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Gaming Addiction - Should we be worried?

by Robin Bilobrk on 11/05/20 10:50:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

For many of us, there isn’t a better feeling than bringing home a newly released title and playing it for the whole day. The inescapable feeling of discovering new and exciting things that a video game can bring us, or binging night after night on an MMORPG in order to level up our character, or strengthening the walls of an online city. Others will have felt the competitive surge of adrenaline when playing FIFA or any fighting game at a friend’s place for hours. Outside of PC or console gaming, many of us own a smartphone and tend to have a few time-killing games on it to which we come to whenever we’re waiting in line at the doctor’s office or in a bank.

 So in the end, how much time do we actually spend on video games, and how often do we tend to neglect some of our responsibilities, small or big, in order to spend just a few more hours in our virtual world. Can this in the end prove to be harmful or even labeled as an addiction? To answer that we need to clarify what an addiction actually is. 

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use or behaviour despite its harmful consequences. These compulsions can reach the point where it takes over their life, physically and/or sometimes mentally. So, coming to what I previously stated, in some cases gamers neglect certain aspects of their life to game, and in some extreme cases they even neglect their personal hygiene or health. But how can we say how much gaming is too much gaming because a vast majority of the gaming community actually do that for a living? Streamers and competitive gamers do play for a living. On the other hand for some people it is only a hobby, nothing bad in having a hobby right? We cannot just have one thing in life. So can we say for sure that video game addiction is as harmful as other addictions? However it may not be as simple as that. 

Before we put any labels on anything we have to compare this new type of “addiction” to the ones we are all familiar with and we know that are harmful to us. The most famous ones are drug and alcohol addiction. These types of addiction have a very specific effect on us, they are bad for us physically and have direct impacts on our health, wellbeing, relationships, and jobs. Other commonly known addictions would be gambling and shopping addiction. Although we do not actually suffer from these physically, they definitely do have a direct impact on our bank accounts which can have severe knock-on impacts through many areas of our lives, including relationships and health. Lastly, lesser known types of addiction are work and gaming addiction. We don’t really think that we can be addicted to work, but overworking ourselves could lead to sleep deprivation, hunger, hygiene neglect and similar issues. Although these things seem to be like not so important setbacks and we tend to not pay as much attention to it, they do become pretty significant if we develop a habit of neglecting them. We can say that in a way that working addiction has an indirect harm on our physical and mental health. We can easily put gaming addiction under the same column as work addiction due to its similar nature. In the beginning we do not really see the issue in excessive gaming but developing a habit of neglecting certain things in the end proves to be harmful. But just like any other activity or a habit could prove to be harmful if we tend to exaggerate with it, at one point in life we all heard a phrase “too much of anything isn’t good for you”. At this point we might assume that gaming itself is not the issue rather it is the development of these habits of neglecting certain aspects in our everyday life. 

With that said, we can surely assume that gaming addiction is a very important issue that needs addressing because we cannot rule some extreme cases. Interestingly, China is currently issuing online regulations for online gaming due to it being potentially harmful to the future of their country, to an extent of course. However there are people out there which are actually suffering from excessive gaming and we know it has taken a toll on their lives. So how much do we actually know about gaming addiction? Has this topic already been addressed, has anyone given this issue any thought or even did some research on it? There have been extensive studies on the topic from different universities to scientific groups. On that note, a study was done by the University of Copenhagen where they combined the research methods of a qualitative interview and screening tool to produce results. Even though the study tried to examine the participants at run time collecting data “on the fly”  in addition to carefully constructed interview trying to explain participants behaviours from all angles, they in the end reached inconclusive results due to not contextualizing the study enough. Even though the research methodology was designed to avoid that, it was not enough or rather it was not properly orchestrated.  The results that these studies found are generally inconclusive to a certain extent as they generally tend to rule out certain important factors in people’s lives and not contextualizing the study to the point it’s needed. On the point of these extreme cases I mentioned previously, there are some organizations that have been made due to the recognition of the issue in order to help people. One of these organizations is CGAA ( Compulsive Gaming Addicts Anonymous ), they are a non-profit organization made sorely to help people with their excessive gaming. Based on their insights, they have found that there are two main types of gaming addictions that a person can have. The first one, the more easily treated problem, a bad habit of excessive gaming which can generally be quite easy to get rid of, simply put, people are aware of their habits and can without too much problem just stop gaming. The other one, the one that is more alarming, which is an actual illness and is recognized by the ASAM ( American Society of Addiction Medicine ), a mental disorder with consistent symptoms of obsession, compulsion, denial, rationalization, inability to moderate, chronic relapses and intense binging. 

 

At this point we have to ask ourselves, why are we evening addicted to video games, what gives us the urge to spend so many hours in that virtual world. Well, first we take a look at our everday life, we can say that we all have a tendency to live a pleasurable life, mostly enjoying the little things such as a coffee with a cigarette in the morning or eating sweets, watching movies or tv shows. These little things tend to mess with our brain, which is exactly why we enjoy them so much, they give us a dopamine rush in our brain which essentially translates into pleasure. The same concept can be achieved through different methods such as video games. For us gamers, there really isn’t anything more satisfying than leveling up a character in an MMORPG, gaining new upgrades so we become stronger and unlock new things to do or get. However, not all games use the same methods, the most common method which is commonly present in the biggest of all titles nowadays is through immersion that is possible today. The scary feeling you get through playing a horror game, we don’t really want to be in those scary situations but through immersion we are able to experience these situations through this virtual world. For a while now, the gaming industry has become aware of how rewarding the gaming experience can be and have developed a tendency to further implement them in games in order to improve the game’s popularity leading to more people playing their game. In some cases, gaming companies even go to the lengths of researching player behavior in order to make the game more “addictive” so the player would spend more time playing the game. On that note, there is currently an ongoing lawsuit against EPIC games regarding similar accusations, the opposing party is claiming how the company worked with psychologists in order to make “Fortnite” as addictive as possible. So, knowing these things, should we just accept them and blindly play the game or do we do something about it? 

We can already identify a majority of these methods already present in games. However, not all of them are bad, what I mean by that, as a kid it is generally good to be rewarded for good behavior or completing your chores, we then develop a sense of system for ourselves that if we do good we get rewarded for it, so why should it not be present in video games? Games would really lose one of their most significant values which in the end is what makes them so great. The real issue lies with methods that are specifically designed to make us play the game more without us realizing it. Like I said, not all of these methods are bad, but some do influence us in a way that we don’t even notice. Oftentimes these methods are exploited, making the rewards really hard to get in order to get us to open as many of them as we can, in the end games are just lines of computer code.

  • Daily mission and chests ( they are made in a way that makes us log back into the game in order to gain rewards which help us progress through the game ) 
  • Battle passes ( we spend a small amount of money on it giving us bigger rewards for playing the game as much as possible) 
  • Energy system ( designed in way to make us not get bored of the game by giving us the inability to play the game as much as we want ) 
  • Inactivity rewards ( we get rewarded for coming back into the game after not playing a while, therefore assuring that a portion of the player will return to the game after not playing it for a while) 
  • Clicker games ( essentially we play these games by not doing anything, the only satisfying aspect of them is the progress we are making )

These are only a few methods that have been around for a while, the application store is full of these games and one of their main purposes is to make spend as much time on the game as possible. 

These little things definitely have an effect on us whether we notice it or not, they do so subconsciously. We tend to get a feeling of loss when we are not opening as much chests as we can by logging back into the game and acquiring them. We also tend to get angry when we don’t get the rewards we want to so we end up playing the game even more than before. We get to the point where we realize that we spend days or even months playing these games and have not really made the progress we wanted. But we can’t just stop playing the game, I mean, in the end video games are fun and we want to play them. But what do we do when we’re at the point where we want to stop playing the game, if we stop we lose our progress and that doesn’t really feel good does it? Because of these issues, the audience needs to be informed in some way in order to be aware of how these games can affect certain people. In addition to the audience being aware, the industry should also introduce more attention upon developing certain aspects of their game’s reward system so that in the end it doesn’t seem unfair or unrewarding for players. 

So why am I raising this issue right now? I am a master student at the Breda University of Applied Sciences and my idea is to gather more extensive and conclusive data on this topic through a qualitative research project. Through my project, if successful, I tend to make contingencies for the future audiences playing these “addictive” games for the benefit of their mental health and wellbeing. These contingencies could in the end prove to be destructive to an extent  for certain aspects of the gaming industry, hence why their involvement and possible collaboration could improve the quality of the success about resolving this issue. I would also really appreciate any feedback and help with this project I can get in order for it to be more conclusive. 

Robin Bilobrk, BSc Computer Games Development

www.linkedin.com/in/robin-bilobrk-7109b7179

[email protected]

 

 

Alissa McAloon – Epic failed to inform players of Fortnite addiction risks, argues law firm – Gamasutra.com - https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/351818/Epic_failed_to_inform_players_of_Fortnite_addiction_risks_argues_law_firm.php

 

Boonen S. – Contextualizing Pathological Gaming – A Proof- of – Concept Study – Digra.org - http://www.digra.org/digital-library/publications/contextualizing-pathological-gaming-a-proof-of-concept-study/

 

Chris Kerr – Report: China to further regulate online games and streaming to curb addiction – Gamasutra.com - https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/356528/Report_China_to_further_regulate_online_games_and_streaming_to_curb_addiction.php

 

 


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