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Gaming Addiction: Clearing The Air, Moving Forward
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Gaming Addiction: Clearing The Air, Moving Forward

April 3, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

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 otherwise contributed).

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 few pitfalls.

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.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 5 Next

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