Video Game Addiction
Those of you who know me may find that this is a rather ironic topic for me to write about, as I am a prime example of a media addict. I probably invest 20-40 hours per week in media consumption, whether it is Facebook, blogging, StumblingUpon, reading, or playing video games. This is a major issue in my life, something that I have to battle whenever I need to get anything done.
The problem with video games more than other kinds of media is that it is active. This is the argument that people constantly throw at violent or pornographic games vs film, but here there actually is a difference. The participation of the gamer causes a flow experience not found in passive media (excluding books) because instead of shutting down and barely processing the information on screen, the gamer’s brain is firing incredibly quickly. A well designed game can suck away hours of life because it is a medium created entirely to cause the user to enter flow states.
Psychologically speaking, a flow state is where a user loses track of time. This happens often with artists, athletes, people who enjoy their jobs, and unsurprisingly, gamers. A flow state is achieved when challenge meets skill level- which is exactly what MMOs like World of Warcraft and Farmville do. Yes, Farmville, the game that many people consider more than a mild entertainment during work or other things, is in the same type as the dreaded WoW.
This type of game focuses on acquiring better things, whether it is in-game items, achievements, or levels. They are easy at first, reinforcing the good feelings induced by leveling up with a shiny light and a noise. These first levels get the user acquainted with the game system and how to complete tasks, but they quickly get harder, matching the character’s advancement and eventually snaring the player.
These games have been the ruin of many college students, who just stopped sleeping or showing up to class because they vastly preferred the virtual environment to real life. Recently, a 12 year old spent $1400 on Farmville, emptying first his savings, then getting a hold of his mother’s credit card somehow. WoW is limited to 15/month, unless one purchases WoW-Gold, but new games are “free” with pay-for-content and are the real financial killers. The boy’s response was “They had brought out good stuff that I wanted.”
Jane McGonigal is a game designer with a bunch of crazy ideas. Unfortunately, her band of crazy is rooted in fact and she makes a very compelling argument about why her crazy isn’t so crazy after all. She argues that since these types of games are so incredibly addicting that we should go ahead and invest more time in them. Why? Because if we can get 11.5 million people, the current number WoW subscribers, working on our world’s problems for 20 to 40 hours per week, we should be able to accomplish great things.
What do you think? Are these games the next great think-tank, or should they be purged from our culture. Personally, I think doing the latter would be squandering the greatest resource our country currently has: educated people motivated to accomplish anything you tell them to, even collecting virtual mushrooms (several WoW quests have the player do this, and I have done it several times.)