The Associated Press recently ran a story about video game addiction, which is probably a faster growing problem than the hair on Robin William's back. The article pin-points some interesting aspects of video game addiction, and what some professionals think of it. So how does gaming addiction come about and what role does console gaming play in it?
Well, the article doesn’t fare on the front of symptoms and signs, but rather, it discusses how some leading professionals in one of the largest group of Doctors, wants to have video game addiction labeled as a "psychiatric disorder". However, not everyone is quick to jump onboard...publishers have already voiced a seditious stance against the council’s suggestion, and even some health professionals are leery of labeling video game addiction as a serious psychiatric disorder. That, of course, hasn’t stopped the AMA from further investigating the matter.
However, one of the things the article did not point out – given that the following wasn’t part of the topic in discussion – was the ratio of console gamers to on-line PC gamers who found themselves plighted with addiction. For the most part, community help-sites for video game addiction cater mostly to people who play on-line games, which seems to be the biggest form of video game addiction around. Sites like the On-line Gamers Anonymous seek to provide a 12-step help program for addicted gamers. Sadly, though, it doesn’t necessarily detail any numerical breakdowns of the console to on-line gaming addiction “victims”. There is a list of games that consists of both PC and console games, but it’s still very vague, and based on the premise and forums, mostly it’s MMO gamers who are the ones getting “addicted”.
But with Microsoft’s Xbox Live service nearly reaching ten million, I’m curious how many of those subscribers are addicted to online gaming? And we know that the Wii is being snatched up like crazy from store shelves, but is it at all having the same effect, as say, World of Warcraft and the effect it has on some of its eight-million subscribers? Heck, Blizzard’s MMORPG is so popular that you can even accumulate game-time by using a World of Warcraft Visa. That’s real snazzy Blizzard, help out the gaming community by getting consumers to get another Visa card, even though they’re addicted to – and don’t know how to stop playing – a game they pay for every month. Real snazzy, Blizzard.
Nevertheless, other on-line MMO’s that seem to have hit a soft spot for picking up gaming addicts is Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies and the not-quite-a-video-game, Second Life.
And while it’s easy to find sites that cater toward helping addicted MMO gamers, (such as the Nick Yee’s Daedalus Project or the general but informative NetAddiction.com), it’s a bit harder to pinpoint console gaming addiction. It was jokingly hinted at in an article on Joystiq, regarding Halo 2. Although, it was funny because most of the user comments regarding gaming addiction, related to MMOs for PC, and not necessarily Halo 2 being addictive.
Could it be that MMO gamers have less capacity to put a limit on how much they play, because many of them are casual gamers? Well, as much as I would like to say that hardcore gamers have a better grip on time consumption, that obviously isn’t true. Many hardcore gamers are easily addicted to Command & Conquer, and that’s anything but a casual gamer’s game. Added to that, the Nintendo Wii has not quite imbued the same [addictive] effect on the vast amount of casual gamers who purchased it...not yet, anyway. But in comparison to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games, many PC MMOs desperately lack the amount of achievements/trophies, options, functionalities and advanced gaming/physics mechanics found on games that can be played through Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network (PSN). Moreover, it’s not like World of Warcraft or Diablo have deep and rich combat systems or a player-centric plot. What’s even more unsettling, is that people have found themselves highly addicted to a process of gameplay that simply consists of repetitive grinding; better known as the “clickety-click” syndrome.
An old (but very relavant) article on GameDev points gaming addiction to the reasoning of players wanting to complete the game; see the end; explore to no end and achieve some kind of virtual social status. Although, as many gamers know, MMOs aren’t made to end. This is the biggest defining difference between MMO and console games. While many newer console games can be played with other players from around the world, they still lack the carrot-in-front-of-the-horse tactic: make players pay for a progressive game that simply does not end. Based on this obtuse form of logic, you can almost see how MMO gaming is setup to be addictive: Constant level grinding to reach an extremely high level; a story that does not progress but only has players stringing along to feel as if they’re accomplishing something; and an open-ended format that prompts for circulating gameplay (i.e., level grind to get stronger, in order to go to the next area so you can level grind to get stronger, etc.)
With games like Two Worlds and Mass Effect on the horizon (both of which carry traits of the above MMO formulae), it will be very interesting to see how console game addiction begins to play a (bigger?) role in the overall video game addiction phenomenon. But here’s an easy solution to a simple problem: Make the darn game end at some point and you won’t have to worry about people getting addicted to something that eventually rolls credits. I mean, seriously, it works with movies.