions.
  • Facilitate feelings of empathy when something tragic happens to an important character.

Examples of video games and apps that promote purpose and finding meaning include:

SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge! – The player takes on the role of city mayor and must ensure inhabitants are both healthy and happy. The player must produce jobs so citizens can earn money to buy things such as food and video games while ensuring that they live in a green, healthy environment. As mayor, it is the player’s responsibility to make sure citizens are employed and content while also keeping pollution levels down and maintaining a healthy planet.
Purpose: The game revolves around civil responsibility, tasking players with growing the economy while having a mindful approach to pollution and the environment. Players advance the game by “doing the right thing” while having the responsibility of the well-being of others.

Whispering Willows – The game follows the journey of Elena Elkhorn, a teenage girl who goes on a quest to locate her missing father. As a descendant of a fictitious Native American tribe, and in possession of her family’s shamanic amulet, Elena has the ability to change to spirit form. With the help of the amulet and her own resilience and tenacity, Elena embarks on a dark and dangerous quest, helping restless spirits and learning about her own ancestry along the way.
Purpose: Elena’s quest to find her father brings her face to face with the ghosts of her past… literally. In assisting others she learns more about herself then she ever bargained for. Through her thrilling quest she gains new appreciation for her heritage and her family and a new understanding of what she is capable of.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – In the most recent chapter of the iconic video game series, Link wakes to find himself in a high-tech sleep chamber with no memories of his past. The player learns that Link was asleep for 100 years after a failed battle with Calamity Ganon. As a result, Link must now complete this fight in order to save Hyrule. The player gets to explore a massive open-world video game full of adventure, monsters, and puzzles. Because the game encourages experimentation and exploration, each player can shape the story according to their own pace and skills.
Purpose: The Legend of Zelda series is well known for its character driven story and emphasis on heroism. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the completion of tasks large and small, for folks from all walks of life, that make the player a hero to everyone they encounter. Breath of the Wild is a journey of self-discovery and a lesson in what it means to be a citizen of the world.

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