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Power Member - Level 7
serious. Time management is serious. Doing something with our lives is
important. Why then do so many companies knowingly and intentionally exploit
human psychology to foster addiction, and why do gamers just let it happen? Note:
I've no intention of writing a proper research paper on a personal blog, so while
I'll be referencing various facts and percentages, I'll only be posting
embedded links to my sources as they are used.
WHO IS ADDICTED?
At the end
of the day, just about anyone can develop an addiction to something.
Advertisers do their best to exploit this in television, print, and online.
Some companies have an easier time of it, much like Big Tobacco (though
regulation and public opinion have greatly curtailed this). At the end of the
day, no one is truly safe, as addiction is incredibly easy to fall into. American
adults consume nearly 13% of their daily calories
in sugar, well over the recommended daily intake, as "according
to brain scans, sugar is as addictive as cocaine." So as we can see most
everyone is addicted to something. The question is: for how many gamers is this
the number is lower than you might think, and 'addiction' less bad than might
be insinuated. Not too long ago it was insinuated that 8.5% of children "between
the ages of 8 and 18" are addicted to gaming. This is a no doubt alarmist
study, and other studies, who have approached the issue not in relation to such
silly questions as "I think about gaming when doing other activities" and have
instead focused on whether or not gaming was interfering with a person's life,
believe the number to be closer to 3% (out
of the total gaming population). Regardless, that means 6.3 million people are
potentially playing at a level deemed 'pathological' by the Journal of
WHO THEN, IS IN DANGER?
At the end
of the day anyone could be addicted, after all, as earlier established, it's
quite easy to become addicted to just about anything. We've all heard horror
stories from time to time, and while cases such as the man who left his wife
and daughter when his wife told him to "get
off the computer or get out" or the man who played for "27
days straight, subsisting only on instant noodles in an Internet cafe, until he
died from cardiac arrest," but we understand such cases are rare.
common issue is amongst youth and others who are spending less and less time on
productive things (socialization, exercise, reading, working, etc.) and an
increasing amount of time on games and other less active pastimes, leading to potentially
stunted psychological growth. In just the last five years alone, "the
time that America's 8- to 18-year-olds spend watching TV, playing video games
and using a computer for entertainment has risen by" over an hour to a
total of seven hours and thirty-eight minutes, daily.
That's more time than
many people sleep! While by no means all of that time is spent on gaming, it is readily apparent that spending a
significant portion of your time performing non-productive sedentary activities
has been strongly correlated with lower grades, decreased in-person social
skills (shockingly, Facebook doesn't actually make you better at talking to
people), lower physical health, and more. Of course, while few people play
games to that level, for those who do, it is a nefarious and somewhat insidious
activity, as it slowly consumes the entirety of their free time.
entirely unfair to lay the blame for this entirely at the feet of gaming giants
like Activision-Blizzard and EA, there is no doubt that companies like these
not only stand to gain from fostering addiction, but also actively attempt to induce
addiction in their customers.
monetization' is a strategy endemic to the free-to-play market, but found also
in subscription based models, and most games that incorporate an in-game cash
shop. In it, gamers are coerced into making purchases using a variety of
strategies. One way in which pressure can be put on the player (as well as fuel
time spent gaming) is by "putting
the consumer in a very uncomfortable or undesirable position in the game and
then offering to remove this 'pain' in return for spending money." Moreover,
target audience for these products is those under the age of 25," since those in this demographic's brains have yet to fully develop in the realm of decision making, making them particularly susceptible to ploys of this nature.
before this can necessarily occur, they need to get you hooked. In this, they've
invested quite a bit of money in how to create the best compulsion loop. No one has it mastered quite so well as Activison-Blizzard with their enormously successful
MMO, World of Warcraft. They've implemented it through their use of random drops,
by giving gamers the "tension
of knowing you might get the treat, but not knowing exactly when," in turn
getting them to spend more and more time on their game. In response to
allegations of nurturing addiction in players, Blizzard
responded that "players are able to jump into our games and accomplish
appreciable and fulfilling goals, such as competing in matches, completing
quests or matches, purchasing or selling equipment for their characters,
hunting monsters, and socializing with friends, in a short amount of time,
making our games enjoyable with minimal time commitments." I find this quite disingenuous,
as the majority of activities they describe take far more than a 'minimal time
commitment,' some almost certainly consuming a minimum of several hours.
the design of leveling systems in games, or in the case of Steam, a user
profile, is inherently designed to be addictive. Steam has been enormously
successful through its use of fire-sales and the fact that it has implemented "chatting,
achievements, events, a robust community, and groups" not to mention the
fact that "you
can even gain experience and level up just like in an actual video game." This
has been so successful that Steam is now able to truthfully say that their "users
spend more time buying games than playing them!"
WHAT CAN WE DO?
the problem is help in and of itself, as this helps those who are truly
addicted by allowing them to see that society doesn't simply laugh off attempts
to get help. Obviously, the problem isn't particularly widespread (and extreme
cases are very rare), even the most alarmist of gaming detractors are forced to
admit it's a minority of gamers that are affected to any great extent by gaming
addiction, when they're confronted with the facts at least. More reasonable
sources (as mentioned above) place the figures even lower. Nonetheless, just
because a problem is a small one, it doesn't mean that it's not a problem. A
pebble in your shoe is still pretty darn uncomfortable!
we can further combat this by voting with our dollars. Don't buy games that particularly
incorporate the concepts of addiction! Complain about such measures to the
companies involved when you run into them. I'm not saying to go rant about how you
think Battlefield 3 has a terrible unlock system or how TERA is holding you
back with its random loot drops. What I want is for each of us to notice the
subtle ways in which games are designed to fuel addiction, determine to what
extent they're influencing your gaming, and determine what you believe to be
the best action to take based on your conclusions. If the answer is that you
should quit playing a particular game, or not buy it in the first place, then
don't hesitate to stop.
small problem, addiction is a problem,
and all too often I see the gaming world ignoring, or else reacting with ridicule
to any and all implications that it exists. While detractors certainly exaggerate
the problem, it shouldn't be overlooked, and those responsible for making games
shouldn't be allowed to take steps to make their games as addicting as possible
without backlash from the community. We shouldn't dismiss a problem simply
because we don't like to hear about it, or just because people we don't like
tend to bring it up.