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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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Carl Chavez
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From a business perspective, gaming addiction is both bad and good.

In terms of sales, gaming addiction can be bad. If x hours of a player's total game time is spent playing a certain game, that means there is less chance that the player's money will be spent on a new game. If the game has a subscription model, then at least the company that maintains the game makes money, but either way, the rest of the industry misses out on the revenue opportunities and the player's available time. In a way, even the maker of the game can be hurt; if the game is too addictive, the player may not even buy other games from the same company.

On the other hand, game companies are slowly and surreptitiously embracing the idea of using game addiction for profit, even while some deny that game addiction can be harmful. Microtransactions are one example of exploiting addicts, since a game company can continue to make new things for addicts to experience in the environment they have become a captive to. Or, in the case of games that earn advertising revenue, a game company can keep a player's eyeballs in an environment longer, earning more ad revenue per play.

Games with a very short single-player campaign, while primarily cut short due to rising development costs, may also contribute to more frequent game purchases and may be another reason companies might want to foster game addiction. Perhaps it's no coincidence that "attach rate" has become a popular industry buzzword lately, and the systems with high attach rates also seem to have the games with short play-through times, while the systems with low attach rates have many games that last dozens or hundreds of hours?

So, even though it's important to inform the public that "game developers aren't crack dealers", it's also important for game developers to realize that their business practices may be reliant on some of the same principles that crack dealers use.

Monte' Jones
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Final Four!!! March Madness just a couple of buzz words used to let Fans know that college basketball is on and with so many people flocking to bars and friends homes to watch games for hours on end. Where are those same people who call video games addictive when a person will take off of work spend bill money just to get tickets to a game. I dont have a issue with basket ball or any sport for that matter but I use that as an example because it is something that most people are passionate about. The issue here is not with games but with people who lack the self control to know when to stop playing and take a break from it. The purpose of games all games are entertainment. So how do you entertain? You do this by giving people an escape from everyday life to whatever reality they choose. Some do this through drawing others through books and then you have video games. I enjoy the idea of being able to live a different life through the story of a game character and shaping that story how I see fit there is no other venue like that. you can go to the movies and watch a hero on screen but in video games you get to be the hero. I have been know to play a game from start to finish in a weekend fri-sun non stop but I can also go for weeks without picking up a controller. I am addicted to video games it is a natural high but you know what as much as I love them I also know how to find something else to do. I believe that you should remember that games are nothing more than books and movies meshed together to give you the best of both of both worlds. Now as for all those other people who have never put a hand on a controller or heard of Pac-Man or Pong I thank god for nintendo and the Wii because it is thanks to them that now more of the lines of who would be interested and able to play games are being broken and crossed. It warms my heart when I talk to someone 60 and up and they tell me they cant wait to get their own system because they saw one over someones house played a game on it. The only way I see for video games as a whole to be able to and forgive the pun get to the next level is to continue to reach out to all age groups so that the world can see what an art form video game design is. As a industry we have to take the charge where others are not willing to we have to challange these groups and politians on there own ground to prove that this is not an addiction but a new part of our culture as a whole and if it is embraced properly then we can cross lines not just in our country but world wide. You wrote that we as a country fear and shy away from that which is new well for as far back as you could research games, sports, arts, have been around since the dawn of man the only difference is that they have evolved with technology. The last thought I will leave you with is this if people can be encouraged to be actors, athlete's, doctor's and so on why cant they be encourage to use their passion for gaming to be tester's, designers, coder's and so on. Feel free to send me an email

Neil Sorens
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What rankles me is when game creators design for addiction instead of genuine enjoyment, either inadvertently or intentionally. Their litmus test of whether a game experience is suitable is: "does it make the player want to play the game longer?" rather than "will this experience be enjoyable for the player?" Those who say there is no difference probably never saw people sit in the same spot in a dungeon in Everquest for as long as 24 hours waiting for a certain piece of loot to be generated. Did the player enjoy that experience? Hardly--in fact, the player probably was not even paying attention to the game for a large portion of that time.

Shavaun Scott
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Agree muchly with Neil Sorens

When a game ceases to be fun, is it really a game? Or something entirely different? Lines are definitely crossed for many people.

John Petersen
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I'm addicted to gaming. Do you know why?

Because it's fun and one day I want to make a living at it and it can bring great social rewards and status.

People are addicted to making progress. Gaming simulates progress.

If you make playing games a way to make a living you're not just simulating progress anymore, you are now helping people make progress that is tangible and beneficial.

In society it's ok to allow your son or daughter to obsess about inventing something because it could bring about something of worth. But because gaming has no real tangible value for the players it's just considered a waist of time, a baby sitter, an influencer and now an addiction.

Make it so players make money playing games, all games... Nah that wouldn't work, because then everyone would suffer from workaholism.

There's always sumtin', huh?

Gary Swift
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I've seen many people who think it's a good thing when gaming expands and non-gamers are drawn to games by something like the Wi. I don't think it's going to be a good thing if someone like my father or John McCain become hooked on games. The real hope for a shift in how society views games lies not in older generations coming to understand gameplay, but in younger generations who already understand games growing older. Just as with other technologies, the older generations are more likely to remain alienated and even grow more detached and alienated as the technology grows and developes faster than they can learn and keep up with changes. How many people who don't understand how to program their own VCR (quite an old technology) do you expect to ever embrace more recent technologies like mobile text messaging or video gaming. Do you really think that someone like my father, whos only exposure to online gaming is what he sees on TV news will ever subscribe to an MMO? While my father may have no problem watching 6 hours of TV a night and even more on weekends, he'll always feel that an equal amount of game play time is an evil. He will c ontinue to turn on the TV the minute he walks in the front door after work and even have a TV in every room of the house (living room, bedroom, kitchen), but will tell me I have a problem when I log in to my MMO right after work to read in-game mail from my online friends. I say the gaming industry should continue to grow and expand its core audience until the numbers of young adults who play and understand gaming overwhelms the aging baby boomer population who will never be a part of or even want to be a part of that generation. If you think that "generating a meaningfull context" or "having frank and open discussions with compelling research statistics" is ever going to make the average baby boomer change his mind then you are dreaming and wasting your time. It's like thinking that you can write a great book about why pop music is just as good as classic rock and roll and expect a 65 year old Elvis fan from Arkansas to run out and buy the latest Leona Lewis single and like it. Good heavens, there are still people who are afraid that microwave ovens may cause health risks.

Jesse Crafts-Finch
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I believe the author makes a good point in that by ignoring the personal experiences of people who cry out against video games, we are in some respects acting just as misinformed as them.

From my personal experience, I have found addition in video games both real and unrewarding. Sometimes I find myself playing a video game not because I am having fun with it, but because I have associated games with "Fun" in the past, and as a result when I am not playing games I feel like I am having less fun. Even if it is not true. I will hold back from elaborating until I have thought about it some more.

Tonio Barmadosa
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i think the problem with games is that they can create a unique environment that can have profound psychological and mental effects on people. Basically, some people are literally sucked into virtual worlds and are unable to exist in the real world anymore. This means they cannot concentrate on anything, and they can only think of the game all the time. If they don't get play time, they become extremely agitated, to the point that they can even murder other people so that they can have access to their virtual reality. They may also lose all motivation and desires in real life as their whole being and consciousnesses is transferred to the game world. They literally turn into zombies. I believe that this feature of video games is unintentional and is sort of an emergent property that the human brain reacts to, which has evolutionary roots. Perhaps in the future, video games could open up the possibility to program humans in a controlled environment and shape their real life behavior.