Panoramadrama: BBC vs Games Addiction

An addicted child, yesterday

Across the internet, a wave of worried grumbling. It’s one thing when terribly shlocky UK TV stations like ITV gun for games, but when the generally more sober BBC announces an upcoming episode of its documentary series Paranorama will investigate “hidden psychological devices in games that are designed to keep us coming back for more,” things get a little more troubling.

Of course, no-one knows what the show will actually decide about games.

Nonetheless, it’s been an understandable call to arms for the UK games industry this week, with various sites and blogs posting their concerns about the show’s perceived angle. The title “Addicted To Games?” does hint as to its conclusion, but it could just be a case of trying to pull in the largest audience.

Doesn’t help, however, that it comes on the back of a controversial Panorama installment which accused FIFA officials of corruption, which buffoons the land over are blaming for England losing out on being World Cup 2018 hosts today. (Russia won, though if you care you already know that). While I’ve not seen that episode and cannot attest to its tone or veracity, it seemed to get a lot of football types’ backs up – so poor timing means fears of sensationalism from the games investigation are just that little bit more acute than they otherwise might have been, essentially.

Here’s the show’s brief, which is all we really know so far:

As pester power kicks in and the computer games’ industry launches its latest products on to the Christmas market, Panorama hears from youngsters who’ve dropped out of school and university to play games for anything up to 21 hours a day. They describe their obsessive gaming as an addiction.

Reporter Raphael Rowe, meets leading experts calling for more independent research into this controversial subject, and reveals the hidden psychological devices in games that are designed to keep us coming back for more.

Which does rather troublingly sound as though it’s already made its mind up. But I haven’t abandoned all hope that it isn’t balanced; from that, it’s only the ‘youngsters’ who’ve described their obsessive gaming as an addiction. This is the great, terrible thorn in the side of anyone arguing for rational debate on the matter of whether games do or don’t involve a risk of having unhealthy effect on some people – ‘addiction’ is an erroneous word that suggests a chemical dependance (edit – alright, I’m not entirely correct there. Sorry. I’m as bad as ITV, me). ‘Compulsion’, ‘obsession’ – they’re incredibly prescriptive, yes, but at least they’re not wildly roping in an entirely different issue. Hopefully the grown-ups – the educated people who should know better than to randomly wield that easy-but-powerful word – won’t unequivocally plump for ‘addiction.’

As for “hidden psychological devices in games that are designed to keep us coming back for more”… is that wrong, really? MMOs are designed to be compulsive, while FarmVille outfit Zynga talks about having a ‘secret sauce’ that makes people keep playing. The hinted-at tone of the Paranoiarama (oops, bit of a typo there) episode does seem a little troubling, but I’m genuinely fascinated by the science of keeping people playing.

I’ve asked a few devs about it in my time, and to a one they’ve been cryptic – mentions of case studies, focus grouping and even studying gamling theory, but unwilling to share exactly how they devise the mystic balance between don’t care/carecarecare/turned off by a game’s obvious cynicism. If this show does go into that stuff, talking to devs about how they make their games so wonderfully moreish instead of flatly accusing them of exploiting children, it could be fascinating.

Or it could talk to the same old goons who claim that gaming is worse than 10,000 mecha-Hitlers. I hope not.

Interestingly, UK games association UKIE (the artist formerly known as ELSPA) has already fired a precautionary riposte at the show.

“There is currently no proven link between videogames and addiction, with there being mixed opinion among academics about whether a game can be clinically addictive,” said UKIE boss Michael Rawlinson, sensibly.

Extra-sensibly, he added that “UKIE is aware of some individuals that play games excessively but often the causes of many of the sad cases that we hear about are down to other underlying medical, social or environmental issues concerning the individuals concerned.”

He’s one of the participants in the show, but has not seen a final edit, apparently.

It airs next Monday. Fingers crossed, eh? This is the BBC. They do at least know how to do the right thing, and hopefully that’s the case in this instance. Hopefully. Oh, hopefully.

Edit: here’s the trailer. Hmm. Oh dear.

And here’s GamesRadar’s take on how the show’ll play out. No less sensible, I’d say.


  1. Jaffo says:

    Based on the effects of the FIFA episode, I predict a surge in sales for Eagle Dynamics.


    • torchedEARTH says:

      Oh look, it’s in HD. What drove HD? Must think about what drove HD, no, no it’s gone.

  2. Cunzy1 1 says:

    Sadly, a lot of the not gaming people in my life will take what Panorama has to say as factual and compelling evidence of the evil of playing some games. Of course, I try to show the beauty of games by sitting them down and playing it but I have to skip all the cutscenes with tits. And mindless violence. And lame jokes. And sort of ignore questions about how I know that this button is ‘run’ or why can’t he jump over walls. Or where are all the women?

    This will set me back years.

    • Subjective Effect says:

      Ha ha. All so trooo!

      Who cares what the uninformed think? When people try to tell me games are evil based on bs they hear I tell them they sound like a Daily Mail reader making a court judgment based on the guff they’ve read in that rag.

    • 9squirrels says:

      Who cares? Well, the big problem is that the “uninformed” are frequently the ones making or driving the policy decisions which impact what we can and can’t play.
      We should all care.

  3. Ricc says:

    Here is a spoof of the trailer, done by GamesRadar:

    Didn’t the BBC itself get deeply involved in making educational games, lately, or am I mixing things up? Maybe they should start their research by talking to their own colleagues.

    • Delusibeta says:

      I think you’re thinking of Channel 4 with their wave of British indies making educational games.

    • Garg says:

      Looking a couple of news posts below this one; the new Dr Who games are likely to be accompanied by further new developments in BBC gaming.

    • Archonsod says:

      BBC has always had a variety of games on it’s site. I remember a pretty cool one based on that prehistoric ocean show they did that was a bit like a board game. Got me through a few quiet shifts at work that did.

    • Andy Krouwel says:

      Just because Panorama damns it doesn’t mean the BBC doesn’t do it.

      A couple of years back they did one that was basically ‘People who like WWII are all secretly Nazis’.

      This from the channel that has made not one, but two sitcoms set in that very same period.

    • Archonsod says:

      IIRC the most ruthless critics of the “Wireless causes cancer” program they did was BBC news, who completely tore it apart the very next day.

    • Malcolm says:

      Ah yes, “Wi-Fi causes cancer”: it must be true because a man selling tinfoil hats tells us so. I despair whenever panorama strays outside “the humanities” (for want of a better description) and attempts to tackle anything vaguely technological.

      I predict something along the lines of “Games employ the little-known and nefarious techniques known in the trade as ‘fun’, ‘enjoyment’ and even ‘challenge’ to keep people coming back for more. Monsters the lot of them”.

  4. CMaster says:

    You say “Panorama” I hear “Scaremongering Slot”, so the whole article reads like business as usual to me.

  5. outoffeelinsobad says:

    Tag Win.

    I’m addicted to milk chocolate. I eat it every day! Not the dark stuff though because I don’t like it.

  6. kikito says:

    mmmm… how does “Addicted to TV?” sound?

  7. Simon Dufour says:

    Some people get addicted to workout and sports
    Some people get addicted to TV
    Some people read whole bookshelves of books every months
    Some people play video-games

    They all offer the same thing. They make you feel good.

    You can’t blame a game for making you love it. It’s like blaming a TV-Show for having a cliff-hanger at every episode. It’s a must! They want you to continue playing.. that’s the reason why you’ll pay for the next month!

    People who deviate from normal behavior to play games or any other activity simply needs help. Not really from an organisation or a government but from close friends and family. If you can talk about a game to friends or other people, it’s almost as enjoying as playing! You’ll pass good times and will enjoy discussing various strategies, even out of the game. That’s a good behavior.

    Gamers are sometimes marginalized so much that it’s often impossible to do so. People will often ignore you or won’t care about your stories. If all those social activities are in-game, no wonder you’ll only want to keep playing.

    • opel says:

      Are games using psychological hooks to trick people into continuing to play? Stay tuned to find out after these short messages.

    • Stromko says:

      The people we have to worry about aren’t gamers, it’s all those non-gamers playing Zynga games on Facebook. Those apps are almost uniformly awful, they’re nothing but addiction mechanisms and demands for cash.

    • ag says:

      Some people get addicted to workout and sports
      Some people get addicted to TV
      Some people read whole bookshelves of books every months
      Some people play video-games

      Reading your wording I detect somewhat of a bias – you read and play games?

    • Temple to Tei says:

      I’m still waiting.

      Not addicted to games by the way I *CHOSE* to take time off work to play City of Heroes.
      It is not addictive.
      I’ll help any people out who want to try the trial by the way.
      Why, I even have a spare account… first taste is free.

      Is it ironic or just boring that I could not comment on this thread until now, because I have been addicted to my mmo?

  8. Pijama says:

    Great way to screw that excellent Panorama about FIFA…

    Now, what the hell I am going to do with David Cameron’s tears?

    • Rich says:

      You have a part of him! Now you must travel east and find the doorway into hell. Once on the other side, perform the sacred ritual, and finally he will be sent back into the abyss.

    • Delusibeta says:

      Get a bit of Tony Blair before you do that, please.

  9. Rinox says:

    Ugh, I sense another ‘documentary’ or ‘research’ coming up that confuses people who are so obsessed with something that they play it into eternity, with any actual addictive value of games.

    I mean, those people could just as well spend 21 hours a day having sex. Yes, it’s gratifying, and yes, it’s hard to go without for a period of time, but no sane person spends his or her entire day doing it. Only people with mental issues do.

  10. StormTec says:

    Could this possibly be an attempt to bring down sales of videogames during the most important commercial period of the year, so that people will actually start buying non-videogames for Christmas?

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Yes the BBC clearly have some sort of agenda here. What with the whole impartiality of not having to pander to advertisers and everything…….

    • Rich says:

      Your rational assessment is not welcome here.

    • mondomau says:

      The BBC may not have sponsors, but if you actually believe it’s nonsense about being an impartial and objective news source then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.
      Panorama, like the majority of BBC in house content, is an increasingly shallow, biased and sensationalist joke that is only a few steps above channel 4’s latest ‘the boy who had bum for a head’ documentary. It’s been repeatedly discredited and criticised for it’s cavalier attitude to research and objective, factual reporting.
      In short, this is drivel and will only really excite daily mail readers.

    • Archonsod says:

      “What with the whole impartiality of not having to pander to advertisers and everything…….”

      But having to worry about money from the TV license, which has been in a decline primarily blamed on the rise of gaming and the internet?

    • Subjective Effect says:

      This makes little sense. If you have a TV in the UK you have to have a TV license whether you only play Halo on it or not – it’s the law.

      If anything games will increase the number of licenses because there are people who will only have a tv for gaming.

    • bleeters says:

      Not especially, I have a monitor hooked up to a console. No liscence requirement there.

    • P7uen says:

      No, it’s not the law, no license required.

      After months of repeated threats of sending me to jail etc, the license people came round to my house, I showed them my TV wasn’t even hooked up to an aerial, and that was that.

      Tried to spot that spinning satellite CRIMINAL DETECTOR on their van but I couldn’t. Grr, don’t get me started…

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      mondomau if that’s the line you’re touting you may want to stop listening to Rupert Murdoch for 5 minutes & try thinking for yourself.

    • BAshment says:

      @P7uen Watch out they have a super computer and it KNOWS!!!

  11. Gap Gen says:

    It would be interesting if they explored the issue of publishers who deliberately make their games psychologically addictive rather than attacking games as a whole.

    • outoffeelinsobad says:

      Didn’t Jonathan Blow do this at some keynote or another? I love that guy.

  12. GHudston says:

    “hidden psychological devices in games that are designed to keep us coming back for more,”?

    They’re just going to go on about the bloody Skinner Box for an hour, aren’t they…

    I’m sick of hearing about that as if it’s used as some kind of brain washing technique to force you to keep playing a game against your will. It only works because it’s the most effective way of delivering rewards to your brain, i.e. it’s the fastest and most basic way to induce “fun” in a human being.

    Of course you keep going back for more, that’s what people tend to do when they enjoy something.

    • Delusibeta says:

      Skinner’s Box? Extra Credits did that last week.

    • Subjective Effect says:

      It will be dull if they talk Skinner, but only because it’s so obvious. It’s not that like Skinner invented this stuff – it just exists as part of our biological makeup/God’s Design/whatever and if I happened to make a game that somehow fits the model it doesn’t mean I intended that, it just means that’s the way it happens to be.

      It’s like if I experiment in the kitchen and make something really tasty. I’m not trying to get you addicted to my cooking but if that’s a side effect then hello ladies not too much now I don’t want you getting, you know, too fat ok just a bit more hey what do i get out of thi

  13. subedii says:

    Maybe this is just me, but I feel Panorama’s gotten more schlocky and less insightful since they switched over to the 30 minute format. It’s naturally lead to the show becoming a bit more reactionary in its reporting, trying to get more “impact”.

    Still, not like I care much either way. Might have had a bit more impact in the past, but reactionary and scare reporting (assuming that’s what the show is going to be) don’t really hold as much sway anymore on the topic since gaming’s become more a part of mainstream culture.

  14. Terraval says:

    Addiction is a perfectly acceptable word to describe a compulsion or obsession. Addiction only has connotations of chemical or substance abuse if you’re looking for it. I’d say it’s a valid line of enquiry, games can do damage (deaths in Korea due to exhaustion for example). This is only the case, however, when there is a deep underlying imbalance in the person’s personality or environment.

    Those kids who drop out aren’t really addicted to gaming, they just have terrible parents.

    • Rich says:

      Cannabis, for instance, is not actually chemically addictive. People can, however, develop a psychological dependence on it.

    • Terraval says:

      @Rich Exactly, that’s one thing I had in mind.

    • westyfield says:

      @ Rich:
      Really? Can you provide some science to make yourself seem clever please, because if cannabis isn’t chemically addictive then I am of the surprised variety.

    • leeder krenon says:

      pretty much anything you do is chemically related, given that’s what makes the brain do things. a chemical imbalance here or there, and you’re screwed… so technically, the way games stimulate the brain, you could therefore suggest that it is a chemical addiction.

    • Rich says:

      Not easily.
      There’s plenty of research in the area, done by actual pharmacologists etc. rather than regular chemists*, which suggests that it is not chemically addictive in the same way heroin is. You don’t for instance get true withdrawal symptoms.
      You can become psychologically dependent on something without it actually being addictive, however. Particularly chemicals which cause the brain to release endorphins, which gives you a sense of reward and well-being. You become dependent on that effect, rather than addicted to the drug that caused it.
      A bit of googling (and be aware of who pays for the sources you’re reading) will show that there is at least argument within the scientific community.

      By the way, the concept of “chemical imbalance” has largely been discredited. People who have depression used to be thought of as having a “chemical imbalance”, which was what the anti-depressant drugs corrected. In actual fact, anti-depressants are, well, uppers, which make people with depression feel better in the same way they would someone without depression. They work because they’re feel good drugs.

      *Ignorant little me

    • Starky says:

      I think it is fair to say their is little to no conclusive evidence that cannabis (THC) is chemically addictive – if it is it’s mild enough that it blurs with psychological addiction – studies by the FDA and WHO can be found with a bit of google fu (that I’m too lazy to do right now).
      That’s not the same as saying their is no physical addiction – but if there is it is mild, and would require very large doses over a long period of time.
      In animals for example, they will not neglect food or water for more THC, like they will for heroin or nicotine (where the urge for the drug overrides the urge for sustenance) a method commonly used to determine how addictive a substance is (much to the hate of PETA hehe).

      Nicotine for example is orders of magnitude more addictive, as the physical symptoms of withdrawal are much more powerful noticeable and as such can be studied.

      So if you’re left with psychological addiction, well anything can be addictive – it is all down to the individual – people can get addicted to anything that makes them feel good (even pain – mainly due to the adrenaline that comes with it). Games, Weed, Chocolate, exercise, sex, so on so forth, all addictive just because they induce joy.

      So sure games can be addicting, but not physically/biologically.

    • Josh W says:

      It’s interesting that ignoring food and water is claimed as a sign of extreme addiction, what does that say about people who skip lunch at work?

  15. Moth Bones says:

    “‘addiction’ is an erroneous word that suggests a chemical dependance.”

    Sorry Alec, you’re wrong there. Gambling addiction in particular is recognised as a serious health and social problem, and many/most substance addictions – particularly tobacco and cocaine – have as much or more to do with psychological factors as chemical properties. That’s why addictions can be extremely hard to overcome; if they were simply chemical the solution would be relatively easy.

    Which isn’t to say that your wider point is incorrect, just being pedantic.

  16. Shagittarius says:

    I imagine gaming has the same mechanisms that keep us coming back that all enjoyable pursuits do. Please don’t allow yourself to enjoy anything.

  17. Heliocentric says:

    I want to see an episode about reality tv and/or soap opera addiction. I know people whose weekly routine was stricken by the hold of the soap timetable.

    Now as more of them get +boxes or tivo they have some freedom.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Why not just make it about addiction to TV in general? I haven’t owned a TV in years now and I can’t say I miss it.

    • Rich says:

      How about a program on the evils of soaps.
      EastEnders: The silent killer.

    • Tetragrammaton says:

      Watching football is also addictive. I had a flatmate who would watch Setanta 9+ hours a day, to the extent that he couldn’t hold a job.
      I have my doubts panorama would ever make that expose.

    • qrter says:

      It would miss the most important factor: the “Won’t Anyone Think Of The Children!”-factor.

      That’s why gaming is a great subject, it generally is perceived as being “for children” and then we can all get nice and hysterical.

  18. Lu-Tze says:

    “I’ve asked a few devs about it in my time, and to a one they’ve been cryptic – mentions of case studies, focus grouping and even studying gamling theory, but unwilling to share exactly how they devise the mystic balance between don’t care/carecarecare/turned off by a game’s obvious cynicism.”

    There are CUNNING AND DEVIOUS hooks that we use. There are a lot of studies and papers on this stuff. Some of it is clinical application of that, some of it is just luck when you stumble across something and then try not to lose it. The main problem is that if you explain it in detail, it stops working. When people can cynically see the mechanisms in place because they have read about them, you need new mechanisms. That’s why they are hidden.

    Another point of debate, as the companies remit is to maximise profits and thus in the case of, say, MMOs, maximise and keep subscribers… are we in fact being negligent to shareholders by NOT including such hooks?

    • Urthman says:

      I know exactly how the Zelda formula works, and I still love it:

      1. Put the player in a dungeon that has monsters and environmental obstacles that are difficult and annoying to deal with.

      2. Half-way through the dungeon, give the player a new toy that makes fighting the monsters and navigating the environment easier and more fun.

      3. Once the player has gained some skill in using the new toy, give him a challenging boss fight that requires skillful use of the toy.

      4. Repeat 4-12 times.

    • Xercies says:

      The thing is that was hidden well in games such as Ocarina of Time and Majoras Mask but wasn’t hidden at all well in Twilight Princess. Also knowing that there are a specific number of hearts to get with each item also breaks the magic a little bit.

    • Urthman says:

      My point is that it’s a manipulative game design (frustrate and then relieve the player) that doesn’t need hiding, that is just as effective when you’re aware of it.

      In Windwaker, I enjoyed trying to guess what the next gadget would be by what the monsters and obstacles were like in each dungeon.

  19. Kazang says:

    Panorama has always been rather skewed towards inflating problems to be worse than they are or exaggerating and misrepresenting facts for sake of making striking and (ironically) compulsive programming.

  20. Wulf says:

    For shame, Alec! You didn’t mention that you’re also addicted to tags! You’re hardly representing a truthful and accurate version of yourself here, are you?

    In general though, this sounds as business as usual to me for [i]any[/i] documentary involving humanity, which tends to be pseudo-intellectual fapping with next to no basis in reality, often making things actually seem more interesting than they are. Yes, gaming isn’t that ‘interesting’, at least not from a schadenfreude position. But neither is poetry, or dance, or sculpture.

    The human interest documentary formula tends to invariably be: Take topic X, add liberal spoonfuls of sensationalism, shape with schadenfreude, leave to set.


    This is why I usually just watch documentaries which are either purely devoted to hard Science or animals instead, when I feel in the mood for a documentary, that is.

    In general, about every other type of documentary has about as much veracity and integrity as Desperate Housewives.

    • mlaskus says:

      There are some good documentaries out there. Planete produces good ones regularly.

    • Tetragrammaton says:

      Sadly the golden age of the documentary is long gone – RIP The World at War

  21. Tim Ward says:

    Children cannot possibly become addicted to video games, as they have all been killed already by knife crime, drug addiction and paedophiles.

  22. mandrill says:

    Fix your edit button. every time I try to edit a comment it marks it as spam and eats it.

  23. President Weasel says:

    as soon as they talk to Keith Vaz any pretence at a balanced approach is out of the window, as the most basic research would show he’s a scaremongering bullshit artist of the first water, spinning lies about games for political ends.
    And the program will inevitably talk to Keith Vaz, I bet you… a Steam copy of Ruse. First person to call me on it if paranoiarama doesn’t get scarequotes from Vaz gets it.

    • cliffski says:

      And mr vaz wont get any awkward questions about him being corrupt. Remember when he was suddenly ‘too ill to answer questions’ because the answers make him look like a two faced piece of shit.
      When I was a kid, he was the labour candidate where I lived. He ‘paid his dues’ in an unwinnable seat before they parachuted his oxbridge accent somewhere where he could get an easy win.
      God I hate him.

      Anyone in TV land: if you want to talk to a game developer who isn’t shackled by a PR company, I’m :D

    • Web Cole says:

      So wait, I can bet against you and I don’t actually have to wager anything? Well, I’ll have that :P

  24. Colton says:

    Oh dear! Next thing you know they’ll be running specials about “Food: how the industry adds sugar to keep you eating more and more!”

    Time to hide my chocolate bars….

    • Urthman says:

      Except in the USA they’re not adding sugar, they’re adding this insidious chemical called HFCS! Pray that the dreaded fructose never replaces your beloved sucrose!

    • Thants says:

      Well, that’s actually not a bad thing to run specials about. A lot of modern food IS designed to hit certain buttons (fat, sugar, salt) in our brains and give us concentrated levels of those ingredients that we weren’t designed to handle.

    • Colton says:

      Well – my point being: Of course games (or food) is addictive to some degree – how could you sell ANYTHING that didn’t give you some sort of positive feedback?

      Imagine trying to market a football that’s covered in spikes… just so that you’ll only play with it a couple minutes a day (or risk serious injury)

  25. Frosty says:

    Bananarama always reminds me of this show:

    • Nick says:

      I think Brass Eye was more of a Panorama/Horizon et al style piss take, The Day Today was regular news.

  26. Rasputin's Own Bear says:

    Well, it’s not like they would ban gaming even if it is clinically proved to be addictive. I mean, look at alcohol and tobacco.

    • Simon Dufour says:

      People are often confused when I say I never drank any alchool beverage, never smoked a cigarette, never took any drug of any kind.. They look at me like if I was not normal, an alien.

      Then I say I play video-games and they often frown, sneer and facepalm.

      Talk about have difficulties identifying destructive behaviors.

    • Thants says:

      Really? You’ve never had a coffee, or an aspirin?

  27. Handsome Dead says:

    Didn’t Cracked already do this?

    link to

    • Jimmy says:

      That is a great article, and reminds me of Jonathan Blow’s presentation on grinding. This is just applied to subscription games, though.

      Other games are addictive for different reasons.
      1) Strategy games are so complex that the learning curve requires several days, like running a ship. In fact, while a good skill to acquire for mental agility, you could spend the same time learning a musical instrument or doing artwork on paper or web, each requiring a significant learning curve.

      2) FPS multiplayer promises virtual kills, and they are addictive. There is little to me more rewarding than taking someone’s head out with a rifle – in a game. You push more and more to match your peers, and like a traditional sport, must sit it out until the end. Again, this can facilitate confidence in other areas of competition in sport and work. It works your motor functions and relieves stress.

      Pleasure Factor: It is easy to devote many hours to gaming because it is easier than doing something else more productive. I sometimes exchange short-term pleasure for long-term pleasure. Aristotle recommended moderation and magnanimity, but in practice… Factors such as grinding (Farmville, WoW, Everquest), absurd complexity (Civ), and competitive stats (CS, CoD) make it easier to exchange long-term satisfaction for short-term indulgence.

      Of course, it’s all well and good to play/learn/interact through games in moderation, but all the above conspire against. There should be compulsory digital education in schools for this reason, encouraging responsible behaviour, as well as good practice codes among major developers.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Completely offtopic, but this was a better article from Cracked: link to

      And this one is a bit more on topic: link to

  28. Aggressor says:

    I never had problems admitting that games have a serious potential to drive people into obsessive and compulsive behaviour. I’ve seen it in myself, I’ve seen it in others. The sooner we all admit this, the sooner we can provide help to those who need it.

    Of course, addiction is a bit too strong of a word for it, which is also why “gaming addiction” hasn’t found its way into DSM yet. For many people, breaking a gaming session is no big deal. Others will neglect their basic needs in order to continue playing. And it’s because of those that we need to talk more openly about it, not throw a fit every time someone mentions it.

    Yes, games do have means to trigger OC behaviour in people with proneness to it and I even think this can be sometimes labeled as immoral, IF it doesn’t genuinely contribute to the joy and it’s sole purpose is to keep the player in a routine. Yes, Farmville is one such thing. :D

    • Kadayi says:

      Agreed. Like you I also recognise that compulsive gaming can have a negative impact on peoples lives, like any form of obsession (a good friend of mine’s marriage disintegrated a few years back because he let his obsession take over his life). It’s a shame as you say that people aren’t a bit more open to acknowledging this, before rushing to the port side defend the good ship ‘gaming’.

      Like most things in life, moderation is the key.

    • Archonsod says:

      No, I understand compulsive gaming can have a detrimental effect on people’s lives. I just fail to see why their lack of willpower and self control is any responsibility of mine.

    • Kadayi says:


      I’m pretty sure no ones forcing you to watch the program. Nor is anyone saying it’s your responsibility.

  29. Simon Dufour says:

    My brother is 24. Live with my parent. Work and play WoW on a private server, hidden in his bedroom. On weekend, he get out and get drunk with 16yrs old girls in some bars and get back at 5am. He almost lost his driver permits for driving too fast with his modified subaru (he lost it for 1 week and got his car taken) and he probably got involved in some car races, I wouldn’t be surprised.

    Some people refuse to grow up. Some people simply don’t care. Games are not the problems. What they need is a good slap behind the head and a basic course on what it is to become an adult.

    Yeah.. I know.. cool story. However, I’d just like to point out that a lot of people argue that video-games are bad when they’re probably the least of the problems.

    • We Fly Spitfires says:

      Well said :)

      It’s like the horror stories you hear about how some parents let their baby die because they were too busy playing Everquest to notice or some rubbish like that. That’s not the games fault, that’s the universe trying to sell us certain people shouldn’t have kids.

    • torchedEARTH says:

      I wish one of my friends had spent more time playing video games than sticking a needle in his arm…and then his eyeball.

    • squirrel says:

      If, for whatever opportunity, he can achieve something big in real life, say, study a company enough to gain a sum by selling / buying the stock, one should immediately realize that he can be of greater use of himself. Gaming is, for adults afterall, an escape from the real life.

  30. BobsLawnService says:

    Methinks RPS is indulging in a bit of alarmism of its own. Games have the potential to be addictive as they are designed to keep you coming back for more. The BBC shows programs about other forms of addiction – why not games?

    • Simon Dufour says:

      I’d say because games are already being bashed enough. They’re made like the ultimate evil machine.

      – It trains kids at killing their friends
      – It trains kids at doing witchcraft and magic
      – It makes killing people look fun
      – It will make them drop school
      – Kids will kill their parents if they try to take them away from their games

      All that crap. That’s like.. common knowledge right? That’s what people believe already.

      I’d really like to see a documentary about the good things that gaming brings.

      – Early economy basics (MMO)
      – Budgetting made fun (RTS, MMO)
      – Social interactions with people from around the world.
      – Quick reaction and quick thinking
      – Cheap fun
      – encourage imagination
      – encourage creative problem-solving
      – May become a real career goal (that’s what happened to me)
      – May be a fun way to have fun with your kids
      – etc.

    • moyogo says:

      I agree. I enjoy video games but I don’t see it as my job to defend the industry from every possible attack, and I think it’s disturbing when other players act that way. Me and Activision are not best friends “in this together”.

      I don’t feel persecuted when people talk about video games being abused. Why should I?

    • Nick says:

      Try some heroin then play some games and compare.

    • anonymous17 says:

      @ Simon Dufour

      – It trains kids at doing witchcraft and magic

      Fear and misunderstanding continue to be the most powerful forces shaping the globe, your point above in its surrounding context faintly echoes what is probably the greatest problem not just with computers but with modern expression, creativity and freedom.
      Of course, the weight of this comment depends entirely upon your locale.

      The problems are far more deep seated than with just computer games. Panorama is only doing what everything else is doing – capitalising.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Simon Dufour

      That games might have been bashed in the past for the wrong reasons, isn’t really much of a justification for sweeping under the carpet valid concerns they do raise when it comes to obsessive behaviour.

  31. Jake says:

    I’m addicted to killing people or large animals and then taking their loot as my own, honestly I think it’s healthier to do it in games. In the past, games have also helped me overcome my addiction to designing intricate rollercoaster rides with dinosaur scenery and have helped substantially with my ‘wanting to be Batman’ addiction, among other things.

  32. tubbles says:

    I think a big problem with these shows isnt that they are inherently biased (they are, but that’s got a reason.) They try and think of a question that they can ask about a topic, and in order to get interest, thats an invariably controvertial one. Speaking from experience with my dissertation, if you go out with a specific question in mind, no matter what your intentions are, you will frequently find yourself unintentionally missing information that opposes your theory. Whilst a lot of these programs ARE based on pre-decided bullshit and audience pandering, there is a vague reason they tend not to come at it from a balanced perspective. Don’t yell at me for overgeneralising or something. (please)

  33. frymaster says:

    Panorama did a laughably biased and unscientific program on the dangers of wireless networks in schools a couple of years ago. They really have no credibility these days and are just out to stir things up for the sake of it.

  34. We Fly Spitfires says:

    LOL, loved the spoof.

    Speaking of gaming documentaries, More 4 did a great one last summer about MMOs called Another Perfect World. It boosted sales of EVE and was the thing that actually got me into the game. No doubt this doc is going to do wonders for the pre-Christmas game sales too :)

  35. Mr Chug says:

    I’m guessing these “hidden psychological devices” will count achievements (and more broadly, things like Gamerscore and whatever the PS3’s equivalent is) among their number. They’re pretty brazen ‘play this game until you accomplish this for a reward’ methods of keeping a player on their game, and I’ve seen normal people be devoured by achievement lust in WoW.

  36. dogsolitude_uk says:

    I’ve often thought that one of the reasons why games such as WoW are popular and compulsive is because they empower folks to ‘do things’.

    In an adventure game, if you want to go out, harvest stuff from the environment, craft items and flog them you just do it.

    IRL you have to inform the Inland Revenue that you’re working as a sole trader, get the appropriate trading licenses, complete tax returns etc. etc. Team up with a few others and you have NI to worry about, pension plans to set up, Health and Safety regs, decisions about whether to trade as a partnership or limited liability company (together with submission of accounts and registration with Companies House) before you’ve so much as wopped a single rat in the Inkeeper’s cellar.

    Want to just wander around the place and camp under the stars? In games it’s easy (just watch out for werewolves). IRL you’ll be done for trespassing under the Criminal Justice Act 1996 (at least I think it was 1996).

    Want to go exploring? OK, fire up Morrowind and off you go. IRL you’re limited to your home (typically a 3-bed semi), workplace or learning establishment. Anywhere else is likely covered by CCTV, patrolled by security guards… If you want to go somewhere ‘exotic’, for most young people the cost is prohibitive.

    The problem is not that games are so addictive, it’s just that real life is so utterly regulated and constricted. We have no real freedom to damned well do anything without some a-hole with a clipboard trying to fine us.

  37. Pleonasm says:

    The journalistic standards at the BBC seem to have gone out the window recently. I saw a report the other day where they referred repeatedly to the violent student demonstrators as ‘anarchists’. Quite what an anarchist would be doing on a demonstration to get the state to pay for university education they didn’t explain.

    Good job they can just take money from everybody in the country with a TV or they might have to actually start worrying about quality.

    • Archonsod says:

      I disagree. The BBC has never had journalistic standards. Panorama has always had a line in using dodgy science, fringe (i.e. whackjob) interviewees and scaremongering. I still remember their report about the “dangers” of mercury fillings back in the early 90’s.

    • Abacus says:

      Eeeh, but there were anarchists at the student protests, and most of them were responsible for the vandalism and damage.

      link to

    • Pleonasm says:

      You do know what anarchism is, right? State-funded education is hardly at the top of it’s ideological wish-list. What we have there isn’t an anarchist, it’s an ignorant douchebag who thinks the Sex Pistols are way cool. I’d be very surprised if he even knew what that sign was.

  38. Caleb367 says:

    I was thinkin’: could be all this scare-mongering crap on TV caused by, you know, game companies actually NOT advertising themselves on TV? or rather in a very minor way. Let’s be honest where these piss-poor excuses for journalists (I almost hear Hunter S. Thompson barf, and he’s the guy who lived with the Hell’s Angels to write about them, compare to these jerk-offs not even bothering to check titles) are not, and let’s gamble on this: imagine, tomorrow morning, a normal Friday morning, Electronic Arts suddenly signs a massive advertisement campaign with the BBC. How many nanoseconds till said “documentary” gets pulled off.

    • Kadayi says:

      Advertising? BBC? I’m going to take a guess that you’re not from around these parts are you?

  39. ZenArcade says:

    Panorama is totally and utterly shit. Probably one of the few programs that are strikingly (and depressingly) similiar to brasseye in it’s shrieking melodramatic and paranoid tone. Do what I do for all their “documentaries” and ignore it like the plague.

  40. OptionalJoystick says:

    My tea went cold while I was playing Super Meat Boy. Does that count?

  41. DarioSamo says:

    I wonder what hidden and devious mechanisms Notch hid on Minecraft. That thing is too goddamn addictive.

  42. Bill says:

    Games DO employ psychology, albeit not usually knowingly I suspect or with the deliberate cynicism and malicious intent that “secret” implies. It’s more like a happy coincidence.

    I’m glad you see the irony in accusing the show of already making its’ mind up before you’ve seen the episode, though. You do see it, right?

  43. Bascule42 says:

    Maybe there is some truth to gaming addiction. Ive been playing for 25 years of my level 36 existence and…

    Ive just been sitting for the last five minutes waiting for the program to start. Then I realised it’s Thursday.

    Ho Hum…back to Kings Bounty.

  44. Rath says:

    Unfortunately, that clip of Vernon Kay (ugh) proclaiming to a live audience that he is “SO addicted to GAMES – YES!!” has been taken off of Youtube. That would have made a fine Panorama intro.

  45. Steve says:

    Personally, I think the Conservatives have something to do with this. Maybe I’m just being paranoid about the man, but seriously, I think they have their claws into the BBC.

    As far as I know – and correct me if I’m wrong, as I may well be – the BBC website did not even mention allegations that mounted police had charged protesters in Whitehall. A day later when a video showing mounted police charging protesters in Whitehall was posted online, there was still no article on the BBC News website about it. In fact from doing a bit of searching, all I can do is find something from Radio 4 about how “Mounted Police ‘Keep People Safe'”. link to

    Maybe it isn’t the Tories, maybe they were like that before, but this is the first time I’ve noticed. The BBC certainly don’t seem unbiased to me.

    • Steve says:

      That was one of the recent student protests, in case it wasn’t clear.

    • Kid A says:

      The BBC have always had a Tory slant to them. You only had to watch the recent election coverage to spot that.

  46. Tarn says:

    I’m not entirely comfortable with a TV channel that produces long-running, compulsive entertainment shows such as Eastenders lecturing another industry on its supposedly addictive media.

    Seems a little hypocritical, no?

  47. internisus says:

    Game design today is frequently irresponsible and knowingly manipulative. “The hidden psychological devices in games that are designed to keep us coming back for more” are a real and pervasive problem. I am not familiar with this program, but if it devotes more time to analysis of design psychology than to extreme cases which obviously have preexisting obsessive problems as factors I will be glad to have it.

  48. Ravenger says:

    Documentaries like this always have an angle they wish to push, and they use all the tricks in the book to do it.

    Out of context sound bites.
    Dramatic music coupled with sinister lighting and camera angles.
    Selective editing to show people and events in the worst possible light.
    Quotes from so-called ‘experts’ who in fact know nothing about the subject.

    As Muzman has pointed out they’re using the ‘question mark trick’ beloved of Fox News and the Daily Mail to say something controversial without having to back it up with hard facts. e.g. ‘Do TV documentaries cause flatulence?’ ‘Are TV producers corrupting their audience?’

    See the excellent Charlie Brooker piece on reality TV editing to show how simple edits can completely change the original meaning of footage.

    link to

    I know a clan on another forum that was invited to take part in the documentary. Big mistake in my opinion, as you just know they’re going to do a hatchet job on gaming and gamers in general.

  49. Harbour Master says:

    I’ve not watched Panorama for quite some time now, as it’s gone the way the rest of BBC’s news output, which goes for dressed-up headline shock value over facts (not nearly as much as some of its peers, mind you). Meh, Charlie Brooker already covered this with News Wipe.

    Anyway, I’ve not watched Panorama for some time now, and I’m not about to start this week with some hope it might actually be balanced.