12 May

One of the reasons why we play games is that they make us feel good – especially when we win. Athletics – sports, specifically – are the epitome of this sensation, as they integrate physical exertion and adrenaline with the positive sensations of winning (or even of playing well, whether you win or not, although pretty much everyone would agree that winning is better).

However, one of the other aspects of this joy is the fact that you want to win a good game; we don’t want to completely destroy our opponents on the sporting field, online, or at the game table. We want to be challenged, to drag out the battle, to feel the positive stress that accompanies the uncertainty of victory or defeat. Jane McGonigal refers to this sensation as “Fiero.”

Fiero is what we feel after we triumph over adversity. You know it when you feel it – and when you see it. That’s because we almost all express fiero in exactly the same way: we throw our arms over our head and yell.

The fact that virtually all humans physically express fiero in the same way is a sure sign that it’s related to some of our most primal emotions….Fiero, according to researchers at the Center for Interdisciplinary Brian Sciences Research at Stanford, is the emotion that first created a desire to leave the cave and conquer the world. It’s a craving for challenges that we can overcome, battles we can win, and dangers we can vanquish. (McGonigal 33)

McGonigal’s anecdote about the universal tendency to “throw our arms over our head and yell” conjures up, no doubt, any number of instances in professional sports, at family game nights, and in other situations in which we’ve seen or done this ourselves. A universal feeling expressed in a universal way. But that’s beside the point (although it does have any number of interesting anthropological and psychological implications).

In a context outside of gaming, we experience fiero in any context that involves “winning” – political campaigns, social movements, major projects, and even successful production of products. Fiero is a part of our everyday lives, in varying degrees. But it’s important to remember that fiero is a part of what motivates us to become followers, as well as what motivates leaders in the first place. We want to be a part of the winning team, whether as a participant or a fan.