Gaming Addiction is our First Boss
It’s one of those things that come up every once in a while when it comes to the controversies in the gaming world, but won’t come to the forefront of the discussion until all the other more pertinent issues are resolved to a satisfying enough degree. Right now we have rights issues, and piracy, and used games sales, and the effects of long-term exposure to violent games on the youth. Gaming addiction, while a real problem, is mostly analyzed either as a joke, or with the focus on a particular genre, World of Warcraft and other MMO’s in particular being considered extraordinarily addictive thanks to the Skinner Box principles used in the design.
But gaming addiction is a real issue. Possibly one that deserves a spot closer to the forefront of discussion rather than one that sits on the back-burner.
First, let me qualify that anything has the potential to be addictive. Any hobby, activity, food or drink or anything like that can become an obsession for anybody. For example, I know someone who’s literally addicted to tea. Video games aren’t unique in the quality of having addictive traits. But that’s not to say video game addiction isn’t unique among addictions, and deserves more analysis as to why it’s addictive and what we can do about it.
An addiction to video games manifests in any number of ways, but the most commonly known (and most destructive) is when a gamer focuses on games and gaming to the exclusion of anything else in their lives–it out prioritizes time with family, friends, work, chores, homework–if there’s gaming to be done, they’ll do it. The reason this kind of addiction is most commonly seen with MMO’s, I think, is because there’s always more to do in a MMO, and what’s more, there’s always someone there you could be letting down if you refuse to play–including that element of guilt we discussed earlier. This kind of addiction could probably manifest in other games–Skyrim or Call of Duty or I suppose even Ico–but since those games are comparatively so much smaller than the average MMO, they don’t last as long, so an ‘addiction’ can look like a spirited gaming run.
So then, before we ask ourselves what we can do about addiction, if anything, we also have to ask why this deserves more attention in the first place. While gaming addiction is bad, it doesn’t threaten our young medium directly, like the specters of censorship and artistic merit and effects on young minds. So why do I consider it as important as those issues? Well, because with every addicted gamer we have, it hurts the causes listed above.
You see, obsessing over something has long been considered a trait commonly associated with immaturity. Much as we see children obsessed with giant robots or unicorns, and we see it as a cute byproduct of their own immaturity, when we see grown men and women obsessing over a game, we draw the same connections–it’s just not ‘cute’ anymore. And when people see their friends hunched over computer screens, passing up dates and dances and drinks so they can level up, those people tell their other friends, and those other friend’s possible preconceived stereotype of the fat gamer living in their parents basement is reinforced. And when that notion is reinforced, the stigma won’t go away, and with that stigma attached to being a gamer, we’ll continue to question gaming’s merits as a medium.
…basically, they make us look bad.
So what can we do about it? We can’t hide addicted gamers from the world, because it wouldn’t solve the problem, it’d make us look bad, and it’s not helping the people who really have a problem. We can’t just make games less fun or engaging so nobody could get addicted to them, obviously, and I think we’re still a ways away from needing the South Korean method of gaming curfews.
As a community, it’s possible the most we can do is offer a helpful ear and a little advice to the gaming addict, while defending the image of gaming by informing those quick to judge about how those people have legitimate issues and don’t represent the majority of gaming. But as individuals, particularly individuals who know people with these addictions, we can do much more by trying to break these people’s addictions and get them into a more regulated, healthy gaming lifestyle–if they can handle any gaming at all.
Addiction may not be something that’s spoken of often in the main forum of games, but it is a grass roots issue that we’ve been carrying with us all this time. It’s the source of the stereotypes we all have to deal with, and until we at least draw attention to it and say “This person needs help and we can offer that help” rather than simply trying to distance ourselves from it in the vain hope that people will forget about it in time, we’ll always have to deal with haters and oppressors.
Gaming can and will be a universal pastime, and refusing to ‘normalize’ addiction is a good first step.