There should be an image here!Do you like to play video games? It’s been estimated that three billion hours per week are spent playing video games by people around the globe, so there’s obviously wide appeal in the act of immersing oneself into an artificial world and taking on the role of someone else. Scientists at the University of Essex are trying to figure out what it is, specifically, that gets people so involved in video games — most important: what makes video games so fun to so many?

Plenty of research hours have been logged in the pursuit of potentially harmful effects of video games on human beings — from addiction to exacerbation of violent tendencies to anti-social behavior — but we know precious little about what causes video games to stimulate so much pleasure in our big monkey brains.

Researchers believe that much of the enjoyment comes from video game players being able to wear different hats and try out different roles not available to them in real life. Sure, it would be fun to shoot fireballs out of the palm of your hand and incinerate rampaging zombie sasquatches, but the closest you’re going to get is by plugging into a video game that allows you to possess an avatar that has the power to do such a thing (just remember to always aim for the head). It seems that those of us who love video games are most likely to pick characters within a game world that most approximate ourselves — with a few bonuses that the real world won’t allow us to get away with.

“A game can be more fun when you get the chance to act and be like your ideal self,” explained researcher Dr. Andy Przybylski. “The attraction to playing video games and what makes them fun is that it gives people the chance to think about a role they would ideally like to take and then get a chance to play that role.”

While it might seem obvious that video games are appealing because they’re a sort of escape from the real world, Dr. Przybylski feels otherwise:

“…I was heartened by the findings, which showed that people were not running away from themselves, but running towards their ideals. They are not escaping to nowhere — they are escaping to somewhere.”

Dr. Andy Przybylski’s prior studies can be seen in this video (and other related videos found there).

How do you feel about video games? Are they more fun than a human being should be allowed to have, or do they bore you more than counting one-footed pigeons at the dog park? Let us know in the comments!