Editorial: Addiction

And yet I still have no legendaries!
The Diablo series offers randomised loot to keep gamers searching for the ‘perfect’ item.

I expect most people who visit this site are well-rounded individuals who can judge for themselves what is an ‘excessive’ amount of time to play video games. Even we can still enjoy a marathon gaming session every so often, like when the latest expansion to World of Warcraft is released. Few and far between, these long periods of gaming can often be a sociable experience with a group of friends, or a charitable affair such as the annual Child’s Play event used to generate donations through sponsored twenty-four hours gaming sessions. It may come as a surprise then, that a portion of the general public would consider our normal habits as symptoms of addiction.

What some people do not realise is that our pastime will often replace other ways to spend our free time. How many families spend their afternoons gathered around the television each and every evening? How many singletons spend their free time lounging around the house on their days off? Is playing an interactive game really any worse than enjoying the latest popular comedy? In my early teens I spent a lot of time reading works of fiction, today I spend what little free time I have playing games. Literary masterpieces of previous generations are still enjoyed today, who is to say that future generations will not enjoy games for their in the same way?

Okay, so some people are unable to control their habits. A person with an addictive personality will always have trouble gauging how long they should play games for, but in this case, games could be substituted for any other hobby or substance. It is not solely the fault of video games that people are unable to put them down. Modern MMOs have mechanics that reward players for returning to the game, or deliberately randomise items given to a player. Extra time may need to be devoted to one of these games to get something useful to the player, though it may not need be done in one sitting. Even taking time to clear everything in one go does not make someone an addict. A person with an addictive personality would let their life deteriorate around them to accomplish those goals.

Occasionally a news story will surface that tells of an individual or a couple who neglect themselves or a child in their care to play games, usually an MMO. A negative light is cast on games when these stories come to light, but why should it? In my experience, a game has never rewarded me for not eating. I do not achieve anything by going without showering for the day. A person has to make these decisions, therefore it cannot be the fault of the game.

But moooom! We're doing Jin'rokh heroic today!
Children are at risk of developing gaming addiction if they play too much from an early age.

Some critics accuse game designers of utilizing sophisticated behavioral psychology research to keep gamers hooked. A famous study of rats and rewards offers such a model. When rats are given food every time they pull a lever, they use the lever only when they are hungry. If the food is given in an unpredictable pattern, the rats remain in such a heightened state of desire and frustration that it keeps pulling the lever until it dies of exhaustion. When applied to games, this random-reward system keeps players clicking and hoping their next click will be a winner. Here, game design is less to blame for addiction, rather it is the disease of addiction itself. Mental disorders, such as ADHD, social anxiety, or depression, make people even more susceptible. Video gaming becomes their ‘substance’ of choice.

There will always be people who have trouble in real life and turn to games as a means of escapism. Playing games for for long periods of time does not make a person an addict. An addict is someone who is unable to give up what they are doing, despite any adverse affects it may have on their health and/or life. As long as we are able to judge when it is time to stop, gaming remains an enjoyable pastime. Anyone who finds they cannot put the controller down should seek help from friends and family.

Have you been accused of being a gaming addict? Do you have first hand experience of people who have had loved ones intervene in their gaming habits? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Sorry, this is a bit of a ranty one this week. Got into an argument with a friend over what constitutes ‘too much’ gaming.

  2. Understandable- I’ve always had mixed feelings about the topic. In general I agree with what you’ve said. So long as the gaming isn’t leading to any self-destructive behavior, it’s fine. If anything, gaming (especially multiplayer gaming) can be more social than other typical activities like Television or Movies.

    That all being said, though, I’ve had mixed feelings about the use of Skinner boxes and other psychological tricks in video games. Yes, you need an addictive personality for that to be devastating, but does it make it any less ethical?

  3. I’ve socialized with people who have been self proclaimed addicts. In one case, the person claimed to be escaping into games instead of dealing with an ailing relationship.

    But, as Imitanis states, this isn’t the exclusive fault of videogames. People, in the absence of one outlet, will find another until a breaking point is reached. Either they help themselves, others help them or something physically keeps them from using that outlet. Blaming the outlet is the surface- and simple-minded practice of people who know little about the aspects of addiction (these people can, themselves, be addicts of some kind or another) as well as the various precursors that lead to addiction.

    To be sure, gaming is an addictive element in that it can be addictive. But it isn’t only so for everybody, conversely it is mostly a healthy element for people. Thus, it would be a grave error to act upon games in any fashion when the things that needs our action and attention are the addicts themselves.

  4. What is more toxic to your life than gaming? Friends who bitch how much you game. The best way to deal with these douche bags is fire.

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