Multiplayer gaming: a public health issue?
There is a sub-genre of multiplayer games that will
probably increasingly attract the attention of the media and the medical
profession: the massively multiplayer online role-playing game. These games
have the unique characteristic of being exceptionally addictive, for three
They take place in a persistent virtual universe -- the
game has no ending, per se.
The game system relies on the endless improvement of
the player's avatar. In other words, the game offers an inexhaustible source of
challenges to motivate players.
Their multiplayer dimension: it is far more
stimulating to chase after a dragon with a bunch of friends than on your own.
The experience in Korea, where
these games are immensely popular, demonstrates that a significant portion of
MMO gamers may become completely and utterly intoxicated. The same issue is
emerging the western world. In France, for
instance, the Marmottant hospital, a leading institution for the treatment of
addictions, has opened a therapy for treating the increasing numbers of addicts
of this new "drug".
Thus a question arises, which affects both game design
and publishing strategy: is it ethical to conceive such powerfully addictive
games? Many gamers will tell me that only a fraction of players become victims
of MMOs. True enough, but would these very same gamers feel the same way if
such an addiction seized their own son?
Many players are still too young to
have children, and consequently to understand the joys and torments of being a
father or a mother. But there is also a growing number of gamers that do! I
think this public health issues truly warrant a public debate. It is better
that we talk about problems before they get out of hand rather than wait for
legislators to enforce regulations upon us that will hurt the industry.
If this problem is taken into account by game
publishers, game design solutions for limiting the potentially harmful effects
of MMOs could be found. For example, we might reward avatars that sleep, i.e
are idle for a certain amount of time, or somehow penalize those who do not get
The case of players with multiple avatars might be dealt with by
developing some kind of in-game parameter common to all of a given player's
avatars: i.e. if one of his avatars consumes too much of this energy, the
player will not have enough left to use his other characters to their full
In my next and last chronicle on the megatrends of
game design, I shall address three less obvious trends that are nevertheless
rife with potential for future paths of development:
The aging of players
The emergence of emotions in games