Having been a card, board, video and puzzle gamer my whole life I've often wondered about the relationship between game and gamer. Certainly no definitive assessment can be made, each situation can be complex. Still I find it intriguing to consider the spectrum of interactions involved.
Games can be virtual abstractions for escape. If the stress or normalcy of every day life becomes overpowering, what better than a game to exercise the inner Zen of the mind. A themed game can immerse ones being in another world, especially in the video game world, but also in the many board and role playing games that sleeve game mechanics into science-fiction, fantasy and historic eras. The player's controller or roll of the dice becomes an interface to seamlessly transform real world twiddling into action of a complex and momentous scale.
At the other end of the scale, gaming may serve as real world training. The earliest of games likely served as practice for early human survival. Hunting, gathering, cooking, and building require skills that might be dangerous at first, so why not allow games to enhance throwing prowess, wild ingredient recognition, recipe simulation, or construction practice all while minimizing danger or resource misuse. Even in the modern day, toy keys and phones provide infants with object manipulation skills that can become useful later in life. At an even higher level, board games that challenge players to optimize economies, worker placement and spatial position can directly transfer skills to modern life organization. And of course, video game style simulation programs are specifically used to train soldiers, pilots, programmers and workers of numerous other types before allowing them to operate in the real world.
Gaming also enhances social connection. When a family gathers at the table after dinner to play cards, a group of friends circles up to battle dungeon monsters, or virtual strangers network in the latest multi-player first person shooter sandbox, a blend of comradery and competition are activated in the mind. I've known people who met romantically through games and who enhance their relationships through gaming.
Indeed, in all these cases when our minds confront interesting situations and choose different paths and strategies, endorphins are released that make us smile, laugh and grimace. Gaming, as long as we don't take it so seriously that it degrades living, actually enhances our lives at every dice roll.