Sunday, 21 July 2013

Are video games addictive?

I missed my Friday deadline! I apologise and come back to you with an interesting article on the addictiveness of videogames.

The culprit? Dota 2. This game has been tearing through Steam on the back of free gameplay and outstanding game mechanics. It is a joy to play... Kind of. It can also be stressful but never in a demotivating way. Mostly I just feel the need to prove myself after a bad game.

Dota 2 is a multiplayer arena game. It is two teams of 5 fighting head to head on a battlefield punctuated with defensive towers and neutral forces. The core gameplay is blah blah blah boring.

Don't get me wrong, the game is fantastic but I've played a lot of fantastic games. What is the difference with this game?

It's really about the social mechanics at play. It's less about playing for yourself and more about playing with or for your friends or teammates. There's no easy way to describe the feelings you get when everything is going well and everyone on your team is happy. Similarly when it's all going down the toilet because their Sniper has killed you for the 50 billionth time and he already has his Mjollnir, Butterfly and Shadow Blade and you are totally powerless to stop him from building Daedalus.

Let's take 3 examples of fantastic Role Playing Games.

  1. Runescape
  2. Skyrim
  3. World of Warcraft
First, Runescape. Sure, it is an old game and many have described it as boring and repetitive but there was a time when I would play this game every waking hour that I could. Why? I had friends who would play with me. With whom I could compete. With whom I could share the joy of the good times and laugh with hindsight at the bad. Recently I have begun playing again and it is still the same game although much improved. I cannot however bring myself to play it all that much. I don't think about it when I'm doing other things. I don't obsess over how to improve at it. I play it for 10-15 minutes at a time and the log off to play Dota 2 (or go outside... one of the two).

Second, Skyrim. This game is again fantastic and I have played it an awful lot. But without any sort of community to get involved with, I see very little reason to actually play it. I really want to level my archery to 100 but I don't see any real reason to. Who would I tell? Who would care?

World of Warcraft. I'm sure this game needs no introduction. It has consumed the lives of countless people and even claimed a couple of lives. It is a wonderful game which is superbly built and has a sprawling community to keep it afloat. I played this game 14 hours straight for several days running at one point. I did nothing else. Needless to say, I was addicted. But why? I had an awful lot of friends (in the game and in real life) who I would play with. When I wasn't playing with them, I was playing for them so that when I did see them I could talk about what I had done and where I was up to. Recently I came back to the game. It is still the same game with the same mechanics and the same sprawling, vibrant community however I had no interest beyond a passing curiosity. My friends had stopped playing. Even signed into my old account, I could see that none of my old friends were online. I played for about 30 minutes before turning it off and uninstalling it.

Dota 2 has been a running obsession for me and for a lot of my friends. We first met when I was fourteen. She was just known as DotA back then or Defence of the Ancients. From humble beginnings as a custom game type for a popular game called Warcraft 3, the game was picked up by a company called Valve (developers of the Half Life series, Team Fortress 2 and the Portal games) who developed the game professionally and released it through Steam (an online game store) as Dota 2. My friends and I have never really stopped playing. The most significant breaks being due to lack of stable internet connection or due to examinations and degree pressures. I find myself constantly returning to this game whenever I get a chance. The reason I had not written my article in time was because I was playing Dota 2 for about 6 hours today. I actually completely forgot about my promise to publish every Friday. My addiction, I believe, stems not from well crafted gameplay elements or reward systems in the game. My addiction stems directly from the social aspects of the game. It is a chance and an excuse to spend time with my friends who are physically separated from me by over an hour's drive. It is the hearthfire that we all gather around to discuss the weather. It is my way of staying connected.

This sort of social addiction spreads beyond 'hardcore gaming' into the world of casual gaming. Who would play Candy Crush if everyone they knew didn't play as well? How does farmville even work without a social aspect? These games are hardwired to have a strong social dynamic because the developers know that this is what gets people to play their games and then to come play and play again. Every game gets boring if you have nobody to tell about it.

We do not become addicted to games. Games become boring as the challenge decreases. We instead become addicted to the social rewards we get from playing them.

By having read this article, you agree
that I am not responsible for any
distress, discomfort, enragement or
offence caused by your reading
of this article. DFTBA.
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