The cause and effect of game addiction
GABRIEL SCORGIE // CONTRIBUTOR
Illustration by Ryan McDiarmid
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized what many gamers have suspected to be true for a long time: video games are addictive. Gaming addiction will be in WHO’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases. Previously, research has been conducted exploring the addictive nature of games by considering it an issue of impulse control, the same category that gambling addiction falls under. Though video game addiction is more complex than just an impulse problem, the comparison to gambling is appropriate when one considers the deck is stacked against them.
Players can get addicted because games today are often designed to be endless and to keep people engaged for as long as possible. This is a stark contrast to early games such as Zelda, and Mario, which have clear finish lines. Today, player retention is the metric that guides game studios. In the last year, two publishers, Electronic Arts and Activision, have written papers on how to best retain players and keep engagement high.
On an episode of the podcast The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan touched on why people get addicted to games. For a while, Rogan talked about his own addiction to Quake when it came out in 1996. He said he was fortunate to have a career as a comedian during this period, because he could feel the game taking over his life. It was all he thought about, even when he knew he had to prepare for a comedy show. He played 18 hours a day and spent $10,000 a month on internet connection.
Then Rogan mentioned a conversation he had with a manager at the Comedy Store. His name was Rob and he was addicted to Everquest, a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Rob said that he was so successful in the game world but so unsuccessful in real life. Whether he meant to or not, Rob accurately described what many people who struggle to stop gaming feel. Video games can be a replacement for unhappy lives.
The most addictive games are the ones that can provide a satisfying feeling of progression and accomplishment. MMORPGs such as Everquest and World of Warcraft accomplish this through level progression and powerful gear that showcases your mastery of the game. Competitive games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive make the player feel successful through literal dominance over other players.
According to research done by an Amsterdam addiction centre, the majority of gamers who show signs of addiction are males under 30 years old. Males also, on average, are more competitive and have a greater desire to be placed in a hierarchy. Additionally, Biomed Central Psychiatry have found a large body of evidence that suggests a connection between social anxiety, general anxiety and video game addiction. That link should hardly be a surprise – take a competitive teenager who doesn’t like being around other people, give him the latest Call of Duty and see just how much he wants to go outside after that.
The long-term effect is that video games provide an easy way to not address your in-real-life (or IRL) deficiencies. It’s easy to see how the vicious circle forms. The more someone plays video games, the less inclined they are to go out. Over time, they become better at avoiding what makes them uncomfortable. Even at the cost of physical friendships, relationships and life experiences.
It’s a worthwhile exercise for anybody who plays video games to evaluate their reasons for doing so. Make sure you don’t regret playing a game instead of working towards a more beneficial goal. Unlike in a game, in life you only get one chance to get it right.