New Scientist (dot) Com details recent studies on "game addiction." Studies analogizing computer game cues with "drug memory" triggers is discussed. Additionally, some interesting work with "startle reflexes" is introduced. However, the fascination of the neurological with the computer game (in a manner of speaking) is likely complex...
By way of a simple illustration. A very long time ago I used to play too much Tetris. So much so that I suffered after particularly long sessions the visual memory illusion of falling blocks - a ghostly phenomenon well written up in the literature at the time.
I too used to play combat games and found myself missing the adrenalin.
A harder example is the MMOG. Yes, there is tremendous evidence that some folks play them too much, likely for a variety of reasons. Nick Yee has done some excellent work documenting this. Can there then, somewhere in the mix of the prosady of disorders, exist a compulsion based on an inspiring ideal. A Glory Days, some day, in your past?
Once upon a time (in a true but hardly unique story) I and a party of an underpowered few including one supremely gifted enchanter camped in the basement of Unrest in (the old) Everquest... and there we stayed (alive) one very long real night... We fell by sleep at our keyboards, and since then I have never seen a moment quite like that one.
Were I seeking to repeat this, would I be addicted to glory?
Comments on What Are You Missing?:
I like these studies, the ones that involve the brain, more than the normal studies of game addiction, or any addiction. But the bottom line is the same.
You can find these same brain reactions in any brain that falls in love with something. That's not to mean actual love, although it can be. The process is the same.
Some people take that first sip of wine, and something clicks. It clicks again, forever, every time they take a drink of wine, and those people are alcoholics. Some of them are businessmen making deals, some of them are socialites meeting new people, some of them are engineers finding exactly what the problem is for the 1000th time, and some of them are MMOG gamers, finding a new place.
The process is the same. It always is. It's love, in point of fact.
That's all. The media will continue to make it sound ominous. To me, the media is ominous.
Posted Dec 30, 2005 7:12:26 AM | link
I love how the first response in these discussions always goes to the guy in denial.
Hey, guess what Somatic, it's not just 'love'. That's not what is being reported by the scientists in the link. They're not talking about people who spend a long night playing a game but go back to their normal routine the next day. They're talking about gamers who lose sleep Every Day because of their game.
OH, and trying to imply that the media is overhyping the issue? That's just weak man, seriously. The 'media' in this case, if anything is underhyping the issue. The 'media' needs to stop making it's headlines 'Duhhh, does gaming addiction exist???' and start writing it as 'Gaming addiction exists, here is some further PROOF.' And if you bother to read the article, that is what is being reported on: SCIENTIFIC PROOF. Science experiments done by real brain specialists. Do you have a degree in neuroscience? Psychology? No, I highly doubt that you do. I think maybe you've seen one too many of the Nintendo commercials and instead of getting the deeper meaning in them all you've seen is the superficial 'lets make fun of the idea of gaming addiction' jokes.
The issue is addiction, in point of fact, and the only thing being overhyped is my blood pressure. :D
Posted Dec 31, 2005 12:27:49 PM | link
I have to question at least one control; how long ago had the various subjects played the game in question, as in number of hours? I know that after doing say, carpentry in puzzle pirates for six hours straight (regardless of how much you actually like the puzzle) you can be lead to look at bathroom tiles very differently.
Also I find the notion that addictions mostly arise from reliance on a coping strategy suspect at best, but that's a minor gripe. This study also seems to require we mostly discount the notion of burnouts or the possibility that 'addicted' players might simply get sick of the game.
It seems that the very notion of addiction is somewhat confused if we allow that people can be 'addicted' to x for a finite period of time and then quit cold turkey because of overexposure to said addiction. Then again i'm not psychologist, but I think I can get away with saying that while it very probably exists, it's not nearly the same beast as a drug addiction.
Posted Dec 31, 2005 6:51:21 PM | link
Sorry. It's just that we've seen so many of these gaming addiction articles that I've started coming up with creative responses to them. My angle this time was to liken it to love. It's not such a bad angle. We've seen so many angles on the issue that I thought it would be a new one (and not entirely inaccurate).
I'm not denying that gaming addiction is real. It most definitely is real. But I think that the "addiction" has very little to do with the games themselves, and more to do with the people playing them.
I played Everquest every day for almost a year, 6-12 hours a day. At the end of the year I had 175 hours of /played time (for the newbies, that doesn't mean I was subscribed for 175 days... it means that the total number of hours I played added up to 175 days. As in, 175 x 24 hours).
It was an obsession for a time, and many areas of my life suffered. But it was not because of Everquest. It was because of myself. If it hadn't been Everquest, it would have been something else (and it was, before I discovered EQ).
Before EQ I spent about 6 months coding a MUD. If one of those scientists had showed me a picture of a perfectly written piece of MUD code, my brain scan would have lit up like fireworks. It was what I was thinking about every day (specifically, Circle 3.0 code, if anyone is wondering).
What I'm trying to say here is that gaming obsession is no different than any other kind of obsession, or love. It's only in the news because it is a new thing. Scientists being able to monitor people's brains is also a new thing. Put the two together, and you get articles on gaming addiction.
You're right, I'm not a neurologist. But what that article boils down to is: some people get excited by certain images. In this study, the subjects were gamers. If the subject had been stock car racing fans, their brains would light up like a Christmas tree every time they saw a picture of a stock car.
Lately, I've been getting bored with most of my games. I got sick of Everquest, then Puzzle Pirates, and now I'm getting sick of DAoC for the 3rd time.
My new obsession is Serenity. Over the past 3 weeks I've watched the entire season of Firefly twice, the movie Serenity twice, all of the special features twice, and again with the special commentary turned on. If a scientist showed me a picture of Captain Mal Reynolds right now, my brain scan would no doubt light up like New York at night. That's where the "love, in point of fact" quote came from.
Posted Jan 1, 2006 5:15:43 AM | link
The general rule of thumb regarding media hype is to downplay whatever scariness they suggest and up-play anything they left out. In other words, assume they overhype anything, and if it's interesting to you, go find out more for yourself. Using something besides the media.
Game addiction isn't really different, as Somatic says, from any other kind of addiction. The weird thing, however, is that it isn't a physical medium, like alcohol or heroin. Instead, again, as Somatic says, game addiction is based on personal preferences, like, say...
Chosen academic field of study.
Posted Jan 1, 2006 11:10:25 PM | link
You're free to express (and repeat) your opinions, but I disagree with them. My opinion is that trying to call addiction 'love' minimizes the seriousness of the issue. If anything I think you would have to say that addiction is an extreme form of love, involving compulsive behaviour brought on by chemical imbalances in the brain. The article explains how this works:
"Grüsser says that addictions stem from relying too heavily on one coping strategy, which eventually becomes the only activity that can activate the dopamine system and bring a person relief. “It’s the same mechanism in all addicts,” she says."
What's happening is that video games, as I've read in previous studies, release huge amounts of these chemicals into the brain. Doctors might even describe them as addictive amounts. Now, for nomal people, with normal lives, the effect isn't that great. They go 'Wow, that was fun!' and then they go off and do something else, or get bored fairly quickly.
Some people though, are depressed. Any psychologist can tell you that some people who suffer from depression also exhibit compulsive behaviour. These people are shopaholics, workaholics, sexaholics, alcoholics, gambling or gaming addicts, etc. The activity they're addicted to brings them joy, and they rely on that experience to keep themselves happy, to get that chemical kick in the brain.
It has nothing to do with personal preference, at least not in the serious cases. Perhaps in the milder cases, when it's simply an unhealthy obsession. When it's compulsive behaviour combined with depression, it can be very difficult to stop someone from indulging, and near impossible for someone to simply stop themselves.
"I'm not denying that gaming addiction is real. It most definitely is real. But I think that the "addiction" has very little to do with the games themselves, and more to do with the people playing them."
My opinion would be that it has a little to do with the games, a little to do with the people playing them, and a lot to do with the chemical problems in the people's heads.
Posted Jan 2, 2006 11:00:30 PM | link
Is anyone else weirded out that they equate a simple Pavlovian response to addiction? Were the dogs in Pavlov's experiment "addicted" to bells and tones?
Posted Jan 3, 2006 3:50:34 PM | link
Pavlov's dogs were certainly motivated to respond to those tones. Repeating things that cause us pleasure (food, sleep, companionship...) is required to sustain life and emerges from the neurological building blocks behind motivation.
The "A" word only becomes an issue when extreme motivation causes a detriment in another aspect of a player's life. From where I sit, as a researcher who watches people play, the reliance on these kinds of mechanisms (addiction or otherwise) demonstrates a lack of creativity on how to engage an emotional response in the player. =)
Posted Jan 3, 2006 6:38:36 PM | link
Can a fruitful comparison be made with other "addictive" media or play practices - particularly media that avoid or defer closure in order to maintain the viewer's investment? I'm thinking of soap operas, collectible card games, slot machines, super-hero comics, etc.
Is responsible MMORPG design one that "releases" the player after a certain amount of time? The player resistence to systems of diminishing returns seems to make that unlikely.
Posted Jan 3, 2006 7:41:18 PM | link
Or the "hold back" of flavoring in the snack-food industry. Consumer tested so that "you have to have one more." Once enough flavor is there, the snacker feels satisfied. If not, it's "please pass the chips."
Again, a technique to boost use that smacks of a lack of creativity in the experience design of the product.
Posted Jan 3, 2006 9:56:30 PM | link
Love vs. addiction is a semantic argument sometimes. We love our addictions, and are addicted to what we love. And, as Al Pacino's demonic character in "The Devil's Advocate" snarls, "Love... it is chemically indistinguishable from consuming large amounts of chocolate." [Please note that this moderately clever line is the only marginally good thing about this otherwise horrible film]
We're obviously not talking about direct chemical addiction with games, but psychological additiction. As the article points out, and as Coldstone emphasizes, though, certain psychological activities can trigger our dopamine systems. People with "normal" dopamine loads -- i.e., "content" or "happy" people -- are generally well regulated in terms of dopamine and other chemicals that regulate mood. Depressed people often suffer a lack of these chemicals, which are treated with (go figure) anti-depressants.
Certain activities can raise the levels of dopamine, either temporarily or permanently. For example, good diet, exercise, smoking cessation and the lowering of blood pressure have all been shown to have long-term, positive effects on raising dopamine levels; i.e., "healthy body = healthy mind." Owning pets, playing musical instruments, being part of a family, having a job, etc. are all activities that relate to long-term dopamine production.
Short-term, you can do all kinds of stuff to jerk up your dopamine levels; watching stimulating videos, going on wild amusement rides, gambling, etc. Excitement does the trick in short bursts. Over the long haul, though, it wears off.
Trickier are activities that bring about delayed gratification, like relationships. At first, on dates, you get the "fear juice," which acts lots like a roller-coaster. Dopamine goes up, you are having fun, it's love. Over time, however, you retain similar levels of good-feeling about the relationship, but often for different reasons. You become, in essence, addicted to the lifestyle and relationship, rather than the activity. It's the difference between getting off on going to the circus once in awhile, and wanting to live there.
Nobody will argue that *somebody* is going to be addicted to *anything.* There are people who abuse pencil erasers, I'm sure. But there are classes of behaviors that are much more open to harmful dopamine addiction than others; for example, gambling. There is nothing inherently, physically harmful in sitting down with some friends and playing cards for a few bucks. For many people (myself included), it is pscyhologically no different than sitting down with a few friends and playing Trivial Pursuit or Charades. The element of gambling doesn't make it "more or less" addictive to me.
But for many people, it does. To an enormous extent. The element of "real loss" in the form of monetary pressure provides a psychological cue that triggers additional dopamine rushes that exceed what can be provided by actual drugs.
That, to me, is the question about games, and what kind of games. Are they activities that, only for a few select people, will become truly addictive? Some people, as noted, become "addicted" to coding, movies, books, etc. It happens. It's a personal thing, and will happen with games as much as it does with any highly involved mental activity.
But -- as I suspect is the case -- are games more addictive than other entertainment activities? Please understand that I am a HUGE game fan, and have been playing since "the beginning." But I see in myself, and many others, a real susceptibility to addictive behaviors that can't be summed up by "it's the same as really liking any kind of activity a whole lot."
How? In no attempt to be exhaustive...
1. Games provide feedback. This alone triggers more of a dopamine response than more "passive" entertainments like reading or watching. When you are rewarded, you feel good.
2. Games require constant attention. You cannot "turn away" from many games, as you can with many other activities; i.e., you can put down a book, pause a video, shut your eyes during a movie, ask a friend to "hang on" while you go to the rest-room, go inside for a coffee while gardening, etc. Yes, you can pause/save many games at some places... but in some, not. And not while working with...
3. Others. MMOGs provide a whole new method of feedback which "gooses" the "love effect." Not only are you playing the game, you're playing the guild, the "other side," your buddies, etc. Hugely social factors. All the dopamine of making friends, but with few of the real benefits (i.e., you can't often borrow their cars, date their sisters, have their help moving, etc.)
4. Arcanna. We like to be "in the know." Modern games are frequently highly specialized and require huge amounts of time to get good at. When we understand all the rules, subtleties, back-story, etc., we feel like elders, wise-ones, etc. That feeling is another dopa-like high, previously available only to revered members of the tribe/society. Now... 16-year-old Level 60 Paladins can groove on it.
I like games. A lot. Play them a lot. Play them with my 6-year-old. But I'm starting to worry. I think that we need to look at what elements add to the "addictive" aspects, what elements add to the "healthy" aspects, and maybe work to minimize the former and maximize the latter.
Posted Jan 3, 2006 10:16:03 PM | link
What's interesting to me is that games are an activity that offers compelling enjoyment instead of a snack cracker or beverage.
Many players use the term "addictive" as high praise, such as; "That game is so cool, it's so addictive!"
However, another finding from XEODesign's research with non-gamers is that many don't play or no longer play because they find games "too addictive." Or in the words of a former player:
"I won't play his games because someone has to remember to take care of the kids."
This awareness limits the appeal of games for many, especially as they get older. If game appeal relies too much on addiction or addiction-like attraction, then there is a potential market for healthy fun games that give something back to the player in exchange for their time.
Posted Jan 4, 2006 9:33:45 AM | link