An exploration of addiction in gaming, whether as a mechanical device or something more.
“Looking for a fix, man?” asked the unscrupulous dealer who met The Courier at the gates of Freeside. “I got what you need.”
RPS Feature Lost Weekends
Games psychotherapist, Stephen Bishop, has told the Daily Rag that games players are showing an increasingly worrying addiction to football. Players of Modern Warfare 2, Grand Theft Auto IV, and Peggle are apparently spending up to one and a half hours playing the sport without food, rest, or any form of videogaming.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s favourite rent-a-quote anti-gamer Steve Pope has reappeared in the news, this time to announce that professional football players are dangerously addicted to videogames. The “sports psychotherapist”, so far unwilling to provide any evidence for his previous claims, informs the Daily Star (famously accurate on gaming related matters) that players from Manchester United, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal are all in trouble.
If you’re a fellow Britisher, you may have caught a staggeringly unpleasant, one-sided and sensationalist half-hour of fact-free garbage on ITV earlier tonight. It’s about videogames and addiction, and because a handful of young people they document demonstrate significant emotional or social problems and play videogames a lot, this of course means games are monstrously addictive with tragic long-term consequences. It couldn’t possibly be that they play videogames for too long and too intensely because of their other problems or circumstances, could it? NO NO NO DON’T TALK SENSE.
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Watching the presentation about how playing WoW for sixteen hours a day, every day, is fine, presumably at DenialFest. Enormously annoying. Yes, games – as a new media – are attacked simply because they’re new media, the same as all new media throughout all history. Yes, the Daily Mail profits off their constant scare-mongering, and pretty much the whole media follow it. Yes, parents can be shits who lack responsibility for rearing their own kids. Yes, MMOs are primarily social environments and the relationships forged within are as valid as any other (bar the usual horror stories). Yes, that games offering achievable goals is one of their primary attractions. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
But how on earth does that have anything to do with a sizeable number of people deciding to retreat from their normal lives and choosing to pretty much solely to exist in a fantasy world being something someone might be right to be concerned about? It actually doesn’t matter whether games are actually addictive or not – utilitarianism demands us look at its actual effects (“Utilitarianism” – man, I better get some gags into this post quick).
That said, it did remind me of an old thought experiment I ran, which I thought I’d share.
If, by choosing certain mechanics, a developer could make games bona-fide chemically and/or psychologically addictive… would they do it?
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[This piece originally appeared in PC Gamer six months ago. It’s the result of about four months of investigation into the connections between PC gaming and addiction. I interviewed some of those leading the field in treatment for what they believe to be gaming addiction (including Keith Bakker, head of the Smith And Jones Center in Holland, famous for being the first to offer treatment for gaming addicts), and those arguing that there is no such thing, as well as speaking to people who have suffered as a result of gaming, and those looking to offer simply research (including the team behind Project Massive). The aim was to write a non-sensational piece that approached the subject objectively, without an agenda to prove things one way or the other. A big credit and huge thanks must go to PC Gamer’s deputy editor, Tim Edwards, and editor, Ross Atherton, both of whom provided huge amounts of help, support and direction for compiling this enormous lump of work into something readable.]
“Ready for this?” he asks, his voice speeding up. “I believe gaming is currently the greatest threat to our society.”
Keith Bakker is the man behind the Smith & Jones Centre for addiction, the clinic at the centre of the current controversy over gaming addiction. It all began in July last year when the centre caught the attention of the world’s press, opening the first dedicated gaming addiction clinic, both as an out-patient programme, and then later, a residential treatment programme. Having noticed that an increasing number of their chemically addicted clients seemed to be compulsively playing games, the staff began to recognise many of the traits that indicate addiction: an inability to regulate how much time was spent playing them, continuing to play despite the negative effects on their lives, and a progressive worsening of their relationship with games.
They believed it was something very serious, and soon the clinic was taking in clients purely for their gaming habit. “A typical client would be in his late teens, he’s probably from a broken home,” says Bakker. “He doesn’t socialise, and he’s probably stopped going to school. He plays games for around 15 hours a day, and cannot regulate himself.”
So why does Britain’s industry representative, ELSPA, say there’s no such thing as gaming addiction? And why does Dr Richard Wood of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University describe it as a “myth”? Is gaming an innocent pastime, or about to bring down civilisation as we know it? What are the responsibilities for the gaming industry? How is gaming affecting us? What is the truth about gaming addiction? Read the rest of this entry »