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Weekly Musings #31 Online Gaming Addiction
Author: Michael Ahlf 
Date: February 21st 2005

In the past week or two, these idiots have gotten a lot of press - Gamespot ran an article on them, Slashdot covered it, the BBC were in on the act too. In many ways, some may have thought it was an "epidemic" - after all, the accusations were horrid. Video game publishers who hire designers with degrees in psychology - either to make them addictive, or simply to make them fun. And of course, we have the story of the poor mother, cruelly robbed of her son by his suicide over a game in 2002. Of course, if you pay any attention to the OGA, the arguments they make are specious, their complaints silly, and their zeal sadly misplaced. In many ways it resembles the attacks on Dungeons and Dragons during the 1980s, which brought so much grief to tabletop gamers until and even after the now-legendary writer Michael Stackpole published the Pulling Report and completely exposed the founder and driving force behind the anti-gaming crusade of "BADD" (Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons) for what she really was.

There are many parallels between Liz Wooley of OLG-Anon and Pat Pulling; first and foremost is their belief that it was the game they were playing (in one case EQ, in the other D&D) rather than the rest of their lives or their other psychological problems that caused their sons to suicide. There are many suicides each year all over the world - some people kill themselves because they lost their job. Some as a result of drug use. Some because their relationship has ended. Some simply do something really stupid. Some suicides the world never finds out the reason for. For Liz Wooley and Pat Pulling, we can all be sad for their losses, but we shouldn't allow our compassion for the bereaved to override good judgement.

I am not saying that OLG-Anon do not have a purpose. To the contrary, many things in the world can be "addictive." Pornography, sex, shopping, gambling, tobacco, "dangerous" sports, to name just a few; each and every one of these can be addictive, and destructively so. Addicted gamblers and shoppers can destroy their economic livelihood and put their families into the poorhouse in a single day; junkies who pursue ever more "extreme" sports in search of an adrenaline high eventually do something stupid, and lose their lives. Tobacco and drugs are well known for their addictive possibilities. Alcohol, while being at least benign (and possibly healthy) when taken in moderation, has its own problems when overused. Indeed, at the base level, ANY activity that stimulates the pleasure centers of the human brain has the potential to be psychologically addictive.

I have to take issue with many of the statements made by OLG-Anon and Liz Wooley with regard to gamers. Many of the "tools" and self-tests they put on their message boards are specious - for instance, this list of questions on whether or not you are 'addicted'. It would be so simple to reword some of these for other people, and see how ludicrous they are. For example, health nuts instead of EQ players:

- Are the majority of your friends health nuts as well, who mostly get together at the gym to work out?
- Do you try to find ways of exercising when you're not at home?
- Are you finding yourself flirting with others at the gym?
- Do you deny addiction to working out, but somehow still feel the need to work out, or just keep your workout clothes with you in case the opportunity comes up?
- Do you feel a sudden rush of intense joy when entering the gym or completing an exercise?
- Do you experience stronger emotions while working out than you do outside the gym? (this is very dangerous)

I could go on, but the point is clear. We could put the same questions to gambling, or to playing in a soccer league, or to shopping. The line between enjoying an activity, loving an activity, and being obsessed to the point of addiction is never a clear one, and OLG-Anon's assertion that all gaming is bad, or that companies are deliberately trying to push gamers to the point of addiction, is highly problematic to prove.

There's the additional problem of Mrs. Wooley's assertion that game manufacturers hire employees with psychology degrees specifically to make the games "even more addictive." This is silly beyond belief. Psychologists and those with psychology degrees are hired for many occupations and reasons. Psychologists work together with architects to make new buildings and their furnishings more inviting and relaxing. Psychologists influence the color schemes of fast-food restaurants to induce appetite, or in normal restaurants to encourage a relaxing atmosphere. They work with roller-coaster designers to increase the perceived length of time and "scare factor" of drops and loops, or to supply enough distraction that patrons waiting to get on the ride aren't too tremendously bored while standing in line. They are involved in making movies, suggesting ways in which directors can increase or decrease - as appropriate - the emotional impact of certain scenes. And yes, they work in the video game industry, because video game makers want to know how to make the games more fun and engaging... not in order to addict people but because the more fun and engaging a game is, the better it sells.

I'd hope that Mrs. Wooley would kindly read the Pulling Report just once, and take a good look at her own conduct. To her credit, over the past few years she hasn't sued Sony, hasn't gone on a gigantic witch-hunt to ban all online games, hasn't presented herself as a "private investigator", and hasn't brought herself into courts as an "expert" on online gaming.

However, the accusations she made in the BBC article were a step closer to Pat Pulling's raving lunacy than she's ever gone, and it would be a scary thing to have to relive the days of the D&D witch hunts over online gaming.

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Weekly Musings #31: Online Gaming Addiction

Added:  Monday, February 21, 2005
Reviewer:  Mike Ahlf


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