The ludic evolutionary driver
The impulse to play has existed for several millennia In fact, there is evidence to support that it predates humanity itself; shown by play-like behavior in various other animals, although more prominently in mammals. Everything seems to point to the direction that games offer some kind of evolutionary advantage; but what is that?
Lets take a look at two of the primary impulses that drives us, and see what games might have to do with them. These aren't by any means the only factors that leads us to play games but they are the easiest to understand from an evolutionary perspective.
The drive for comfort
We human have ingrained in us an impulse that drives us for things that are known to work and to be safe. In plain evolutionary sense, individuals that were drawn to familiar situations fare better than others that took higher risks, living longer to pass their genes and teachings to younger generations.
This driver can be evidenced in several other behaviors that humans partake in. The fact that we choose to establish ourselves in the same location (provided the conditions are conducive to our needs), to draw ourselves to known people whom we have established relationships with rather than strangers and even the fact that we ground most of our day to day activities into routines.
The drive for novelty
On the other hand, always sticking to the known doesn't lead to an improvement of our condition, only the maintenance of the status quo. Overtime, individuals that were drawn to experimentation and the ability to discover new and better ways of improving their practices, found themselves with an evolutionary advantage over others.
This is strongly shown in all of the technological accomplishments that we humans have achieved, especially in recent centuries. We recognize that the exploration of the new is essential for solving tougher problems that known measures are insufficient to deal with. Arguably, the prominence of this driver is the strongest factor that sets us humans apart from other animals, being able to greatly enhance our lives and the lives of fellow humans (although not without some major drawbacks, as history have taught us).
The place for games
Games, in particular, offer a prime opportunity to conciliate both drives. Through it, we allow the individual an opportunity to explore new ideas and skills while offering a safe environment in which is okay to fail. While playing, we adopt a different mindset that leads us to experiment and push ourselves harder than we would otherwise.
It is no surprise that we humans are drawn to games to far greater extents than other animals. To a degree, our uncanny impulse to play is one of the primary factors that set us apart, marrying safety and novelty into what can be a great learning opportunity.
So next time you find yourself spending a few hours playing games, rejoice! You are partaking on a humanity-wide experience that has led us to where we are today.