Not just any obsession 2

Human-SkeletoncWhen I interview students about possible career choices, they often have no idea. So I ask about their hobbies  and they tell me they like to play computer games.  I have some insights into courses they need to study for a possible career in creating games.  But many balk at the requirements to develop games. Playing them fun, taking math and computer science courses to develop games is too difficult. “Why can’t I just play games for a living?” they ask. “There are people that do that.” Of course there are, so I inquired if they have contacted any teams to tryout, because professional game players start young. Then, I ask what they plan to do for a living after reaching 25. Like any physical sport, professional gaming declines with age. Patrick Sättermon a professional Counter-Strike player, left career gaming by 27. Earlier he had said “At 26, my skill is my experience. But picking up a new game? I’ve lost that. I’m not the kid I was.”[1]

What I realized is that most students seclude themselves in front of a computer playing games not because they see how it will help them in the future. Rather it is the increase in dopamine, endorphins,  and adrenaline – the sense of pleasure and excitement – that draws them repeatedly to gaming.  Now gaming addiction is not officially recognized as a mental disorder. There are any number of ‘innocent’ activities that can turn into addiction – eating and shopping to name a few. So one cannot blame the electronic games. But there are things in the game design that increase this potential.

Most on-line games start out easy with a rather flat learning curve. The player quickly grows accustom to new character with limited ability and territory. After a stressful day at work or school, one can sit down at a game and know immediately what to do.  But the long term aim is for the characters to keep leveling up – gaining addition skills, equipment and range so that the familiar doesn’t become boring. Then, game design depends on the Skinnerian idea of intermittent rewards. The game is not completely consistent. Sometimes, characters performs below or beyond their level; the gamer keeps playing, hoping for another arbitrary “big win.”[2]

The most addictive effect of games  is the adrenaline aroused by the nature of battle. With increase adrenaline comes increased focus and physical agility and strength – the superhuman feeling that the gamer wants to keep returning to. Finally, there is the matter of status. There are different ways to reach this, number of wins, length of play. Length of game play as a status marker for serious gamer did eventually  cause some one to pay the ultimate price. A Korean player had been on a gaming all night when a waitress at the internet cafe last heard him talk. Nine hours later he was found dead, still reaching for the mouse. [2]

[1] Cheshire, Tom Career Gamers: Inside the world of modern professional gaming 04 July 2011
[2] Breeze, Meg A quiet killer: Why video games are so addictive 12 January 2013

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