Drraagh takes a deep breath and looks over the details spread on his desktop. Various charts, paperwork, lab reports, and a stack of other documents off the side of the table are piled up to the desk’s height. “I was given the task to research the recent decision of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) declaration that Video Game Addiction as a mental health disorder. I had a lot of work in front of me to examine all the facts but before we get started there are a few terms that are going to need to be defined,” he says as he fishes out a sheet of paper.
“The primary concern the Captain has is what classifies as an Addiction. According to a definition from Psychology Today, Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (for example, alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (such as gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health. People who have developed an addiction may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.” He pauses and takes a breath, skimming his sheet again, “And the criteria the WHO are looking at to determine if gaming behavior could be a disorder are three characteristics: if a person loses control over their gaming habits, if they start to prioritize gaming over many other interests or activities, and if they continue playing despite clear negative consequences.”
“You need to lose control over your habits, prioritize gaming over other interests or activities and continue playing despite negative consequences to have a gaming disorder. The issue I have with the first piece in and of itself is that games are designed exactly for that. How many games do you play where there is some sort of measurable stat or progress bar that says ‘You only have X of Y to get before you complete this achievement’. Mobile gaming is full of them, and there are many RPG and adventure games that have collectables galore for you to find. The modern console generation (and platforms like Steam on PC) have given us the trophy/achievement completion of getting to certain checkpoints or doing certain activities and getting rewards for them, much like the idea of a Skinner Box.”
“A Skinner Box,” Drraagh says as he starts to walk around the room over to his filing cabinet, “Is a box that could be no bigger than one of these drawers. Inside would be an animal like a rat or a bird, and there would be a lever or button and pressing that button in response to certain stimuli would give a reward such as a food pellet to the animal. Not following the action properly would result in a negative stimuli such as a shock to the animal. This would be designed to train repeated good responses into their subjects. If anyone watches Big Bang Theory as example, they would have seen this used in one of their episodes, seen in this clip where it was used for personality modifications. Another example is in the story from this picture,” Drraagh adds and places a video screen and picture from one file down on the table.
“That picture might seem a little weird, as the story came, at least as I heard it, out of a management style book, not a lab book. But the idea is the same. Is people are taught something is done, even without having been in there when it was done, they will react with the others. It’s an idea of conditioning. But now we are starting to stray from the idea of what the clinical terms are. My point for bringing this up is that games are designed to get our attention, to keep up engaged, to always give us things to keep striving for. Even though the action by completing this checkpoint may be done at any time, even by not having a time frame associated with it ,people are hardwired into wanting to see it completed. People are goal driven and will want to have goals to do, so much so that even a lot of the ‘sandbox’ games like Minecraft will have achievements and completion checkpoints in there to give some sense of accomplishment while the players are free to come up with whatever goal they might want, and if you look at some of the stuff people have built in Minecraft there are some amazingly driven people to build those things. But again, this is all the psychology and definition area, and I think we can see how games manipulate the mind’s desire to complete by giving various meters and tracking features to see how close you are to completing something so that you will keep going, so the loss of control can happen to anyone in a single session or in some cases over a multiple session scenario.”
“Their second point is another big contender for me on how this is not a judgement in and of itself of it being a disorder. If they start to prioritize gaming over many other interests or activities. First, what is prioritize gaming over other interests and activities? Is that where we think about the game at different times when we should be instead doing other things? Maybe you’re an MMO player and are thinking about class builds and trying to come up with that perfect skill combination, and that thought is kicking around in your head instead of focusing on schoolwork, then yes it is prioritizing. I could bring up how ‘traditional’ lecture driven school systems are a cause of that as well since people do tend to not be interested in listening to a person go on for a long time about a topic that doesn’t interest them, children especially. However, we are not out to redesign the school systems but instead we are here to define and discuss game addiction. If you are interested in talking about the education system, I suggest you begin with a video called ‘Don’t Stay In School’ and while the title may sound like clickbait it is actually about how school systems focus on things that may not focus on what might be important pieces of education for youth. Instead, the reason I focus on the young is school is probably where the majority of gaming begins and it is also the hardest time in our lives for most people.”
“School is hard because people trying to fit in, trying to become liked, respected, connected with people. There are those who are made fun of, bullied, or just ignored by people who they look up to and respect or wish they could be like to some degree because they are different in some way. Small differences that are nothing more than height, weight, appearance, even how their voice sounds or the clothes they wear could make them a target. In these insecure moments of a child’s life, why wouldn’t they choose to turn to games where they are now able to engage in a power fantasy. THey have problems they can solve, they will be wanted by the NPCs of the world they are in, they will always find a world welcoming to them. Why would they not want that? It is so easy to lose yourself in that sort of accepting world that you would rather be there than getting involved in things that would just have you being the outcast anyway. Sounds like that just fulfilled the third part of their criteria, if they continue playing despite clear negative consequences.”
“However, this is not something that is just happening to kids. Upon researching this article, I was reminded of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Hollow Pursuits”. In the episode Dwight Schultz. who was also well known as Murdock on the A-Team, played Reginald Barclay who was a socially maladjusted person in that he was unable to handle himself in the real world. He was unsure of himself, didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how to act. His own commanding officer commented on how he was late for work and nervous and no one wanted to be around him only to be told that ‘If I felt no one wanted to be around me, I’d probably be late and nervous too.’. He was spending all of his free time in a virtual recreation in the holodeck simulating environments where he would have the control, the power, he would be able to essentially do as he pleased against characters modelled after the people he was dealing with in his real life. He even states some of it as:
This is when he’s told that he’s ‘just shy’. To which he has the honest reply of ‘Just shy. Sounds like nothing serious, doesn’t it? You can’t know’. Now personally, I didn’t get through high school very well as I was an outcast. It’s what got me into observing people and studying and understanding groups and things like that,” Drraagh says and moves back to sit down at his desk, looking at the files that clutter it. “It’s why I got into the social studies, the understanding of problems and solutions. However, I am not shy. It wasn’t until I got to live with an extremely introverted person that I got to understand how things were for them. The terror of having to deal with groups, even their own friends, that they had to psych themselves up for going out with them because of the amount of energy it took from them. So, these are the people that would lose themselves in a tv show, book or a video game. The one I used to live with would play MMOs with their fiancee, so they spent a lot of time when not at work doing that. While they did not do it to the point of being detrimental to their work, even getting a promotion and being one of the top agents in their department, they did spend a lot of the rest of their lives playing games. They could have been doing anything else, but it was mostly go to work, work, go home, make dinner, play, go to bed, sleep, wake, repeat. Not a very enriching life as there is so much they are missing out on. However, I don’t think that would be considered a Gaming Addict, as they knew their limits and could play within them. Those words, ‘Know your limit, Play within it’ is the title and slogan for a Responsible Gambling program by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation of Canada, since rebranded as Play Smart, and we’ll likely all be able to agree there are definitely gambling addicts out there.”
Drraagh looks down at his desk and then at the door and sighs, “So, I think we have proven the hows and the whys that gaming can become such an escape for people to get in. Before we fully dismiss gaming as bad, we need to remember that on the positive side, research has shown that game playing can relieve stress, improve problem-solving abilities, and enhance traits like eye-hand coordination. Technologies that we think of as for gaming, like virtual reality, can also be used in psychological therapy. So, the benefits of a medium cannot be just forgotten because we choose to vilify some of the bad parts. Games are good, they can be misused. When it comes to children, games are becoming so much of a babysitter for children like television was with the era of latch-key kids. The parents are working longer and longer hours or, in some cases, multiple jobs to get the money together to make sure they are able to make ends meet. These children are not getting exposed to all the same stimuli that other children are, so they may not be able to handle the same problems or develop in the same way, it is hard to say as this is such a new resource that we don’t have generations of studies to review for data on the raising of children with video games. A little bit more time perhaps,” Drraagh adds and strokes his chin, “But gaming is always trying the next new and big thing so are we still going to be tracking the same things in VR where interactivity with environments is bigger and expansive than a programmed world with key interactive points? What about a fully fledged holodeck simulated environment that is as real as real? Would we not be able to use that to teach children how to interact with others as the characters would be programmed to act like people after all. There’s so much grey area we are moving into, uncharted territory, but I think what we need to do is focus on what we can do for people who are suffering these symptoms and how we can work with them. Extra Credits did a two part episode (Part I, Part 2) and later added a third episode of what they call Game Compulsion. The first was about defining, a lot like what I did here. The second is more detailed, a true story about one of the Extra Credits staff issues with Game Compulsion where they lost themselves with games and almost ruined their lives to the point of nearly failing school. So I think that is something that could be worth people listening to to understand someone’s way of losing themselves in something and recovering. We need to show them how life is not all out to get them, there are people who love them and want them and there are many things to do. As Avenue Q sang, There is Life Outside Your Apartment and we need to let them understand that. As James Portnow from Extra Credit said in his video about his Game Compulsion, ‘Life always welcomes you back‘.”