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Linda Stone

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When a Video Game Is More Than a Video Game

Posted: 10/12/10 04:56 PM ET

The power was out. I was en route from the U.K. via Los Angeles, back to Seattle, and staying with friends in LA for one night. Jet-lagged, I woke up at dawn and wandered out of the cozy, dark guestroom. In the next room, my friend's office and painting studio, I saw a figure concentrated over a keyboard and screen, and the figure appeared to be typing.

"Good morning," I offered, "what's up?" waiting to see if it was all right for me to enter the room.

"I'm pretending to play Lego Harry Potter™. It's a video game." My friend's fourth grade son invited me in. "We don't have electricity, so I have to pretend."

"What would you be seeing and doing now if you could see the screen?" I asked.

"You know what dementors are? Well, I would be killing them and I am really, really good at killing them. At first, I wasn't and they would get me. Now, I'm really good at it." He described the challenges at each level, the colors and sounds of the game. "When you destroy them, they break apart like Legos!"

I had just spent seven days at Gravetye Manor in the English countryside. As guests of Dr. Marty Seligman, 25 of us had come together to discuss flourishing and happiness. Seligman's next book, "Flourish: A New Understanding of Life's Greatest Goals and What it Takes to Reach Them," is coming out in April 2011, and, with the release, he hopes to launch the 51/51 campaign: Fifty-one percent flourishing by 2051.

What are the enabling conditions for flourishing? Marty has an easy acronym: PERMA. PERMA stands for Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. He describes this in detail in his talks that can be found on YouTube.com.

Listening to my friend's young son describe his experience with a video game was a "PERMA moment." He had a sense of accomplishment and mastery, engagement so total that he could summon it even when the power was out, positive emotions, and while it's a stretch, for him, there was meaning to what he was doing -- he was cleaning up a world of dementors. I was riveted as he brought his experience to life for me.

My friend's son was playing, what was for him, a PERMA game -- a game that activated PERMA, or flourishing for him. For this boy, this video game could transport him to such a rich and happy place that he could get there by just thinking about the game. For me, even witnessing him was a PERMA moment.

Do you play video games? How are the video games or any games a positive force in your life?

Do your children play games? How are the games a positive force in their lives?

What PERMA games do you play? If you hosted a PERMA party, what activities and experiences would you include?

Do different generations experience PERMA power from different types of activities and experiences? What have you noticed?

 

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