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Lost in a Good Game: Why we play video games and what they do to us

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Media coverage of video games - and, increasingly 'screen time' - is overwhelmingly negative and alarmist. Apparently, they are the unequivocal source of many societal ills. But what does science actually have to say about the effects that playing them can have on us? In Lost in a Good Game, psychologist Pete Echells takes us on a journey through that scientific data and Media coverage of video games - and, increasingly 'screen time' - is overwhelmingly negative and alarmist. Apparently, they are the unequivocal source of many societal ills. But what does science actually have to say about the effects that playing them can have on us? In Lost in a Good Game, psychologist Pete Echells takes us on a journey through that scientific data and research, as well as his own past experiences with video games, which helped him cope in the aftermath of a tragedy. His story reveals that, really, our worries are unfounded - and that in playing, studying and living through them we can understand what it means to be human.


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Media coverage of video games - and, increasingly 'screen time' - is overwhelmingly negative and alarmist. Apparently, they are the unequivocal source of many societal ills. But what does science actually have to say about the effects that playing them can have on us? In Lost in a Good Game, psychologist Pete Echells takes us on a journey through that scientific data and Media coverage of video games - and, increasingly 'screen time' - is overwhelmingly negative and alarmist. Apparently, they are the unequivocal source of many societal ills. But what does science actually have to say about the effects that playing them can have on us? In Lost in a Good Game, psychologist Pete Echells takes us on a journey through that scientific data and research, as well as his own past experiences with video games, which helped him cope in the aftermath of a tragedy. His story reveals that, really, our worries are unfounded - and that in playing, studying and living through them we can understand what it means to be human.

30 review for Lost in a Good Game: Why we play video games and what they do to us

  1. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    I'm on my way to the Edinburgh Book Festival and as the mother of a gamer I've booked a ticket to the "Game On" session by Pete Etchells. Reading his book "Lost in a Good Game" was part of my preparation. And I'm so glad I've read it. Pete is a psychologist and science writer. A PhD who specialises in the world of gaming (as a researcher and a gamer) and someone who also specialises in the quality of research generally. This book does two things: it provides well written and research counterpoint I'm on my way to the Edinburgh Book Festival and as the mother of a gamer I've booked a ticket to the "Game On" session by Pete Etchells. Reading his book "Lost in a Good Game" was part of my preparation. And I'm so glad I've read it. Pete is a psychologist and science writer. A PhD who specialises in the world of gaming (as a researcher and a gamer) and someone who also specialises in the quality of research generally. This book does two things: it provides well written and research counterpoint to public opinion about the impact of video gaming and it introduces the reader to the mindset of one gamer (him) and how he interacts with games, and why. As someone who doesn't like games much (of any kind) I've never been drawn to the world of gaming so have found it hard to understand my son's world. This book has given me an insight to that world and has helped me have a number of in depth conversations about games with my son which I've greatly appreciated and grown from. A couple of years ago I started to tire of the "screens are bad" and "gaming is bad" tropes perpetuated by parents I know. It stopped making sense to me in our technology filled world. And it didn't make sense that gaming was bad but eg. binge watching The Bachelor or Game of Thrones was acceptable. Or that gaming was an unacceptable pastime but concerning parent and child behaviours in organised sport didn't result in warnings about that activity. But I didn't have any knowledge to explain my thoughts. Now, in conjunction with great discussions with my son, I feel I do. And over the last couple of years I've become aware of the poor state of some elements of the scientific community. "It's science" is another justification used by all manner of poor scientists with poor methodology or even none. The number of books out aimed at parents backed up by poor or non-existent scientific method is astounding. When a topic is hot it seems publishers and other media will grasp at anything. This book brings all the issues together in well explained and interesting chapters. I have come away realising that research in this field is immature at best and that there seems to be a lot of hype about the impacts of gaming that doesn't stand up to the hype. I am more curious about gaming and the world my son loves. And I look forward to a more sensible discourse about the field in the future. The one area that was touched on lightly that I have more questions on is inclusion in gaming. I will save my questions on that one for Pete's session in late August. I highly recommend this book to anyone who knows someone who loves gaming. It will help you think about the issue in a more mature way.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Pete

    Lost in a Good Game : Why we play video games and what they do to us (2019) by Pete Etchells is an interesting look at video games and why we play them. Etchells is a lecturer in Psychology.  The combines Etchells descriptions of games that Etchells has enjoyed with a very brief history of computer games, excellent writing on what psychology can actually say about the impact of video games and screens on people and very moving descriptions of Etchells' tragically short relationship with his Lost in a Good Game : Why we play video games and what they do to us (2019) by Pete Etchells is an interesting look at video games and why we play them. Etchells is a lecturer in Psychology.  The combines Etchells descriptions of games that Etchells has enjoyed with a very brief history of computer games, excellent writing on what psychology can actually say about the impact of video games and screens on people and very moving descriptions of Etchells' tragically short relationship with his father. The book also includes discussions with game makers and writing about e-sports.  The book tries to cover an enormous amount of ground and suffers as a result. The sections on the history of video games are superfluous and are done better by other books that just look at video game history. The sections on psychology and the study by psychology of games and screens are really excellent. Etchells writes calmly and persuasively about the lack of good evidence of serious harm by screens and games and the difficulty of doing really good research on these subjects. The book also has a very fine short discussion of the replication crisis in Psychology.  The parts about Etchells and his father are really moving and are well written but don't quite fit with the rest of the book. The impact of another death on Etchells is also really touching.  The descriptions of Etchells playing various games could be reduced. They do show that Etchells really gets games, but these kinds of pieces are best in another type of book.  Books about video games by psychologists are really interesting, the ideal one hasn't been written yet. In parts, Lost in a Good Game really is about the best I've read on the impact of games and screens but there is also a fair bit of the book that is a bit superfluous. 

  3. 4 out of 5

    Merenwen

    I reserved this from the library because the blurb sounded really interesting, and I'm so glad I did. Etchells has done a brilliant job writing an unbiased book on video games and the psychology of them, and did it in a way that everyday people can understand it. In fact, I had a bit of a "eureka" moment when reading the "Why do we play video games?" chapter, where he explains two sets of gamer archetypes (Richard Bartle's, and later Nick Yee's). When I was reading about the possibility of game I reserved this from the library because the blurb sounded really interesting, and I'm so glad I did. Etchells has done a brilliant job writing an unbiased book on video games and the psychology of them, and did it in a way that everyday people can understand it. In fact, I had a bit of a "eureka" moment when reading the "Why do we play video games?" chapter, where he explains two sets of gamer archetypes (Richard Bartle's, and later Nick Yee's). When I was reading about the possibility of game developers catering to specific archetypes, I literally said out loud, "THAT'S why I hated Final Fantasy XIII!" (It made me realize that the game really wasn't catered to what I enjoy in the franchise - exploration - and that's why I found it a chore to complete. Instead, the developers went with a fixed map, and instead of towns with shops you have save points that also act as shops and upgrading facilities.) I also learned a lot about psychological studies and preregistration, how studies on video games are often biased or use the data collected in strange ways, and how "freemium" games might be using mechanisms related to gambling to get people to spend money. There really is so much information in this book, and it's kind of lucky that my library is closed right now during the Virus That Must Not Be Named because I get to keep this book out for another month without paying fines, so I can go over certain chapters again. Really, this book is brilliant.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mostafa Hussein Omar

    A very interesting book Loved it. Would recommend this book to anyone interested in video games or psychology. Does a good job explaining the current evidence and debunks the myths linking video games and violence and video game addiction. Very touching moments from the author's life growing up.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Luke Ryan

    This book left me feeling really unsure about how I felt about it. The parts I liked - when the author was talking about the science of video games, the research being done into them and the problems facing the research. The interviews with video games insiders. The discussions around misogyny in the e-sports community could have been delved into further. The parts I didn't like - when he went into a half page to a page describing a game I already know, or explaining a term I understand. (These This book left me feeling really unsure about how I felt about it. The parts I liked - when the author was talking about the science of video games, the research being done into them and the problems facing the research. The interviews with video games insiders. The discussions around misogyny in the e-sports community could have been delved into further. The parts I didn't like - when he went into a half page to a page describing a game I already know, or explaining a term I understand. (These are necessary in a book of this kind, I just found them tedious). The "love letter to video games" parts - where he waxes lyrical about how beautiful and meaningful video games are. Some of the chapters felt like they started out going in one direction and then went on a different tangent. It might appear that I dis-liked more of this book then I liked, and I don't think I would say that. There were many interesting parts with thoughtful discussion that I really liked. Some parts I would have liked to be longer (discussions on the science, particularly around the loot boxes and gambling like aspect of some video games for instance) and some parts I could have done without. Ultimately, I think this book is a must read for parents who have children who play video games - it gives some real food for thought about the whole "screen time" panic and moral outrages from video games. I am glad that I have read it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Caleb Ross

    (I also make video reviews about video game books. Watch them by clicking here. Lost in a Good Game: Why We Play Video Games and What They Can Do For Us, despite its title, isnt just about video games. Its part memoir, part exploration of video game psychology, and, surprisingly, part research primer. Author Pete Etchells takes a break in toward the beginning, as a bridge into conversations about violence in video games, to highlight just how fraught with oversimplification many of the (I also make video reviews about video game books. Watch them by clicking here. “Lost in a Good Game: Why We Play Video Games and What They Can Do For Us”, despite its title, isn’t just about video games. It’s part memoir, part exploration of video game psychology, and, surprisingly, part research primer. Author Pete Etchells takes a break in toward the beginning, as a bridge into conversations about violence in video games, to highlight just how fraught with oversimplification many of the public-facing research conclusions are. Proper scientific research is hard. Proper scientific research is costly. Proper scientific research is subject to funding that is itself often dolled out not by how the research will support scientific inquiry but often by the probability of attention-grabbing headlines. Proper scientific research is frustrating. I mention all of this to highlight that “Lost in a Good Game: Why We Play Video Games and What They Can Do For Us” isn’t just a book about video game psychology researching. It’s often about scientific research in general. I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in the process of scientific research, full stop. If you are interested specifically in video game psychology, I recommend Jamie Madigan's Getting Gamers: The Psychology of Video Games and Their Impact on the People Who Play Them as a first stop. Then come back to Etchell's book. Another shining chapter in this book titled “Wayfaring and wayfinding,” explores the potential video games have for helping to (relatively) cheaply collect otherwise expensive amounts of data. In one example a mobile game called Sea Hero Quest uses the principles of spatial navigation (both egocentric and allocentric) to put the player in situations that people with Alzheimer's react to as the disease develops. To the player, Sea Hero Quest is a narrative puzzle game. To the researchers, the players, with their range of ages, sexes, education levels, and locations, are a wealth of information that can set a proper baseline for further research. If this use of video games interests you I also recommend Ian Bogost’s How to Do Things with Videogames. “Lost in a Good Game: Why We Play Video Games and What They Can Do For Us” is fantastic. (I also make video reviews about video game books. Watch them by clicking here.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sean Reinhart

    🕹💡📖 Is it worse for young people to experience killing and death IRL (in real life), or in a video game? This is not merely an academic question. Deranged individuals now regularly commit IRL mass shootings using IRL weapons of war to murder innocent people. Yet those weapons of war only exist because they are used every day for the IRL official killing and death of people in less fortunate countries around the world. Are video games to blame for real deaths? Or are video games merely another 🕹💡📖 Is it worse for young people to experience killing and death IRL (in real life), or in a video game? This is not merely an academic question. Deranged individuals now regularly commit IRL mass shootings using IRL weapons of war to murder innocent people. Yet those weapons of war only exist because they are used every day for the IRL official killing and death of people in less fortunate countries around the world. Are video games to blame for real deaths? Or are video games merely another vivid example of art imitating life? This book takes the latter view, and begins by sharing how video games actually helped the author, a psychologist, cope with the death of a loved one. Video games do not cause violent deaths— they are works of art that provide a dearly needed respite from the harshest realities of a dangerous real world beyond our control, according to the author. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this interesting book to learn how this thesis plays out. 📚

  8. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    At first it seemed to me that this would be a glib attempt at gaming apologia, full of sound and fury (anecdotes and conjecture) signifying nothing, but Etchells suddenly and regularly switches gears and provides a thorough scientific analysis of just how unscientific our common-sense regarding gaming and screen time is. His background as a doctoral researcher shines brightly in this regard. The bottom line? We just dont really know how video games affect us. Nevertheless, Etchells believes them At first it seemed to me that this would be a glib attempt at gaming apologia, full of sound and fury (anecdotes and conjecture) signifying nothing, but Etchells suddenly and regularly switches gears and provides a thorough scientific analysis of just how unscientific our common-sense regarding gaming and screen time is. His background as a doctoral researcher shines brightly in this regard. The bottom line? We just don’t really know how video games affect us. Nevertheless, Etchells believes them to be a valid and worthwhile intellectual and emotional engagement - and this is where the ‘soft’ chapters of the book (based primarily on personal stories and interviews) come in. A very good book. Well worth a read if you’ve spent any time at all agonising over the social, physical, and intellectual implications of our increasing ventures into virtual worlds.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Janice

    Lost in a Good Game, is a fascinating insider look into all aspects of video games, good and bad. I was particularly impressed with the chapter on the flawsand outright fraud in many of the published studies on video games. I was also impressed with the idea of using gaming to teach chemistry, and the groundbreaking and collaborative research into Alzheimers using a few million game-playing volunteers. So whether our children use video games to de-stress, learn chemistry, participate in massive Lost in a Good Game, is a fascinating insider look into all aspects of video games, good and bad. I was particularly impressed with the chapter on the flaws—and outright fraud— in many of the published studies on video games. I was also impressed with the idea of using gaming to teach chemistry, and the groundbreaking and collaborative research into Alzheimer’s using a few million game-playing volunteers. So whether our children use video games to de-stress, learn chemistry, participate in massive research studies or simply socialize, their passions are their own to follow. Peter Etchels states that: “In a way, video games are a lens through which we can make sense of the world around us.” He has a point. Lost in a Good Game, is well worth a read for gamers and non-gamers alike.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sanedevil

    I would have never picked up this book had it not featured in the Wired UK book club. The topic and premise of the book is very counter intuitive. I was always skeptical of video games for my kids and society in general but this book challenged my thoughts and moved me from one side of the fence to another. So much that I now will be making sure that my kids play a few hours of video games every week. The style of writing is also good. The only thing is that the author digress es to side topics I would have never picked up this book had it not featured in the Wired UK book club. The topic and premise of the book is very counter intuitive. I was always skeptical of video games for my kids and society in general but this book challenged my thoughts and moved me from one side of the fence to another. So much that I now will be making sure that my kids play a few hours of video games every week. The style of writing is also good. The only thing is that the author digress es to side topics and then I got a bit lost. But that in no way takes away the broad perspective and eye opening perspectives that the book and author provides. I would highly recommend this book to my friends who are all too obsessed with thier kids not getting any screen time.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Garan

    Although the attempt to weave a narrative in a sort of travel/memoir style, this doesn't really mesh well with the deeper studies, which are very informative and one of the few books to take gaming seriously. The switches between academic study and emotive writing are quite jarring and unbalanced, they do however a passable job of drawing into the core investigations and arguments. Having said that, the investigations themselves were very interesting, as were the discussions of problems Although the attempt to weave a narrative in a sort of travel/memoir style, this doesn't really mesh well with the deeper studies, which are very informative and one of the few books to take gaming seriously. The switches between academic study and emotive writing are quite jarring and unbalanced, they do however a passable job of drawing into the core investigations and arguments. Having said that, the investigations themselves were very interesting, as were the discussions of problems surrounding games and gaming culture. Overall, a mature and thought provoking book which I enjoyed reading.

  12. 4 out of 5

    David Ellis

    I really enjoyed reading this book. It had a ton of modern gaming references, which makes it very relevant for this day and age. It also shifted my perspectives on violence in videogames and the science behind monitoring our behaviours/actions when we play them. I agree how we can get lost in videogame words, which can be very healing for us. I was fascinated to learn how far back the origin of computer and videogames were actually being developed from such simple concepts and humble beginnings. I really enjoyed reading this book. It had a ton of modern gaming references, which makes it very relevant for this day and age. It also shifted my perspectives on violence in videogames and the science behind monitoring our behaviours/actions when we play them. I agree how we can get lost in videogame words, which can be very healing for us. I was fascinated to learn how far back the origin of computer and videogames were actually being developed from such simple concepts and humble beginnings. Well written and articulately presented concepts mean that you will be hooked on this to the very end, just like a well crafted videogame.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Drucilla

    Actual rating: 2.5 stars. There's nothing really wrong with this book so I feel bad giving it a low rating, but honestly, I was a little bored by it. This book is much more psychological research focused than I was expecting. The only thing I really learned here was that it's incredibly difficult to do any kind of psychological research (whether because of unconscious or blatant bias) and that all findings should be taken with a grain of salt.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Donald

    Large parts are interesting and relatable, with the anecdotes and history and interviews. However the middle section focusing on psychology and its examination and interaction with gaming just comes across as naive and preaching to the converted. It isn't particularly interesting making a justification for his views on screen time, etc, because if you are reading the book I can almost guarantee you are already not dismissing gaming out of hand.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Hazel Gale

    I loved this book, and you dont have to be a gamer to feel the same. This is an exploration of human nature, creativity, connection and grief, viewed through the fascinating lens of digital entertainment. Its sensitive, clever and real. I couldnt recommend it more highly. I loved this book, and you don’t have to be a gamer to feel the same. This is an exploration of human nature, creativity, connection and grief, viewed through the fascinating lens of digital entertainment. It’s sensitive, clever and real. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marko

    Excellent blend of history, science and magical world of games!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Noppol

    Violence ❌ Addictive ✅✅ need moral control Screen time is bad ❓ VR ✅ future opportunity E-Sports ✅ future opportunity

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    A nice brief overview of the current state of video games research, told from a personalised position.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alexandria

    So very proud of Pete for this book. He did amazingly.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ricardo Sousa

    This book showcases important results from academic research on the impact of videogames across a multitude of topics (eg, violence, addiction, immersion, wayfinding,...) and, while doing so, also offers a deeply personal account of what specific games did for the author in various stages of his life. A word of praise to the authors relentless focus on facts and scientific research, to counterweight news headlines and biased opinions, while taking us on this journey. This book showcases important results from academic research on the impact of videogames across a multitude of topics (eg, violence, addiction, immersion, wayfinding,...) and, while doing so, also offers a deeply personal account of what specific games did for the author in various stages of his life. A word of praise to the author’s relentless focus on facts and scientific research, to counterweight news headlines and biased opinions, while taking us on this journey.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Floyd Been

  22. 4 out of 5

    T

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mark Rosel

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pawel Grzelczyk

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jesse Anderson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Terry

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gregory Vincent Cook

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michael Coyne

  30. 4 out of 5

    James

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