If certain parts of a game can take a gamer in good mental
and physical health, and make them crave game time to the point that
they could sacrifice real-world health and wealth, then do those elements
constitute a design flaw? One designer remarked that in large development
houses, part of the focus is
to consider how a game influences positive play.
These developers aren't
thinking in terms of just addiction or violence, but rather the overall
quality and brand. In smaller houses, however, there can often be chaos
as less experienced teams simply rush to release a product. If certain
teams have functional insight into gamer health, then maybe it's high
time we heard from them.
In my own research into how
MMO games might influence addiction, which you can read about on this
site, players who preferred goal-oriented groups, or "hardcore
raid guilds" were statistically more likely to sacrifice things
like food, sleep and other real-world necessities (in regression analysis
-- which isolated those guilds from other game elements that might have
Rather than Internet Addiction's
eight-question-survey (originally, you only had to "think about
games" while not playing in order to be addicted), a 29-item questionnaire
was used. Though that data had limitations, it's probably worth following
up. If certain pieces of certain games do take "the perfect game"
and turn it into "the perfect storm", then designers might
consider some light conversation on the topic of creating a critical
language, something that we can use for discussing how to better balance
games with reality.
That language becomes another tool in the belt of
the man or woman who yearns to create fulfilling entertainment. If research
shows that there really are no problems in today's games, then that
becomes an equally invaluable tool. Any way you cut it, learning more
about the relationship between healthy play and design seems to have
Ernest Adams wrote that, "It's
almost impossible to make a game addictive on purpose." He suggests
that most people who try are wasting their time, "It's a bit like
the Tao: those who set out to look for it are guaranteed not to find
it." Good game designers tend to come upon great designs just like
any other artist.
They don't know where the magic comes from, and digging
up the design factory in order to find out isn't exactly their priority.
Would using design tools to prevent excess play be just as cataclysmic
to game design as working towards it? Or, could a deep design discussion
add more magic to the designer's secret lair?
On the one hand, maybe all
this talk of Internet Addiction and gaming addiction will just blow
over. On the other, what happens if a presidential candidate gets draconian
on video games? What if they propose to regulate games in ways that
fundamentally limit what the designer can do?
It seems bad for players
either way. If the issue blows over, then there won't be any pressure
to have a serious discussion on designing for health. If something gets
the angry mob on overkill, then our discussions are going to be about
designing around federal mandates, something already required for Chinese
designers and localization teams.
Right now, the industry is kind of
waving in the wind, like a cocktail napkin before a hurricane. We can
treat this issue with our usual curiosity and creativity, or operate
on the flipside of our biggest opponents: well-versed in the games,
but with no clue of how the problems function.
Games aren't drugs, nor are
they a horrendous new weapon. They are a new technology, however, one
with thrilling subtleties. What we can't forget is that humans have
good reason to be skeptical about new technologies -- at least until
they feel convinced that there's no danger.
The USA still relies on
coal power, despite the nuclear plants that dot its countryside. We're
built to question new technologies, meaning that it's completely valid
for consumers to want answers. They want to know that developers aren't
just programming hooker-kill-zones, but rather vivid new social spaces,
engaging game systems and a form of art that allows pure experience.