Game addiction research paper

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Video game addiction report

According to the NHS website, “addiction is defined as not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful to you”. (Nhs.uk, 2017) This means that anything such as hard drugs, work or even games can prove to be addictive in some aspect. The way humans become addicted to various substances and actions is nerve cells in the brain releasing neurotransmitters into the empty spaces between the nerve cells, these neurotransmitters are chemicals that control what we feel and compel us to do things we might not otherwise do. The chemicals most associated with addiction are; dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. (Neirogistics.com, 2017)

There are countless reasons why people fall into addiction, in the case of addictive substances such as drugs, alcohol or nicotine, your brain releases various chemicals in order to somewhat force a good feeling. Addiction towards games has lasted long before the invention of the video game in the form of gambling. According to the official NHS website, “Gambling may result in a similar mental high after a win, followed by a strong urge to try again and recreate that feeling”.(Nhs.uk, 2017) Much like the attitude towards video games now, pathological gambling was once seen as more of a compulsion, born of stress and perhaps greed, however, research has now shown that such activities can overstimulate the brain with the chemical dopamine. Dopamine can lose its effect with over stimulation, and since we need this chemical to feel pleasure, addicts take bigger risks to feel the high again. (Jabr, 2017)

Video game addiction can be seen as similar to gambling addiction, in the way that it stimulates your brain into wanting to win. Video games can offer an extremely competitive person a high without many obvious downsides. Games such as League of Legends are infamous for creating addicts out of casual gamers. This particular game revolves around teamwork and skill in order to beat the opposing team, the developers keep constant updates as well as release new skins for the characters to keep the game fresh. Reading a few stories online shows me the process of addiction to games such as this. It seems that many people claim to be inherent addicts, claiming to have a natural draw to video games (almost always online games) which keeps them from caring about other things while playing. According to one story “the game controls my thought patterns, social interactions, sleep schedule, and numerous other facets of my personality/disposition”. (Reddit, 2017) This story is echoed through many other experiences, however, there is still the question of why addiction starts, which is a subject avoided by many people perhaps due to embarrassment or ignorance. Simple boredom might be at fault for the rise in gaming addictions, although there aren’t many official papers dedicated to the subject, modern life is often seen as an unnatural way to live. A piece was written by the Guardian newspaper titled, “were we happier in the stone age?” seems to suggest that with the rise of a more mechanized life and a rising population, humans have missed the danger and wonder that might of come about frequently in the past.(Harari,2017) With the entire world pretty much discovered, claimed and filled with buildings or farmland, some people feel the need to escape into somewhere in which they feel free. This idea of escapism can be linked to the rise in less labour intensive jobs available, office jobs are typically a boring, and the only way people can feel excited in the modern world is to immerse themselves within a video game, to release the stress and to get an easy adrenaline high.

Typically addiction is most prevalent in the younger generation, this can be for a number of reasons but social exclusion or anxiety could be a leading cause for addiction. It is obvious that this can lead to somewhat of a bigger problem the longer it goes on, as the more the child spends isolated from others, the less inclined they are to want to socialize at all. This theory could tie into boredom, however, games can offer very crude social experiences for the player to engage in, and if they are fully immersed, they can substitute real life easily, especially within role playing games that let the player have control they might otherwise not have in real life.

At the current time, many media outlets are writing stories about video game addiction, however, a lot seem to neglect mobile game addiction as an actual thing. Unlike a lot of desktop and console games, which might focus around a story, mobile games perform the very basic rewards system that can be had on a device. Games like Candy Crush and Slotomania offer a variety of simple “rewards” to our brains, such as positive reinforcement, bragging rights, bright colour and nice sounds. Our brain automatically released dopamine when we feel we have achieved something, even if we haven’t.(Online-psychology-degrees.org, 2017) Despite its obvious reward system, I find that the main reason mobile games are the most addictive is the fact that most are easily accessible, whenever someone finds themselves bored they can simply pull out their phone and play a game single handily. According to a paper written by Mark D. Griffiths, the best way to assess mobile game addiction within adolescent children is the financial situation, most mobile games aren’t afraid to make you pay for your next high and people will indeed pour a lot of money into these games. (Griffiths,2010)

In the 1930s, B.F Skinner explored reward schedules within pigeons, his findings have inspired the design of rewards systems within game mechanics. Skinner found through his experiments that the most effective reward schedule was that of a variable ratio reward. According to his study, a pigeon was more likely to gamble for a reward, rather than receive a definite reward every time. This is also true in humans, we feel much more achieved, and thus get a bigger dopamine high if we think we have earned a reward in some way. Every game will have certain reward schedules, this can be split between 4 schedule types. A fixed ratio schedule is when the player receives a reward after a fixed number of actions, a Variable ratio schedule is when the player receives a reward after a random number of actions, Fixed interval schedule is when the player receives a reward after a fixed interval of time and finally a Variable interval schedule, in which the player receives a reward after a variable interval of time. (Learning-theories.com,2017)

The damage that can be caused by addiction varies between the type of addiction the victim suffers from, however, whether they are addicted to simple rewards systems or the immersion offered by endless games, they can still show similar symptoms. According to PsychGuides.com, these universal symptoms can include; Feelings of restlessness and/or irritability when unable to play, preoccupation with thoughts of previous online activity or anticipation of the next online session, lying to friends or family members in order to play as well as general isolation. These were among only the emotional damages, which can go towards the extremes in the case of children with learning difficulties. Physical symptoms are less noted due to their similarities with office jobs, which include fatigue, migraines, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (Adams, 2017) Most of the emotional and physical damage can be treated and are often short term, however unlike most other compulsive disorders the draw for the addiction is both easily accessible and requires time to achieve satisfaction, this can lead to the addict having a shortened sleep schedule as well as a tendency to either eat unhealthily or not at all. These once short-term effects can quickly evolve into something bigger such as sleep disorders, obesity or anorexia. Other effects can lead to financial problems, as stated before with League of Legends as well as many mobile games, players are encouraged or even forced to pay for extra content if they want to continue with playing. A survey conducted by The Mirror suggest that “the average spent on in-game purchases in ‘freemium’ game in the UK is £18.62, but rises to £32.66 in Northern Ireland”. (The Mirror, 2017) Equipment to play games as well as store them digitally can also be expensive, as players are always looking for the best experience possible, PCs that are able to handle the top settings for any modern games can cost upwards of $1500 in some cases.

More cultural aspects can play towards addiction in the case of the recent growth and popularity of something called E-Sports. E-Sports (electronic sports) is the term used for describing large events in which players compete against each other within a virtual setting. Despite its current rising popularity, E-Sports has been active since roughly the 1970s, with pong leading the way for competitive gaming. In 2015, the Dota 2 championships were held in Seattle and held a prize pool of £14,245,963.30. (Sky Sports, 2017) Despite these large events and even larger prizes, there is still debate on whether or not this activity should be considered a true “sport”. The official definition for a “sport” within the Oxford Dictionary is “An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” The only part E-Sports doesn’t fill is physical exertion, which is good enough for some. According to a BBC article titled, “Is computer gaming really a sport”, more physically base athletes need to have similar abilities to professional gamers, this includes; Strategy, fitness and reaction times. Since pro gamers often play complex strategy games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends, they would need to acquire a heightened ability to conjure up strategies in order to best their opponents. Fitness is also important, although most of their time is spent at a computer, a healthy diet and a relatively fit body can be linked to higher performances. Reaction time is arguably the most important trait universally among athletes, with E-sports players supposedly making more than 300 actions per minute, within a team framework. (BBC Guides, 2017) Although professional E-Sports competitors require a decent level of fitness, the nature of their job does not exactly advertise it well. With the rising popularity in E-Sports especially within Asian countries, teens are becoming more and more obsessed with gaming, which can very well turn into an addiction.

South Korea is largely considered the gaming capital of the world, this is mainly due to the amount of money that the country gains out of gaming, which is roughly 2.5 billion dollars a year. Ever since the introduction of nationwide broadband that was introduced in the early 2000s, online gaming has sky rocketed within the country, especially with the largely popular title StarCraft. Some of the first online based tournaments were for StarCraft and held prize pools for up to $10000. (Wiki.teamliquid.net, 2017) Despite the recent surge of online gaming within South Korea, their competitive game culture can be dated back to the early 1980s, with the introduction of arcade games from Japan, however, this trend found it hard to flourish with the South Korean government regulating imports from Japan. (OK, H. 2011) Due to imports being largely regulated, young people started to pirate or copy hardware and games to kick-start South Korea’s gaming culture, and since console games were too hard to come by, online gaming became the lead trend within the country, this lead them to take full advantage of the latest broadband technology. Despite their support for technological advancement, the South Korean government passed a law in 2011 known as the “Cinderella law”, this policy forbids children under the age of 16 to play computer games from 12p to 6 am. only a social security number can be used to bypass this policy so that the player can prove that they are over 16 years old. The law is mainly targeted at combating internet addiction, which the South Korean government deem to be a serious threat, so console or handheld games do not apply within this law. Although this law is in place, it seems to still be a struggle for some teens to overcome their addiction, with thousands of teenagers attending clinics around Seoul to treat themselves every year. Despite the celebrity status of professional gamers, there are still jobs involving games, an example being the World of Warcraft gold farming job. According to an article by Cracked.com, “At its height, gold farms in China comprised a nearly $1billion cottage industry. As many as 100,000 workers were employed full time in these virtual mines and many of them pulled 12-hour shifts.” Although this may seem like a glamorous job, full-time workers would work 72 hours a week for $25000 yearly, due to competitive prices more workers are hired yearly to keep up. (Cracked.com, 2017) The gaming culture that South Korea, as well as China, have conjured throughout the years have clearly made this an acceptable job, further contributing to the glamorization of gaming addiction. Unlike the professionals, these people have no obligation or incentive to keep themselves in decent shape in order to work, this can lead to severe heart problems, eye strain, muscular problems, etc.

Like most addictions deaths occur due to overuse, not only to the addict but to other people as well. People with social issues or learning disabilities who have little experience with people outside their consoles or computers can be the most affected. Although very rare, killings because of games are often a result of anger issues, for example, in 2007, a 16-year-old boy shot both of his parents over a disagreement with regards to a confiscated game. Another example involving anger is a 17-year-old teen murdering his grandmother for interrupting a game within an internet cafe. Although the motive seems obvious to most, this has been argued to be just an easy headline for news companies, a lot of gamers would say that this is due to issues with the individual, and they would have found an excuse to explode with or without games. This might be the case; however, addicts have been known to take extreme steps in order to receive their next high. Not all deaths are purposeful, however, in 2010 a Korean couple allowed their baby to die whist they were playing a video game. (Newsweek, 2017) The fact that people die in front of their games, however, is a certainty, but also rare. The vast majority of deaths at a computer desk are while the person is playing massively multiplayer online games, and a lot come from South Korea. Games like StarCraft, World of Warcraft and Diablo 3 have come to encourage massive binges in order for the player to get ahead of others. An example of such a death is in 2005, where a South Korean man spent up to 50 hours playing Diablo 3 non-stop, and eventually died from exhaustion and dehydration. A lot of these deaths occur within internet cafes, which in South Korea are open 24 hours a day, some of these deaths could be the shared fault of the government law, as while bars have a responsibility to not serve customers if they overindulge, these establishments do not.

It is beyond doubt that people can be addicted to nearly anything, but the question is that is game addiction as widespread as we think, and can it lead to violence? In a study conducted by Christopher J. Ferguson, it states that “youth with pre-existing mental health symptoms tend to exhibit problems moderating their time gaming in the first place, with games being just a symptom of their mental health issue”. (Ferguson, 2011) This can link to why some teens with behavioral issues might act violently when their routine is disrupted. According to Ferguson, youth violence has plummeted to its lowest levels in 40 years, so the headlines we often see about game related deaths could just be due to an increasing media presence. However, the decline in youth violence doesn’t necessarily direct us to the non-existence of video game addiction, as this decline could easily be linked to young people spending all their time online instead of outdoors, whether or not this is beneficial is up for debate. A popular experiment cited as proof that violent imagery can influence the young is the Bobo doll experiment, in which one group of children would watch a doll getting beaten and one would watch a doll being played with non-aggressively. The film shows that the children would copy the actions shown on screen, however, the children being tested are shown to be very young, and it is well known that young children are easily influenced. The experiment can be seen as unreliable as it doesn’t experiment with a very wide range of ages so it cannot be seen as proof that video games can influence everyone in such a way. It can be argued that games can cause desensitization towards violence, but not cause violence. In April 2016, “Repeated Play Reduces Video Games’ Ability to Elicit Guilt: Evidence from a Longitudinal Experiment” was published in the journal “Media Psychology. This study was to see if playing video games did indeed cause emotional desensitization, to study, the researchers had participants play alternative versions of the same violent game for the first four days, on these days the character role of the gamer changed between moral and immoral character. The players who were the immoral character showed a lessened ability to feel guilt. (Tamborini.R, 2016).

Addiction is also questionable at the current time, not so much that it exists, as we know that people can be addicted to stranger things, but how do we measure the level of addiction? As addiction is often described as compulsive behavior. It’s easy to call someone who steals to fuel their habit to drugs addicted, but games are both cheap and easily accessible for most people. Games are widely considered a way to unwind and pass the time and they can offer a varied experience to the player, so it makes sense that some would spend a lot of time on them, just like some people would read a lot of books. It is still being debated, but personally, I think to truly consider someone addicted, the person would need to start to visually value their games over what would be seen as natural needs such as food, drink, and sleep.

Despite its downsides, excessive gaming can prove to have its upsides, even if the user is addicted. Despite people feeling the need to immerse themselves deeply within video games due to a stressful environment, this can still prove therapeutic to most people. The stress relief offered by video games is possibly an essential part of modern society, especially within city areas where areas to escape and unwind are scarce. Although excessive gaming has proven to be damaging towards peoples social involvement, it can also help. With the ever-rising trend of cooperative gaming, connections can start quicker than they can in the outside world, as within a team based game people have the incentive to socialize.

Despite the seeming ignorance of gaming addiction by society, with any new drug or potentially damaging activity throughout history, more information and laws are bound to be set in motion to prevent addiction. However, despite modern regulations set on activities such as gambling, people still find a way to become addicted. At the very least, game addiction will be seen as a legitimate problem to be addressed. Rising rates of addiction isn’t the only worry for governments and families, however, the rapidly evolving nature of the games industry is bound to create something that could cause more problems, such as the rise of virtual reality. Although the latest technology is out of the price range for most people and the equipment is too large to be practical, if it advances it could bring a new level of immersion to the industry. Early models could prove to help prevent game addiction due to the amount of exercise required to use these machines, however as it progresses with people no longer needing to stand and run on the spot, it could prove troublesome to get people to quit. The main worry is that some people would get so immersed within the virtual world, that they would forget that they actually need to eat, drink and sleep.

The large amount of addicted persons within countries like South Korea or China are indeed staggering but, from the information given, this is only a preview of things to come. Although the South Korean government have attempted to combat internet and game addiction it has proven vastly ineffective due to the cultural and social desire to be online. From looking at articles from both western and eastern sources, E-Sports is already considered an official sport by many young people, and as the year’s progress, this will be a certainty by most. in my personal opinion, the similarities between physical athletes and pro gamers are still similar in some key fashions, and their abilities are still remarkable. The main fear is due to the ease of access for this “sport”, more and more teens will see this as a valid excuse to fuel their addiction, whilst over saturating the sport. The Korean government might need to take more firm action in order to combat addiction across the country, this might, however, lead to a similar situation to the 1980s import sanctions, making the certain rebellion by the younger generation to be more damaging, especially since a large portion of the population rely so much on modern technology. (OK.H, 2011)

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