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The Computer Game Affliction – How they Addict You

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gaming addiction

For a bit of fun I decided to try out the new Lord of the Rings Online game yesterday – since they were giving away beta licenses for free.? It’s one of those massive multiplayer games in the vein of World of Warcraft – I wanted to see what it’s all about.? What struck me was how incredibly banal the game is.? And yet – reports are starting to pile up of people becoming totally addicted.? What astonished me was how? compelling these games have become despite the fact the overall abysmal quality of the gaming experience (this latter claim I realise I’ll need to justify at least to some extent).? If the entertainment experience is as poor as I claim – what could then explain the compulsive behaviour?? Could deep seated psychological drives be the source?? And could their satisfaction by these means be leading to a? massive retardation in the creative and emotional? abilities of an entire generation?? And what is an even scarier thought – could these sorts of virtual environments one day be used as new forms of political control?


As I stepped into the MMORG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) I realised very quickly of what the basic dynamic consisted.? You are given a character that runs about the fictional world (which admittedly looks quite grand)? – slaying monsters and completing quests.? Such activities are rewarded through the provision of experience points.? The accumulation of enough experience points leads to the character gaining levels which bring more hitpoints and abilities.? As you gain levels, the baddies somehow happen to gain in strength also – so that it never becomes a complete walk in the park.? You can go on quests as well.? At the earlier levels these are fairly undaunting – such as killing wolves or delivering messages.? Quests are also used to deliver plot elements.? The plot itself is derived from the works of J.R.R Tolkien – as the name of the game suggests.? The multiplayer element allows people to team up to help in the completion of the more difficult quests.Despite all this – progression in the game is mechanical.? It’s essentially a numbers game – the application of statistical probabilities drives success or failure in combat.? The rate at which you attack, the chance to hit, the amount of damage done etc – are all determined by the machine.? The quests themselves don’t add anything to this essential gameplay experience – it’s just the application of these rules to specific in game tasks – i.e. move to some location – apply statistical formulae in combat environment -? return to base – get reward.? In some cases you might have to perform a task like burying a body – but the game itself does this work for you – you just have to move to the right location (once the dead body is buried – it respawns so that someone else can come along and bury it – so as to complete the same quest).

There is virtually no risk at all.? You can’t die as such? – death only causes you to be respawned at the begining of your current map.? The only seeming penalty being that your morale is weakened for 10 minutes (and though they call it morale – it’s just a negative adjustment on the statistical probabilities determining the fate of your character).? You’re allowed to just keep pushing forward endlessly – gaining levels, increasing your stats.? By the end of this experience you’ve paid the purchase price plus a monthly subscription fee, and an enormous amount of your time? – for what?

So how is it that this process of application of mathematical statistical probabilities could be so appealing?? What about this banal process could possibly be addictive?

? I began to read the current research on internet and gaming addiction – but found very few answers.? Despite the reports of internet and gaming addiction becoming common in the mainstream media – rigorous research is moving slowly.? Mostly its hampered by difficulties in the application of the concept of ‘addiction’ to behavioural compulsions such as a gambling and gaming.? ? Even in clearly pathological cases of compulsive behaviour – where the compulsive behaviour completely takes over the life of the individual – it’s difficult to isolate gaming itself as the cause of the problem – as opposed to simply being an effect of other deap seated psychological problems (depression, anxiety and the like).? They conclude in the main that there simply isn’t enough empirical data to support the claim that these games are addictive.

? Of course – the empirical data is all there – locked away in the servers of the various gaming houses.? Because the action all happens on computers – use patterns can recorded and studied.? It’s almost certain that game designers are spending a lot of effort on this, because they seek to design the system which reels in as many people as possible.? ? ? Granted this data won’t account for other types of psychological problems a person may have going into a gaming experience – but it will detail very minutely the cause and effect of the various gameplay elements.? ? There is volumes of empirical data which outline just which elements of a game keep people playing for so long.

What the game designers will tell you is that it is the reward system of the game which keeps people hooked.? It was vital to the success of World of Warcraft that they got this aspect right.? What they did that was so successful was that they removed the impediments to character progression and reward (for example – death was taken out as a real impediment of progression -? WOW was a innovator in this respect.? The fact that LOTRO has adopted this feature of the MMORG is a testament to its effectiveness in keeping players hooked.


Psychologically it makes complete sense.? What we are describing here is a relationship between the game and the person – not a relationship between the player and game elements (like characters or quests, etc).? Reward and punishment does not take place ‘in-game’.? It’s not the in-game character that is being rewarded – say for killing an orc.? It is the player (i.e. the real human) being rewarded – for playing the game.? Conversely – when a player is killed and punished for it.? The psychological association that is made is not that they should avoid the orc cave where they were killed (this is what we’d do in real life) – but rather that the game itself is punishing them… for playing the game itself.? This is what I mean by saying the psychological relationships created do not exist in-game.? Hence, a strong punishment for failure in the game, only translates to failure and dissatisfaction with the game itself – not with the action that the character performed that caused the punishment.

What the games? have managed to take advantage of then – is the basic reward mechanism built into the brain.? ? It’s worth looking at this ? in a little bit of detail so as to get a better undestanding of what we’re dealing with here.

The brain itself has a section devoted to driving reward seeking behaviour.? It’s called the mesolimbic pathway.? It passes through the ventral tegmental area.? The ventral tegmental area, when it receives a message from the cortex informing it of reward worthy stimuli,? it releases a chemical called dopamine onto the nucleus accumbens, the septum and the amygdala.? We don’t need to go into detail about exactly what each of these do.? The key is the substance dopamine – which is well known for the role it plays in creating the sensation of pleasure.? It’s considered determinative in the causation of reward seeking behaviour because of the way an organism will continue to seek out that behaviour in order to continue the sensations of pleasure caused by the dopamine.

Incredibly – other organisms evolved which can either artificially stimulate the production of dopamine – or contain substances which mimic it’s ability to cause pleasure.? These are the addictive substances we know so well.? The opium poppy for instance has an army of humans tending to it’s survival – it’s hold over us as a species is that astonishing.

As such? it’s not so much of a stretch to imagine how virtual worlds once they became good enough as simulations of reward worthy behaviour would have the same ability to cause the brain to produce dopamine – and the attendent sense of well being and pleasure.

As an explanation for the explosive growth in online gaming – it’s irresistable.? And I’m almost certain that in the future the science will prove it.

But by then it will have become such an ingrained aspect of our culture that there will be little that can be done about it.? It’s very much like the way caffeine, alchohol, nicotine and gambling became established and accepted by the people before the deleterious effects were understood.? And it’s almost impossible to take it away from the people – particularly in a democracy – when its the people themselves clamouring for it.

I haven’t yet made the argument that it’s a dangerous thing at all.? But I think it follows fairly immediately from the above discussion.? The evidence is accumulating to the effect that this is causing people to lose their drive to participate in the real world.? And this makes sense.? The human organism evolved these physiological structures to drive survival.? But with virtual environments – these structures can be sated through means that in the end having nothing to do with survival.? Hence the drive toward behaviour which actually enhances our life – is likely diminished.

There are of course examples where people have begun to make a living from virtual environments.? The stock example here is the nascent second life community – where people are able to make a living selling virtual property, avatar designs and the like.? But this is a different case which would require a separate discussion.

Finally, I would like to raise the possibility that such virtual environments could be used as a form of sophisticated political control.? Since this article is already long – I won’t go into a lengthy argument.? But just consider – if you were a repressive regime – would you like your people spending their time being satisfied online rather than working hard against the regime itself??

Think about it.

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82 Comments

  1. Rob wrote:

    A reasonably sound arguement with one glaring omission;
    What is your proposed course of action?
    You have presented a problem without any potential solutions. Do you think there are any?

    Posted on 09-Apr-07 at 12:49 am | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    Good question rob. It’s one that I’m currently thinking about quite a bit…

    Any solution would have to deal with the issue of how it is you stop such addictive behaviour without impinging on the freedom of the individual. I’ll need to give it more thought.

    Posted on 09-Apr-07 at 12:55 am | Permalink
  3. Chad wrote:

    I suspect you’ll find the reinforced reward behavior is something humans easily fall into. There is a reason game makers use the “visual payoff” often at the end of a tedious or difficult streatch of gameplay.

    The thing with MMO’s is, you still get the “visual payoff” but usually there are settings attached. You must be high enough level with high enough gear to get to certin “visual payoffs”. So the MMO makes you jump through more hoops for your reward. Pavlov would be proud at just how many tricks you can make a human animal do to get it’s treats.

    Posted on 09-Apr-07 at 2:56 am | Permalink
  4. Robert wrote:

    Whatever the actual reason for MMORPG addiction is, it is surely happening. I used to play FFXI, which is an MMORPG, and I eventually had to pry myself away from it because I recognized the preliminary stages and signals of addiction. After playing for 2 years, I finally quit, and I will never pick it up again. I am not the only person that I know who plays games like these religiously – This is a common occurrence among players. These games represent an alternate reality, one with much fewer variables, in which the player has much more control than the crap that we live in today. This appeals to those who are dissatisfied with either themselves, their lives, or the world in general. There is also a hierarchical system in these games which appeals to the more primal instincts in people, and the only limit to how high you can go up the ladder is how much time you put into the game. ANYONE can reach the highest levels, and ANYONE can acquire the ultimate set of gear given enough time – Skill is only a minor factor. This means that the loser in reality can be the uber player in the virtual world. I suspect that as MMORPG’s become more successful, the addiction to them will gain more time in the spotlight. Eventually, they will be regulated.

    Posted on 09-Apr-07 at 3:30 am | Permalink
  5. Joe Mama wrote:

    Interesting article. I think it misses the point however in that it is not that the online environment is that addictive. Instead it points to the vapidity and lack of creativity that is the cornerstone of this new generation. Video games are a waste of time, but most people would just be sitting in front of the tube instead, so whats the difference. As to your allusion to the online environment as a means of political control, let us be so bold and use mind control, what makes you think it hasnt been that way from the beginning. The US government used to fund pro-war tv content like GI Joe, its hardly surprising that now they fund a whole video game, Americas Army, which, I believe has an online mode. And there are online games like Postal which seek to recreate the banal existence of suburbanites. Well, if you decide to go on a killing spree, you dont think the servers are taking note and cataloguing you for future Manchurian Candidacy? ok, I started out serious but now this has become a parody and i apologise. It is nice that people continue to think, quite refreshing in this doubleplusgood day and age. orwell would be lhao imo

    Posted on 09-Apr-07 at 5:42 am | Permalink
  6. admin wrote:

    Great comments guys! If only I could dispense some sort of opiate to you guys to reward you for your contribution and to keep you coming back.

    :)

    Joe – I do tend to agree that there are already very effective measures used by governments to control people. I guess it’s a question of whether we’re willing to allow another in our midst. America’s army is a superb example. But is it really the fault of a whole generation? This is something I doubt. Although I can’t argue that they would otherwise probably be sitting in front of the television.

    Posted on 09-Apr-07 at 8:41 am | Permalink
  7. Dean wrote:

    Lovely article!

    As someone who is quitting World of Warcraft at the moment (expires in a few days) I couldn’t agree more! This game is one of the most bland and pathetic games I’ve EVER played. It really is. Ultima Online (a much older, more social based roleplaying game) offered a far more indulging experience. Most of it was social.

    My only experiences in Warcraft are the frustrations of playing with a mainstream audience. Mostly immature kids displaying some horrible examples of cruelty, rudeness and greed. People only socialise in this game to fullfil their own needs. The only people you socialise with are the same group you’ve been playing with endlessly. There is no need to mix with other people since they can’t fill the role you need in your raid group (for example).

    What’s sad is not the addiction, but the fact that people are addicted to such bland and simplistic games. It’s like comparing Snakes and Ladders to Chess. Unfortunately, World of Warcraft (and the other games like it) are based on the first game. It’s no wonder games are being overrun with brats. The games are too simple for most adults and too compelling for little kids who haven’t yet developed a moral centre or sense of self-discipline.

    Posted on 10-Apr-07 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  8. datoo wrote:

    Where is that picture from? I want to see a larger version…

    Posted on 10-Apr-07 at 6:17 pm | Permalink
  9. Tim wrote:

    An excellent piece Dan, fittingly I read it after tearing myself away from a marathon day-spanining game of civilization4 that I continued playing through a splitting headache and instead of taking care of more vital business.

    Your point that the lack of harsh penalties for failure (such as death etc) struck a chord with my own gaming experience. Despite not playing MMPORPGs. strategy, games such as Civ or the Total War series keep me fixated for weeks and upon reflection tend to have me coming back for more long after my enjoyment of the experience has waned.This is in line with your argument, you can play for hours with little or no fear of death or wasted time, each turn brings success in battle or scientific breakthroughs or new buildings… dozens of little rewards and tidbits to collect and keep you hypnotised.. I wouldnt want to think this was a conscious choice on behalf of the developers (I wont have a bad spoken about Sir Sid Meyer!) moreover a byproduct of the style of gaming (turn based strategy games specifically).

    Of course it may be that games in which character death is permantent and results in needing to restart or reload the game tend not to appeal to me as much but Im not sure thats the case…

    Posted on 10-Apr-07 at 10:46 pm | Permalink
  10. bruce wrote:

    Interesting take, but I think there’s a lot more to consider here. I work in this field (a little digging around will reveal where), and I believe the root systems that find an expression in these kinds of games extend out into larger cultural activities and behaviors that feed into what you’ve characterized as addiction. Check out http://people.lulu.com/blogs/view.php?user_id=215913 and scroll down to “Virtual World,” especially the third essay in the series, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I do think there is a definite downside to this kind of activity; I don’t think most designers have thought it through.

    Posted on 11-Apr-07 at 3:25 am | Permalink
  11. Kylark wrote:

    Regulation is not the answer.

    The only thing that can save people from online gaming addiction is when they start caring about their own lives more than their in-game life. My fiance was a devout WoW player, but when we moved in together and started cooking together, taking care of our home, and generally spending time together, his interest in the game waned. He finally canceled his subscription. We try to make life very good for each other, and I think if your real life is fulfilling enough you will come to see how an online life pales in comparison.

    I tried WoW once, and found it so pretty, and realistic, that I was terrified. I have never played it again, despite my friends’ attempts to recruit me.

    One thing I wonder about is how to get other people to see how it is hurting their lives. I know a couple who have three small children, aged 5, 2, and 1, and they (the parents) play WoW far too often, while leaving their kids to fend for themselves. Usually the oldest is playing computer games, the youngest is wailing in his playpen, and the middle child is literally locked up in his room.

    Posted on 11-Apr-07 at 3:51 am | Permalink
  12. andy wrote:

    The irreality of books and video games and movies doesn’t seem very different than the irreality of the “real world” of Wal-Marts, cubicles, and canned conversation with colleagues. Thus there isn’t much of a sense of danger of “slipping away from reality” when one has never had a strong sense of reality anyway.

    This sense of “dreaminess” or “fake plastic treeness” seems like one of the defining characteristics of reality as-most-experience-it-around-here-these-days. It’s why people watch “Friends” rather than have “real” ones.

    Assuming that the whole history/anthropology thing is true, my guess is that this sense of fakeness has to do with the creation of an industrial, and then “post”-industrial, oil based economy in which the real work of living is done by machines and low-waged workers in the two-thirds world. In other words, the pervasive sense of falseness in our culture is a clue to the actual absence of meaningful connection between ourselves and “ground reality”. Many of my students refer to the “ground” as the “floor”. This has to do with the lack of physical embodiment, the lack of ecological relationship, and the lack of existential narrative in our culture. It also has to do with the overwhelming assault of images, sounds, and surfaces intended to manipulate us and control us.

    I think this is why the “Matrix” strikes such a deep chord in many of us. We know we are living in a dream world. I think the point I’d like to make about your article is that, for many people, the step from the virtual to the virtual of the virtual is not such a big one. Baudrillard had that right, I think.

    My sense is that “reality” has to be more compelling than virtual if we want people to choose it. That means less grinding poverty, less alienation, less disembodiment – more massages, more cooperative living, more skinny-dipping, better conversations. It is being done by some.

    Posted on 11-Apr-07 at 5:43 am | Permalink
  13. Sam wrote:

    The Flies and the Honey-pot

    A number of flies were attracted to a jar of honey which had been
    overturned in a housekeeper’s room, and placing their feet in it,
    ate greedily. Their feet, however, became so smeared with the
    honey that they could not use their wings, nor release
    themselves, and were suffocated. Just as they were expiring,
    they exclaimed, “O foolish creatures that we are, for the sake of
    a little pleasure we have destroyed ourselves.”

    -Aesop’s Fables

    The flies in this story are more honest than many of us. They can’t fault the honey for being alluring, sweet, and sticky. And it wasn’t the housekeeper’s carelessness that got them stuck. They have only themselves to blame.

    Posted on 11-Apr-07 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  14. admin wrote:

    Bruce –

    I had a look at your post on your blog – tried to leave a comment but couldn’t get it to work, so will comment here. Really was an interesting read.

    Hi,

    Found my way here from your comment on my blog. That really is a fantastic post. My discussion assumes that the kind of world built around the punishment-reward interface of these games is irrespective, redundant. And as you point out this may indeed be a simplification. It’s no accident that the semantic meaning built around the statistically driven interface is almost always based on the concept of violence. People complain about violence in games all the time – but rarely does one really confront it: why are millions of people engaging every day in simulated MURDER!? And why aren’t more of us disturbed by that?

    A great experiment would be to design the same statistical interface around the idea of helping people, or building things – something constructive at least. Would people still get hooked?

    Social environments do build up around these structures – and as the gamers themselves create them, then they are formalised by the game designers themselves. But I’m not sure that this facet is defining of a gaming experience. After all, this is happening all across the net and not just in games. Youtube is a good example – the way in which they noticed that people were creating videos in direct response to other people, so they extended the interface so that this fact could be given formal representation. But this could all be considered part of the overall virtual environment that we are creating for ourselves – and perhaps the distinction should be dismissed.

    More thought definately needed.

    Posted on 11-Apr-07 at 9:21 am | Permalink
  15. bruce wrote:

    Daniel –

    Thanks for your comments. You wrote: “People complain about violence in games all the time – but rarely does one really confront it: why are millions of people engaging every day in simulated MURDER!? And why aren’t more of us disturbed by that????

    Because it’s a form of play, similar to the war games we used to play as kids. We know that it’s play on a conscious level; that’s what makes it okay. But the mechanism that drives it and makes it pleasurable is that lizard-brain “kill or be killed??? impulse, probably linked to the release of adrenaline, dopamine and other stimulating/rewarding chemicals.

    These things are digital metaphors, and we’re aware of it, no matter the emotional effect. Most of us know that the DELETE key doesn’t actually wipe out (“murder???) our file; it just removes our access and releases it to overwriting routines. But dress that file up as a powerful and frightening Orc and place it in a recognizable though fantastically-enhanced environment, and killing it will get your juices flowing, especially if its death shows up in some sort of metric measuring your status and competence.

    Computer games are just standard algorithmic routines dressed up to resemble things familiar to us from our own experience, including cultural metaphors from movies, TV and comic books. But the point of difference between single-player and online multiplayer games is precisely the participation of other people – the network.

    You wrote: “Social environments do build up around these structures – and as the gamers themselves create them, then they are formalised by the game designers themselves. But I’m not sure that this facet is defining of a gaming experience.???

    Believe me, they are key to the massively multiplayer experience. It’s our primary consideration in designing these things. We wouldn’t be able to keep people playing and paying their $9.95 a month if we had to depend only on new content we generated – we could never keep up. Dedicated players play through new content in a matter of hours; they literally gobble it up.

    We absolutely depend on the user-generated experience: friends lists, open chat, off-site message and discussion boards and all the rest. Game designers are already designing YouTube- and My Space-type experiences into their games. In fact, they’re busy designing the whole “design??? experience into their games, allowing users to share custom level designs in a community setting where they get rated and show up on leader boards.

    It’s really just a short hop from there to “Fave Fives??? on your cellphone, another expression of the overlap between virtual connections and the “real??? world. Soon, your virtual multiplayer economic transactions will be connected through the cellphone environment via micro-payments and from there to your real world bank account. The experiences will be interchangeable, and the transactions negotiable in real world situations. See where this is headed?

    My point about this is that it is already pervasive and, in some measure, addictive. Not that massively multiplayer games alone are destroying the world, but that the world is being energetically drained while we “connect??? through our cultural overlays, one of which (a particularly compelling one) is online gaming.

    Most of us don’t even know it’s happening to us. It’s not just about the violence of simulated murder. It’s about the violence being done to our sense of self and place in real communities, and their place in the context of the natural world. As Andy said, above: “In other words, the pervasive sense of falseness in our culture is a clue to the actual absence of meaningful connection between ourselves and ‘ground reality’.??? Exactly. And while we fiddle about in our virtual worlds, the real world burns.

    Posted on 11-Apr-07 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  16. DoomBringer wrote:

    I agree with the writer. Any game involving mathematical statistics that reward the player with greater strenth, more powerful weapons, a higher level are extremely addictive.

    Thankfuly I have wonderful that doesn’t get hooked on these type of games. I have played Counterstrike Source and Battlefield 2 and didn’t get addicted to them at all. Focusing too much on statistics lower game quality as well…

    I only play single player video games and let the story, visuals and music soke in, those are much better than movies and not addictive at all

    Posted on 12-Apr-07 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  17. I want to share a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien.

    “…the expression “real life??? in this context seems to fall short of academic standards. The notion that motor-cars are more “alive??? than, say, centaurs or dragons is curious; that they are more “real??? than, say, horses is pathetically absurd. How real, how startlingly alive is a factory chimney compared with an elm-tree: poor obsolete thing, insubstantial dream of an escapist!???

    Kylark and Andy’s comments reflect very real notions of illusion.

    If you’re looking to read something a little bit more nuanced, then watch for Florence Chee’s upcoming thesis, and check out her work on Wang-Tta, here: http://www.sfu.ca/cprost/docs/06Chee.pdf – She’s one of the few authors introducing nuance to this debate.

    There are certainly things happening with reward pathways, but a key to the book that I’m writing on this topic is that these games are new. As such, they introduce new things that we don’t yet understand, chiefly among these is media experience. More than ever, we have an experience inside of these worlds. We never leave the physical primary world, though our minds are, in a sense, tricked; both sensually and texturally we enter an experience provided by a particular media. We’ve been doing it for centuries, though only recently has it been presented so fetchingly.

    One idea you might like toying with is a notion that I’ve written on, on the meetingplace of the psychology and neuroscience of addiction: what you might call agency. There’s an enourmous amount of agency in the ways that we use all media. With even modest economic stability, we can go between satellite radio, DirectTV, portable music, text messages – what we want we can have (user generated or no), and that directly impacts the release of dopamine in the brain. There’s a lack of negative consequence, but also an overabundance of reward. It’s actually been awhile since I’ve worked with agency – It’s just one of many things happening with addicts, not the least of which might be self-regulation (a subset of functionality), mental disorders (which often kick off addiction), and physiological affects of media experience (and their subsequent impacts on the Circadian rythm, metabolism and nutrition).

    If you’re into the neuroscience, then definitely check out recent reports of something called the insula. It translates signals from the body, physiological information, into emotion, craving, a number of areas. Cigarette smokers with a very specific type of insula damage were much more likely to be able to quickly and lastingly quit. Don’t read my blog on the insula. It sucks.

    As for social control, the opposite of your scenario is equally possible. The perception of evil floating in these worlds may well be the staging point for some of the most startling legislation in history.

    Who is to say?

    This is an issue that has pros and cons at every level, and it’s something that has not yet begun to explode.

    Thanks for this post, and the phrasing. If you ever want to talk about where I’m going with the book, or where I’ve been with my research on game addiction, then don’t hesitate to get in touch. I blog on this as well, it’s neilsclark.com – I appreciate all feedback.

    Posted on 12-Apr-07 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
  18. admin wrote:

    Okay – a lot to comment on here.

    I guess what we’re all looking for here is a reasonable explanatory hypothesis for the phenomenon.

    But let’s be careful about which phenomenon we’re talking about. If we consider it accurate to classify the phenomenon as addiction – then an explanation roughly in terms of the account I give above is probably what we should be looking for. Why? Well – by stipulation of what addiction is. It’s a physiological process. The question then – is it the right classification?

    One of the points I made in the article (although I should have given this more emphasis) – is that most of the research that I had time to look at questioned the validity of the classification. I say ‘questioned’ because they didn’t rule it out. Their point was that there isn’t enough data. And they’re right – there isn’t enough data that is accessible to the public.

    But those with access to large enough user bases and actual game systems could provide us with the data easily enough. Start tweaking the reward mechanisms of the game – and track what the users do. We’ll have the answers soon enough.

    What we really want to do of course – is design a proper test environment where variables can be controlled. If a gamer quits the game – how do we know it’s because they didn’t find another game with more addictive elements?

    Bruce – you’re hypothesis could be tested too. My hunch is that its wrong. (and my basic reason for so thinking is because it seems unlikely that socialisation is itself is properly characterised as addictive). But its a reasonable hypothesis and should be tested. Set up two options for your set of test subjects. They can either sit in a room alone – playing a mmorpg that has a minimal set of social functions enabled (perhaps none), or are given given a room wherin they can use an application which is maximally social in some sense -but without the reward mechanism. See what they do.

    This sort of experimental environment is obviously too simplistic – and a mountain of work would need to be done in order to design the testable conditions correctly. But this is how we need to start thinking about getting to the root of the issue.

    Bruce – I don’t suppose you’d be interested sending a memo to Bob Iger suggesting the idea? (correct me if I’ve gotten your work affiliation wrong). You are of a few that have the actual ability to perform these sorts of tests. From a commercial point of view you’d be mad not to – but you write with great social conscience, so perhaps you could convince the powers that be that it would actually do a lot of good.

    I just checked out Toontown online btw and ran through the tutorial. It didn’t surprise me that the tutorial spends most of its time showing the player the reward elements of the game – as opposed to the social elements. I did battle with a cog and then a toon appeared and told me to go to town hall to collect my reward. It’s obviously no accident that you foreground this game element to the kids first up… because that’s the bread and butter of the game.

    I think its great that you have used a non-violent metaphor as your mode of delivery of the statistical progression (although I noticed that it’s still ‘damage’ that is done to the bad guys. Perhaps old habits die hard here? You could change that to something with non-violent connotations Perhaps the cogs are sad and are made happy by the cogs – thus transforming them into toons or something like that) – It’ll be interesting to see its penetration vs the overtly violent expressions of the genre.

    Sorry – that was a digression. The other explanation on the table is of the ilk suggested by Andy above. The idea – as I understand it – is that the world in some sense has become unreal. Jean Baudrillard famously said that the first iraq war never happened – I believe. Hence the move to the online world is just like the shifting of one continuous dream.

    I think I’d have to understand more of the theoretical motivation behind this sort of explanation before I’d feel confident about either rejecting or accepting such a view. One concern is that it doesn’t sound very testable as a hypothesis (I’m a bit of a stickler in that regard) – but I won’t comment further here lest I step beyond my depth. (I must confess that I never made it past the structuralists, heidegger and phenomenology – in that tradition… so I never got to Baudrillard, Foucalt, Derrida, Barthes etc… they’re on the one-day list).

    For Neil – I’ll have to spend some time on your blog – looks like you’ve put a lot of effort into your work and so it definately deserves a look. Thanks for your comment.

    Posted on 12-Apr-07 at 7:19 pm | Permalink
  19. Thanks Daniel, as I said Florence Chee’s recent work on the cultural basis of addiction is also well worth looking into. I appreciate you looking at my stuff. I might recommend the articles written for gamasutra.com, since they’ll give you a structured background on the ups and downs of the literature – though there is a lot of info on the blog. As I said, I’m open to all feedback.

    Posted on 13-Apr-07 at 4:33 am | Permalink
  20. andy wrote:

    It is our experience of the world that has become riddled with irreality, spongiform with the misfolded lifeshapes of a Wetiko hyper-reality.

    The world itself has not become less real. I felt this for sure last week while ferrying a disgruntled snapping turtle across the road to an artificial lake constructed by a megachurch next to a freshly bull-dozed future subdevelopment. The turtle was real and it was of the world. It’s the church, the subdevelopment, the bulldozers, and myself that have the psychotic tendencies.

    I haven’t made it to Derrida either – but Baudrillard, M.T. Anderson (read “Feed” if you haven’t yet), R.D. Laing, Zerzan, Derrick Jensen, and many others have built a discourse around this. I agree with Neils that the issue goes back centuries, way past Blake’s “dark Satanic mills”.

    I am wondering if our obsession with “story” was previously reality-sharpening in the songs, tales, dance, gesture, art, trances, drugged-states, etc that now seem usually reality-eroding.

    I wonder also how this relates to our desire to let fall the false distinction between self & world, if dropping the “self” into a character on a screen (or in a text) is experienced as a sense a “liberation” from the lonely prison of “Me-Stuck-In-My-Self”. And as Bruce emphasizes, sharing experiences with others in an emotionally meaningful story is a big part of the thrill, and one that we physically experience very rarely in today’s boxed culture.

    Posted on 13-Apr-07 at 4:56 am | Permalink
  21. bruce wrote:

    Daniel –

    I’m surprised you think we haven’t done precisely the sort of testing you are talking about and more. Of course, we don’t specifically address the question in terms of addictive behavior. But we have all sorts of testing data and statistics on usage, user preferences and gameplay patterns, and we employ these to not only do initial game design but also continuous iteration of its features. After all, the game itself is just a database in disguise; the number of ways in which it can be queried and mined for information is virtually endless.

    As I said above, our users are, in some sense, our designers; and though their introduction to the world is indeed in a single-player mode, the design of most such games leads the player inevitably into a grouping or team or “guild??? experience. In other words, minus the social interaction which the Internet practically demands, the action of any game will of course come to seem progressively more and more mechanical, repetitive and banal.

    As co-designers, our players tell us what’s working for them and what isn’t, and we modify the game experience accordingly. This differs radically from single-player games distributed via retail. Distribution over the Internet means that, rather than testing a game only up to a certain point then releasing a final gold master on disk, we are continuously modifying and adjusting the code and downloading patches every time a subscriber logs on.

    The game to which you’ve referred, for example, has grown enormously over the three years it’s been up and running — and there are people (not many, but a few) who have stuck with it from the beginning. I would like to suggest that dipping a toe into any massively multiplayer persistent world of sufficient complexity, be it LOTRO, EverQuest, StarWars Galaxies, World of Warcraft or Toontown Online for that matter, barely registers the temperature of the waters or the depth of what are really, for dedicated gameplayers, rather more compelling experiences of a sort that simply aren’t covered by the notion that their appeal relies solely on killing stuff to rack up points and get a shot of dopamine in the bargain.

    I can’t go into it in detail, though I may if I decide to pursue the series of essays I started on my site; but I would like to suggest again that there is a good deal more here than might meet the eye of the casual observer. There was some good work that came out a couple of years ago on narrative investment in online personae, which is not quite the same thing as socialization in the conventional sense, but more or less describes what I see as a developing behavioral continuum associated with “virtual world??? technology, be it cell phones, instant messaging, MySpace or MMOGs. In this regard, you might want to have a look at the work of Sherry Turkle (“Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet???) or Janet H. Murray’s “Hamlet on the Holodeck???. What they were grappling with as emergent behavior patterns several years ago is now amply on display among the next wave of urban youth (and some of us who are not quite as youthful) everywhere in media-saturated post-industrial societies.

    Posted on 13-Apr-07 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  22. admin wrote:

    Hi Bruce,

    Yes – my apologies – I didn’t mean to imply that you guys don’t know what you are doing, obviously you do and at a scale of professionalism and complexity I can scarcely imagine.

    I certainly don’t mean to imply either that the rich set of experiences that can now be delivered to gamers – beyond the statistical interface – is a) not important to gamers b) not necessary to sustain their involvement or c)not in itself an interesting area of research and discovery.

    But I am positing as a ‘hypothesis’ that the specifically addictive aspect of the experience is the reward system of the interface. And by addictive – I mean the pathological behaviours that are being generated around gaming culture.

    It’s a good hypothesis in the sense that it should be possible to frame testable conditions. I certainly don’t claim it proved.

    I don’t think your response is false in the sense that if you mean only that this richer experience is needed to satisfy gamer’s desires – obviously it is. But is this richer experience determinative of the addiction? Well – that’s debatable. And conceptually, all the player feedback in the world isn’t going to decide the issue. What is needed – as I’ve suggested, is proper test conditions where extraneous variables are kept out of play.

    If this specific research hasn’t been conducted – then it should be. And it could be argued that the various corporations that are investing in the creation of these games have a responsibility to provide that research and adopt codes of practice that keep the dosing of addictive elements to acceptable levels. (For example – specific leveling based behaviour in game could be limited to set durations – and the rest gamers are left to socialise – etc…) That’s IF of course addicting elements can be isolated.

    There is certainly enough anecdotal evidence now to warrant the expenditure on this sort of research.

    I am very interested in what you have to say about the wider experiences of gamers beyond just the statistical interface – and the effects this wider experience will have on us as a society. I read your essays on your blog with great pleasure and look forward to anything more that you produce.

    In the future I’ll try to find time to do a second piece which goes beyond just this issue of addiction – to the wider gaming experience, the sociological implications and the like.

    Posted on 13-Apr-07 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  23. Myself and the PARC center have conducted research very similar to what you’re pining for, Daniel. What’s unique is that we’ve both gone into the games. I developed a method whereby you could scientifically sample players within the game. I would beef it up if I were to use it on a more large-scale project, but the attempt (with resultant learnings) is there. PARC created an add-on that used WoW’s UI to automatically parse and collect data available from the /who command. While that’s ideal, it doesn’t get certain critical info for our purposes.

    In mine, I isolated different “structural characteristics” to MMO games (composites for endgame advancement, social vs. raid guild preference, etc) and then I compared those chiefly against a very rich diagnostic for addiction developed by John Charlton (though in retrospect not something I would use today). In simple correlations, a number of activities seemed related to addiction, most notably manipulation of others, preference for online friends, and PvP, combat and endgame structure preferenece. In regression analysis, raid guild preference seemed the major drawback (and this was across a half dozen MMO games, not just WoW).

    The problem with this approach, as I’ve written in the articles, is whether you’re dealing with people who would become addicted to anything (which seems to be more likely if we’re just dealing with traditional addiction), or whether the game is offering something which automatically addicts. I would suggest that games intermix these two, to varying levels within different individuals. A longitudinal redux of my earlier study would actually give us a good idea of what’s happening, although I’m sure that there are other good designs which would do the trick.

    IMO, step 1) We get good info so that we can make a better diagnostic 2) We use that diagnostic alongside a very well sampled longitudinal study 3) We sell our groundbreaking results to the game industry, making millions.

    Posted on 14-Apr-07 at 4:35 am | Permalink
  24. If you’d like to check out the research that I’m talking about, despite my warnings, gamasutra was kind enough to host it as a feature. A PDF can be found here:

    http://gamasutra.com/features/20060822/vgsca_gama.pdf

    I’d recommend not reading the text of it, though there’s a lot of good support for the composites used.

    Posted on 14-Apr-07 at 4:43 am | Permalink
  25. anon wrote:

    We ought to recognize that addiction (to anything) serves an important function in the process of acquiring knowledge of self. We ought to examine the nature of addiction in order to isolate the positive aspect of addiction so that people can avoid the negative aspects.

    “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would be wise.”
    - William Blake

    That is, if you think about your addiction and the inevitable consequences pursuit of that addiction leads, and allow yourself consciously to take that addiction to an extreme, you will acquire the understanding which will allow you to overcome the addiction while assimilating the lessons which could only be learned through addiction.

    Posted on 14-Apr-07 at 8:17 am | Permalink
  26. paul wrote:

    welcome to 1994……………..

    Posted on 14-Apr-07 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  27. anon wrote:

    Games will be transcended when people develop their abilities to dream lucidly (to participate in the dreaming experience with waking consciousness), to experience in their dreams what they want and to meet up with other people in the dreaming state. These abilities are actual and any computer game will be seen to pale in comparison to such experiences.

    Posted on 14-Apr-07 at 10:23 pm | Permalink
  28. Joh T wrote:

    Great article..
    Loved the small image you used as well.. had to track it down. Bigger image and source details here http://www.mavav.org/2006/11/02/a_dark_view_into_the_future_of_game_addiction.php

    Posted on 16-Apr-07 at 3:35 am | Permalink
  29. admin wrote:

    HI Neil –

    Finally got a chance to take a look at your stuff. I think I’ll do a summary post on your work if you approve. I think you’re doing valuable work.

    Joh T – thanks for tracking down that source… it’s something I meant to do myself (I can’t even remember where I first got it) – author deserving cred n all.

    Posted on 17-Apr-07 at 9:12 pm | Permalink
  30. Thanks Daniel, I’d be stoked.

    I’m surprised (and a little dismayed) that you got through the entire thesis…

    Posted on 26-Apr-07 at 4:16 am | Permalink
  31. amwa wrote:

    my hubby is ‘addicted’ to these games – it’s ruining our marriage and stifling relationships with his young children – he still goes to work thank God but aside from sleeping, about 80% of his time or more is spent on his pc :(

    Posted on 27-Apr-07 at 1:23 am | Permalink
  32. Stingray wrote:

    I’ve been a keen game player for many years and regardless of the game, there is definitely a positive satisfaction in beating the game, in winning, in gaining ‘stats’ and moving up ranks, collecting the best armour and weapons, and defeating the toughest enemies. I’m not a football fan at all, but there is even satisfaction for me in playing a Football Manager type game to win the league.

    Years of my weekends have come and gone in the real world while I’ve been lost in a distant world, battling orcs, trading with space colonies, scoring the final touchdown, or conquering entire civilisations with state of the art laser weaponry invented by my army of scientists.

    To buck the stereotype of gamers, I’m almost 40 and despite gaming for the last 20 years or so, have managed to hold down a successful career in the military, and since voluntarily resigning have set up a successful Internet business which is now heading towards it’s first decade with a very good reputation, employing several people in three different locations.

    My downtime is where I don’t want to make real world decisions, and a game world is superb for this, where bad decisions do not have direct consequences on others’ lives and do not cost me money. As a result, I’m clan standard in many FPS games, and have achieved fairly high levels in three MMORPGs, and very few games challenge me for long even on the hardest difficulty settings.

    Do I recognise addiction? Possibly. Although regarding the question of whether it takes over lives, I think the answer here is down to the individual as with any addictive activity. Some people are addicted to surfing, but should that be regulated? Some people can quite happily engage in activity that for others would create a Brave New World scenario where the game consumes their lives.

    Gaming is one way for these people to live a life, albeit not in the conventional sense, and this is demonstrated by the success of The Sims series. Television is no different to this – the most popular shows invariably are soaps where those millions who tune in live their lives vicariously through the actions of others. For me, I would rather participate in games, and have an element of control in my ‘reality’, then be a passive spectator of a scenario that I have no control over whatsoever.

    I think rather than regulation, we should be talking about support for those who need it. We should provide a lifeline for those who are likely to get lost in virtual worlds, so that they can escape as easily as they immerse themselves. Perhaps this could be compulsory until players prove themselves able to voluntarily withdraw from their dopamine induced sensation.

    By far this has to be one of the best blog posts and series of articulate responses I’ve read in a long time, although regulation in my opinion is not the answer. The alarming thing is that the present goverment in both the US and the UK have absolutely no concept of the gaming community and any misplaced word amongst the eminent researchers who have commented so far regarding ‘regulation’ could well lead to the authorities using a sledgehammer to crack a nut which would be bad for us all. This can already be seen with more and more draconian laws being put in place regarding Internet censorship and monitoring.

    The only answer that I see is that self regulation as with everyday society is the key. Online gamers are not going to police their own, preferring to be awed by 1337ness honed by hours of gameplay, so one answer could be that those with game servers could remind people on the hour that they had been playing for x hours, or perhaps could enforce compulsory breaks by saving the player session and forcing a fixed term time out. This would break the dopamine hit, and possibly break the stream of semi-conscious decision making that gaming tends to induce, forcing reality based decisions to kick in. This would be a far better solution than any form of regulation imho.

    Now, I know I left my gravity gun here somewhere….

    Posted on 29-Apr-07 at 7:36 am | Permalink
  33. admin wrote:

    great reply Stingray,

    I think you provide a good example of someone who games without any of the pathalogical effects that are being experienced by many – as opposed to Amwa’s husband above. And this is why I think you make a good point about regulation. There is a set of people in the community that can’t handle alchohol and find it an addictive substance. But most people can – and it’s unreasonable to think that you should restrict it to all because of the pathological effects on the minority. This goes for gambling, sugar, caffeine and all other drugs and forms of behaviour which are soft in their addictive powers.

    Not sure that time breaks would work however, in protecting those that can’t control it – as they would probably be satisfied having multiple mmorpgs running at one time and could simply switch between. But in general I think this sort of approach is on the right track. First get awareness going in the community so that addicts can at least get a reference point by which they can identify themselves as having a problem. Second – provide support for those who think they do have a problem – counselling and treatment. Maybe then we can nip this social problem in the bud, before it becomes truly endemic (if it hasn’t already).

    Posted on 30-Apr-07 at 7:00 am | Permalink
  34. Alex Gillespie wrote:

    I’d like to take a slightly different tack in relation to game addiction.

    Having been through the Narcotics Anonymous shredder, I think you need to look at the dynamics of what criteria makes you an addict in the first place. Using a pamhplet I had lying around I have included a check list of all criteria that apply to game players as possible addicts.

    Generally addiction is defined as doing more of “x” (being games, drugs etc. ) than you would like to or wanting to stop completely. The following criteria however give a clue as to someone who is using “too much”, of anything, to be defined as an addict. (I changed the wording in some questions to make it relevant to gamers).

    Have you ever substituted one game for another, thinking that one particular game was the problem?
    Do you regularly use when you wake up or when you go to bed?
    Do you avoid people or places that do not approve of you using?
    Has your job or school performance ever suffered from the effects of your use?
    Have you ever lied about what or how much you use?
    Do you shirk financial responsibilities?
    Have you ever tried to stop or control your using?
    Does using interfere with your sleeping or eating?
    Does the thought of not being able to play terrify you?
    Do you feel it is impossible for you to live without it?
    Do you ever question your own sanity?
    Is your drug use making life at home unhappy?
    Have you ever thought you couldn’t fit in or have a good time without drugs?
    Have you ever felt defensive, guilty, or ashamed about your using?
    Do you think a lot about it?
    Have you had irrational or indefinable fears?
    Has using affected your sexual relationships?
    Have you ever used because of emotional pain or stress?
    Do you continue to use despite negative consequences?
    Do you think you have a problem?

    As these questions are adapted from a pamphlet to determine if you are addicted to drugs a diagnositc questionnaire specific to gaming would have to be developed. What diagnositc criteria is specific to gaming addiction (that isn’t specific to drug/gambling etc. addiction)?

    Almost every gamer I’ve met likes to proclaim just how much time they spent online gaming (“Last week I spent 48 hours straight online playing XXX”). And the fact that they didn’t eat and didn’t sleep.

    According to your criteria, it seems that the majority of people who use their account more than a few times have a pretty good chance of becoming addicted.

    The question as to how we can deter players from using obsessively lies in the suggested treatment for addictive maladies. The core principles of NA are to recognise a “higher power” in your life. This can be an admission of sprituality or can be a person in your life who serves as a “guide”. Then one is told to surrender their will and lives over to the higher power, accepting that they cannot change it (this part I strongly disagree with). Then we are told to make a moral inventory of ourselves (this is about how we have wronged ourselves and others – the most desperate and degraded we have acted etc). Then we have to list all the people we have wronged and how. We have to make amends to the people we have wronged. Admit the nature of our wrongdoings to another person. Then practice prayer and mediation to connect with our higher power, ask them to remove our shortcomings and continue to take moral inventory. Then to carry this message to other addicts so that they may become “enlightened”.

    As a recovered addict, I have problems with certain parts of the NA 12 steps. I used NA, as well as rehab clinics, medication, a psychiatrist, an occupational therapist and group therapy to overcome my addiction. NA is one of many models for overcoming addiction. But from what I have experienced I have found that:
    a) people who are addicted (to anything) experience a spiritural void. They experience a fragmentation of themselve from the universe, the world, their friends and family and indeed themselves. *something that needs to be addressed to get to addicted gamers and maybe even somehow incorporated into games themselves*
    b) people forget about, neglect and hurt the relationships in their lives. *Obviously gaming encourages extreme physical/social isolation and as we have seen in the cases of addicted parents results in child neglect. This would need to be addressed. Gamers would need to somehow be intergrated back into “real” relationships. I guess gaming conventions and meetings of gamers, even LAN parties, could be a place to start addressing these issues. The best exponents to attend and illuminate are “ex-addicted” gamers.
    c) When people have to account for their behaviour (ie. admitting the nature of their wrongs to another person) it definitely affects their behaviour. If they received periodic messages from some kind of counselling service where they can “chat” about their problem it might help. Maybe a toll free telephone number to talk to counsellors?
    d) Withdrawing from your chosen vice usually results in mild to extreme depression that can last for a substantial amount of time. People may need to consider medication as well as counselling to help their recovery.
    I think setting up some sort of pseudo-anonymous support group would be very helpful in some places.

    Basically I think you have pretty much proven almost beyond doubt that games are addictive in nature, just as drugs and gambling are. As far as I know it has not been ethical to test whether smoking is “really” addictive as it would be unethical to get people who don’t smoke to start smoking to provide a control group to measure addiction. But we know about all the negative health consequences associated which makes it bad enough right?

    Awareness is pretty important. I have some friends who say “I’m addicted to playing Warcraft”. They just mean that they like to play it a lot. Most people who are addicted to anything will not admit the true nature of their addiction. It would be good to see some articles/adveritising in gaming magazines raising the issue of game addiction. It’s not really something I’ve heard bandied about in the media. I didn’t realise it was affecting families so much.

    I guess at the centre of addiction is that people have something missing from their lives. It fills a “hole”. I would say that gaming makes them feel special (in this case getting rankings, forming camraderies with other gamers and the physical dopamine rush associated). You will find that a lot of addicts have a low self esteem (they don’t receive “rewards” in their everyday lives). They often have a lack of self identity (the gaming further supports this by allowing them to be anonymous in real life). They need the character that they are to “define” them, give psychological structure and meaning to their lives. It gives them something to identify with because they don’t identify with themselves – they don’t know who they really are or who they really want to be, what’s important to them etc.

    Anyway, I guess the reason I have ruminated on the socialogical reasons for game addiction is that I have experienced wretched addiction myself and have experienced the myriad forms that rehabilitation comes in.

    If you want any more opinions from an addicts point of view, I’ll do my best to illuminate you. Even though I obviously haven’t experienced all the reasons people have addiction (although I’ve come pretty close) I’ve spent a lot of time around other people rehabilitating and been privy to their reasons for being addicted. I’ve seen ‘em all.

    I guess the reason I thought it was important to canvass these issues is so that you can come up with some workable strategies for helping gamers with it. It sounds like it really is ruining some people’s existense, but more worringly other people, like children.

    Apologies for any bad spelling, worse grammar and my complete lack of acadmic writing ability!

    I hope I’m not pointing out a lot information that you already know.

    Posted on 01-May-07 at 12:38 am | Permalink
  35. admin wrote:

    Hi Alex,

    To respond to a couple of your points:

    “According to your criteria, it seems that the majority of people who use their account more than a few times have a pretty good chance of becoming addicted.”

    I don’t think this follows from what I claim. My point is that where there is addiction, the cause of this addiction is to be found in the physiological processes occuring in the brain. Although I think it’s true that a similar process is going on in everyone’s brain when they play a computer game, it won’t by necessity follow that everyone will become addicted – simply because of differences in physiological responses between people.

    In fact – I don’t provide a criteria for addiction at all. I mention in the original post that the lack of an agreed criterion among researchers is unnecessarily holding up research in the field. In general, however, you would identify an addict by some or all of the list that you provide. At that point you would try to rule out other causes to the pathological behaviour – perhaps depression etc – all those things you mention.

    Other than that – your perspective is very interesting. I guess it’s an interesting question as to what extent people are using gaming to fill a pre-existing hole. If it were shown that no one who was psychologically healthy prior to gaming later developed various pathologies – then my hypothesis would almost certainly be disproved.

    Posted on 01-May-07 at 6:10 pm | Permalink
  36. jony wrote:

    Although well intended I believe the article lacks a historical scope that would, perhaps, make the internet and MMORPGs seem less dangerous.

    Addiction is certainly nothing new, as the author rightly points out. However, the concept of getting rewards for behavior that isn’t productive is also nothing new to society. Television has many dedicated watchers, I have severals friends, as I’m sure most of you do as well, that “can’t” miss their shows, and/or have nights dedicated to watching television. I would put forward that such behavior is no more dangerous and no different then playing a video game. Whether the activity is ‘geeky,’ such as D&D or WarHammer, or ‘mainstream,’ such as watching television and partying, in the end they give no tangible benefits to either the person or the society.

    A few hundred years ago people may have gone to see plays, played cards, listened to a musican, or other such ‘wastes of time.’ In the end they’re all ‘meaningless activities.’ While seeing a play might, for now, be considered ‘cultured’ and therefore more ‘worthwhile’ than playing a video game, in the end both cause the person to forget about reality for a time and indulge in a fantasy.

    In order for this argument to be sustained a definition must be created that informs humanity what is a ‘proper use of time.’ That really starts looking, at least to me, to be the age old question “What is the meaning of life?”

    Is it to procreate? In that case video games provide a form of virtual dating, I know a decent number of people who have married people they inicially met online, is it truely any different then meeting people at bars or a club? Well, other than physical appearance is not the sole method of inicial attraction.

    Is it to better the species? Well if that is the case only hard work and invention might be capible of that, but surely even the most hard working person relaxes by watching TV, playing a video game, or reading a book.

    Is it to enjoy ourselves? Certainly video games would be a way to do that, just as surely as partying and watching TV.

    There is a problem with some people, perhaps many, with video games not because they’re any more addictive then other forms of entertainment (I could play Axis and Allies, board game, constantly) but rather because it is always available. Television shows are only on at certain times and the number of times you can watch reruns (or the DVDs) is limited.

    Although you do hear about those players that literally kill themselves by playing video games too much it certainly doesn’t come close to the problem that China had with opium in the 19th century or even that the US currently has with drugs. I would hope that most people are capible of balanceing their own lives. People must, in the end, be responsible for themselves. Surely the video game isn’t to blaim if a person constantly skips work to play. After all, though such people do exist (a brother of mine being one of them) there are many more people who are capible of using video games for what they’re intended for, passing free time in an enjoyable way.

    Therefore it is not the video game that is the problem, but as the author hints at, it is the underlying problems already facing the player. Some people get addicted to things, whether its work, video games, television, sex, drugs, swimming or eating; anything when done too much is dangerous. Although it is possible, as with all new things, to use video games and/or MMO’s as scape goats thats all they’ll be.

    Posted on 07-May-07 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  37. nick gouna wrote:

    no

    Posted on 16-May-07 at 4:20 am | Permalink
  38. Taylor Hemtick wrote:

    i dont agree… it doesnt make sense.

    Posted on 16-May-07 at 4:22 am | Permalink
  39. Bryn wrote:

    This article and the discussion surrounding it has helped to affirm feelings I have been having over the past couple of months regarding how I am spending my leisure time playing games. Look to the XBOX 360 achievement system as a primary example of a false reward system. Players are given a gamerscore, a tangible representation of their progress in and time spent playing XBOX games. This score serves to show how invested you are in gaming and how “good” a gamer you are (“good gamer” he says patting the little dogs head as it salivates, tongue hanging out, utterly domesticated…oh is that a bell I hear? ect ect). I have owned my XBOX for 2 1/2 months and have managed to hike the score up to 4500 but I have begun to see this score not as a positive value but as a negative display of how much time I have sunk into commiting “virtual murder”. I had the misfortune of donning a headset to experience online pvp gameplay where I listened to the disembodied voices of adolescent boys gloating and braying as they pulled off another long range head-shot or ripped my character limb from limb with a chainsaw (Gears of War).

    With the assistance of this debate I have come to the conclusion that video games are in fact banality on stilts and I hereby promise to sell my XBOX tomorrow and use the money for something that enriches and benefits my life in a “real” way.

    Thanks.

    Posted on 22-May-07 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  40. admin wrote:

    That’s pretty awesome Bryn – I really do wish you the best of luck with that. :)

    Posted on 22-May-07 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  41. someguy wrote:

    I suggest you also look at the benefits for players:

    * Explloring area and mechanics like trading
    * Sociale interaction
    * Strategic thinking

    The reward of accomplishing a dificult task
    etc etc

    Games are not entrirely useless, this is not a black and white issue. Otherwise there wouldnt be a problem.

    Alot game elements are addicting because they want to make money of it. You also noted this. The problem is the way our economy works (consumer based and proft centered) and not the games, the people or w/e. So yah , I blame the system here, lets change that.

    Another path of thought you didnt mention is desirable balance between gaming and other activities from an individual point of vieuw and methods of dealing with addiction as a society / group etc.

    Anyway, nice article

    Posted on 01-Jun-07 at 12:06 am | Permalink
  42. Nicolas wrote:

    I totally agree. Interesting post.

    Posted on 02-Jun-07 at 6:23 am | Permalink
  43. Nora wrote:

    “I haven’t yet made the argument that it’s a dangerous thing at all. But I think it follows fairly immediately from the above discussion. The evidence is accumulating to the effect that this is causing people to lose their drive to participate in the real world. And this makes sense. The human organism evolved these physiological structures to drive survival. But with virtual environments – these structures can be sated through means that in the end having nothing to do with survival. Hence the drive toward behaviour which actually enhances our life – is likely diminished.”

    Would you be referring to a particular age group? Or perhaps a sector of the population that has nought better to do with available free time?

    I too downloaded the Lord of the Rings Game, spent all of 10 minutes on it (the best part was setting up the character!) before coming to the conclusion that it is very banal indeed and yet I would freely admit to being one of those who is easily addicted to a “rewarding” game, although I have actually only played 3, namely Empire Earth, Sacrifice and Diablo II

    What about those who are unable to participate in the “real world” for whatever reason? Perhaps some of the not so quite banal games actually help to stimulate the mind? Would have to be better than sitting watching soap operas all day.

    Posted on 23-Jul-07 at 12:34 pm | Permalink
  44. Hi Nora,

    There is definately scope for these sorts of environments providing a means for interaction for handicapped and otherwise disabled people. But it seems obvious that they are not being designed with that in mind. These virtual worlds would have no where near the sort of market penetration they do without the addictive elements – so designing them as genuine alternatives to experience (i.e. something that enhances freedom, rather than something which robs one of it) has no economic viability.

    With respect to your other question – I didn’t have a particular age group in mind because I was attempting to describe a physiological process which presumably wouldn’t discriminate with respect to age.

    Having said that, obviously young men are most at risk for a number of reasons. 1) HIstorically that’s the market for computer games, 2) It is socially acceptable for them to engage in that kind of behaviour (although this is now expanding to other demographics) 3) Women seem more attracted to gaming environments with greater creative scope (the sims for instance). This is a generalisation though. There are obviously plenty of women playing WOW.

    Posted on 23-Jul-07 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  45. Nora wrote:

    Daniel wrote:
    There is definately scope for these sorts of environments providing a means for interaction for handicapped and otherwise disabled people. But it seems obvious that they are not being designed with that in mind.

    **Well, of course not, but it wasn’t the disabled I actually had in mind, although I concede, I can see the benefit for those so inclined. Rather I was thinking more along the lines of remote communities, schizoids or even fully capable people living “robbed” time, ie, caring full time for a family member. Again I agree, the whizz kids who make these games are not likely to have these small minorities in mind when they design their addictive games.
    And yet, with the exception of pay-as-you-use online games only,such as the Lord of the Rings, what is the value of the addiction factor to the seller? Could one compare with J.K. Rowlings and Harry Potter books? Write a best seller and you are an instant millionaire. Write a computer game that captures the player’s imagination, tests his wits and reflexes and provides almost endless replay value, such as Sacrifice or Diablo, you will also become a millionaire, but you only get to sell the product once to each individual customer.
    Are you really of the opinion that the addiction of computer games is in the same scenario of the brain, ie the dopamine aspect as documented re heroine or nicotine addicts? Hey! I am addicted to Coke also!(erm, the dark brown liquid stuff, not the powder) Just curious, but I suspect my ramblings may not interest your other readers, just curious, is all.

    >With respect to your other question – I didn’t have a particular age group in mind because I was attempting to describe a physiological process which presumably wouldn’t discriminate with respect to age.

    ** Physiological processes don’t progress with age???? Only teasing, I think I understand what you mean, nevertheless, generalities can cause confusion -;))

    >There are obviously plenty of women playing WOW.

    ** There are? What is WOW? Because I am definitely NOT into sims, hehe!

    Posted on 23-Jul-07 at 4:36 pm | Permalink
  46. Hi again :)

    Have a look at Bruce’s comments above. He actually works in game design for Disney I believe and argues the point that other aspects (particularly the social) are more determinative than I give them credit.

    I agree up to a point. It would be foolish of me to claim that games don’t need a multiplicity of elements to be successful – or to claim that gamers don’t want rich graphics, great gameplay, test of wits etc…

    But we need to distinguish between a person who is enjoying an immersive entertainment experience, from someone who is pathalogicaly unable to remove themselves from some interaction or another. My argument is that addiction is a function of the things I’ve mentioned in the article above… Enjoyment and addiction are not the same things.

    But I don’t doubt that some would disagree with me here. I remember reading a study about Agatha Christie’s novels which claimed they were written in such a way so as to produce an addiction like response. Nevertheless – to conflate addiction creating processes with entertainment I don’t think is helpful. In a certain sense we’re addicted to water… but we obviously don’t mean that by addiction. I think the same goes for entertainment.

    If there is an addicting process contained in computer games, then it should be measurable by empirical research.

    Neils Clark (he has commented above so you can get his details from there) has done research on this and points out that isolating this process is extremely difficult. I’ve been meaning to do a full post on his (and related work) for a while, but keep getting distracted.

    WOW – is world of warcraft… currently the most popular online role playing game.

    Posted on 23-Jul-07 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  47. garrett wrote:

    hey man, great article you really got in depth to the human mind. I would just like to say i know people who get addicted to those games. I never got into it, but they seem to get lost in some kind of trance while playing those games. Cool mind trap though, think of what they could do with something like this if they expanded it to other types of media. Crazy isn’t it.

    Posted on 09-Sep-07 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  48. Spliter wrote:

    hi
    I’m a long term gamer, and I also want to become a game programmer some day.
    What I’ve just read astonishes me, it’s even a bit outraging… because it’s true…
    i can say that you’ve given me enough proofs to make me believe in the addiction, and I also agree with you that people can use games to controll the politics, I already got addicted to some games (like half life 2, and age of empires) but I didn’t knew where that came from, and your article actually explains atleast a part of it. although I love gaming, and I support making games that are good to play and even addict you (TEMPORARELY!), I also must say that it might be dangerous if someone use that methods (or is using them) to manipulate people unconsious of that aspect.
    Games for me are a work of art, just like mona lisa or David or any other kind of art out there, however just like those arts it can be addictive and can be used for manipulation.
    anyway, in resume I agree with you about that matter, and I also think that the game addiction is a serious issue we should attend.

    Posted on 04-Oct-07 at 7:32 pm | Permalink
  49. Simon wrote:

    Hi,
    I am glad I found this site. This may sound bizarre, but I am looking for a way to become addicted to computer games. My experience with gaming started with Microsoft Flight Simulator which I have played for countless hours over the years. I thought I should try to expand on this and try other types of PC games such as RPS and RTS. I have bought several PC game such as FEAR, GTA, Far Cry but just never got hooked on them. I think I have become conditioned to Flight Sim, but I can see the attraction in other games and would so dearly love to enjoy these games I have bought. Is it just a question of time and patience? What do I need to do to get hooked?

    Posted on 15-Nov-07 at 1:32 am | Permalink
  50. Hi Simon,

    If what I wrote in this article is true – then you may need another brain. Computer games just don’t ‘work’ for many people. Just as gambling doesn’t really do it for many either.

    If you don’t want to keep spending money on games to find out which you are – do a google for desktop tower defense… if you don’t get hooked on that – then I’m afraid you’re just not one of us!

    Posted on 15-Nov-07 at 5:56 am | Permalink
  51. Some guy wrote:

    Nice article. BTW, why is that there are only question marks at the end of each sentence, instead of a full stop?

    Posted on 25-Apr-08 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
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  53. awa wrote:

    My spouse also spends what I consider inappropriately long hours on these games, always at the expense of eating, sleeping, time with me or our young children, or dealing with household responsibilities. In response to the issue that the real reason for playing excessively is underlying hurt, depression or anxiety, I would say that is true in his case. What the game does is replace any healing response to the condition of being depressed. It offers escape & distraction instead, and actually exacerbates the problem by reducing bodily health, financial health, and social relationships. Similar to alcohol or narcotics; the existence of underlying causes does not make it less of an addiction based on the criteria listed by Alex. Also (due to violent nature of games, inability to die?) seems to function to de-sensitize the brain to the heavy emotional side of real life problems.

    Posted on 19-Oct-08 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  54. Someone wrote:

    True, yet scary stuff and it takes alot of time to figure it out.

    ~Great Article

    Posted on 18-Jan-09 at 11:25 pm | Permalink
  55. I must admit you are one of a very select few who I actually subscribed to your blog posts in my reader!!! I love a thinker, as I myself get accused of thinking too much all too often.

    Now on to this post specifically!!! I LOVE IT. As an outside observer of the game world I totally don’t understand, it was great to see someone inside seeing the exact same things I was seeing outside, only with some data and knowledge to back it up.

    Now as for a solution…..I have an idea. If ingrained into the games was a source of real education.(I have had too many buddies drop out of college because of their WOW addiction!) At least we would not be loosing individuality and creativitiy. In the case of my buddy who never made it to class, but could do endless and in my opinion boring “missions” Why not have the missions be educational….ie your avatar could go to Egypt and learn about the history their while occasionally fighting a mummy…..

    Just an idea, however this is coming from someone who doesn’t get bored reading a great fiction novel, but rather gets frustrated because she is wasting her time reading about someone else’s adventure when she could be off having her own. I guess that’s the rebellious artist in me.

    Anyway. It would be FANTASTIC if you email me or connect via some mind controlling social media.

    Bridget Short

    Posted on 29-May-09 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  56. Hi Bridget,

    Great to have you as a reader! I unfortunately haven’t had much time to post of late because of PHD commitments. Hopefully when that is done toward the end of this year I can get back to it. Always great to get intelligent comments such as yours though.

    I think your idea is a really good one. The benefits of a gaming experience don’t have to be directly educational. Great literature may not educate – but it might challenge the way a person thinks about a particular concept. This sort of thing has value too.

    Some rares game possess these sorts of qualities – but all too rarely. Until people stop buying the mindless variety of games (and all varieties of entertainment for that matter) – there will be no market based reason to develop them.

    Posted on 29-May-09 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  57. scott wrote:

    This is all a prelude to the technological singularity. A point in time when technology is so integrated into human existance, accelerating in advancement so fast, that it will be impossible to destinguish between the two.

    It leads to a philosophical argument, if the gamer, or user could live a virtual world, transending his body, would this we wrong ?

    As this is not doing any damage, and his fantasy can be realised. Maybe its the next step of evolution to enter this world, this web, maybe not. All i know is the path is wrought with dangers, i know this because i was addicted.

    That physical worls had beauties that alot of users may not experiecne, physical human interaction cannot be replaced at this time, and its something so exciting and complicated, these people are really missing out.

    Posted on 06-Sep-09 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  58. reviews wrote:

    I like your website ,and like to communicate with everyone on this issue!

    Posted on 24-Nov-09 at 11:19 pm | Permalink
  59. game student wrote:

    You tried your best in keeping your article neutral, but I think what you were trying to do is to find reasons to be able to blame the computer game industry.

    I am a german student, studying Game Design in Munich and I am currently writing an essay about “computer game addiction” on a sientifical basis.

    I would like to discuss the topic with you in hope to find the reason why all people let themselves being influenced by media while they pretend being perfectly neutral. I also hope to gain new points of view to be able to speak about the topic without the thought of convincing someone of something.

    First about: I’m sure, that game developers (even the big ones) have tried to keep the players playing since the beginning of it all (I can confirm without any doubt, that Blizzard for example is indeed doing exactly that in this moment). But it wasn’t always like this and with the most developers it still isn’t.
    As a game designer (I was already part of a team, making a game, which also won the 2nd place at the German Developers Prize in the Newcomer category) and can doubtlessly confirm, that the main thought of a game developer is to show the player what is in the developer’s head through a creative and imaginative process – making a computer game. It is absolutely comparable with art or with writing a book.
    Secondly it is only natural for a great maker of consumable products to find the greatest number of consumers by all means necessary. I am currently talking about just one company not the industry itself. The problem is the competition. To stay on top, you need to (sorry, Blizzard) exploit the consumers. World of Warcraft became a place, where the company collects the money to be able to bring more products on the market, which are NOT based on exploiting, but on exactly the “showing the player something great”. BUT the company gives the consumer what it promises.
    What about the “fat-killer-industry”? They are also exploiting with the difference, that they do not produce any products that help and why? – Because they need the fat people to stay fat, otherwise the would lose consumers. But noone complains about this kind of industry.

    Violence. Many are complaining about the brutality in games (mostly in germany) and still the parents let their children play them. Violet games are NOT for children. The same as those with the sexual content or harsh language.

    Yes, the game industry is an indusry which earns very much money. But the reason is, that the real world is boring. The human being is also an animal. And an animal has instincts. And in the childhood age the instincts are stronger than the logical part of the brain. Children need an appropriate childhood to not become addicted to video games. They need to learn to distinguish between having fun from time to time and having fun at the cost of loss of social life in the reality.

    I do have lots of other thought about this topic and I’ll be glad to share them with anyone who wants to understand game addiction.

    Posted on 06-Jan-10 at 1:32 am | Permalink
  60. game student wrote:

    I must apologize, but in the line that starts like “First about: I’m sure, that..” it’s “haven’t” instead of “have”.

    Posted on 06-Jan-10 at 2:41 am | Permalink
  61. HI Game Student,

    Your comment is extremely interesting and I thank you for your effort.

    You’re right that any reaction against the gaming industry is myopic with respect to a much larger question. That question has to do with the fact that we have evolved various psychological mechanisms which were originally designed to enhance our survival capabilities.

    So in the past a capacity for play would have been a handy thing to have because it allowed one to simulate real life circumstances. But in the modern world, this capacity is co-opted by various institutions who provide means to satisfy the psychological drives in various ways. Sometimes these ways can be harmful. Sometimes not.

    The example you raise about the ‘fat’ industry is another case in point. Humans evolved to crave fatty foods because fat was scarce back in the day. So the fat industry takes advantage of this and pumps out mountains of fatty food and it’s ruining so many people’s lives.

    You are also correct to point out that there is a deep seated slippery slope issue here. If we seek to impose controls on gaming behaviour, what’s to stop us for every industry that involves the exploitation of a psychological mechanism. We end up with a society that completely rejects the assumption of individual autonomy – a vision most would find to be a nightmare. I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions.

    However, I do want to take you up on a few issues. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that game designers see themselves a drug pushers. This would be an absurd view. Most of them Im sure would see themselves as producing entertainment products, and have nothing but the best of intentions. There are many great companies producing some great games, with great narratives, and all the virtues we praise in great story telling.

    But my point is that this fact should impede us from asking the question of whether or not some elements of the gaming experience are causing pathological responses in some players. And if so, we should ask what it is we can do to protect such people.

    As for your second point – I’ve to admit, I can’t really relate to that at all. You say that it’s only natural for a company to pursue all means necessary. But your slippery slope argument doesn’t support this view. Yes, there is a more general problem here – but just because we haven’t pursued the issue in other quarters, like the fat industry – doesn’t make the exploitation of people right. That’s like saying, well just because we didn’t prosecute Joe for murder makes it okay that John is a murderer. But that’s a pretty specious bit of reasoning.

    Posted on 06-Jan-10 at 1:54 pm | Permalink
  62. On holiday wrote:

    I have been addicted to games, and have recently taken a break so that I may attend university to further my addiction. Grown bored with the current games on offer I intend to make a game that is addictive by its very nature, I had planned to do this in the past however I hadn’t gotten around to it for one reason or anther. I have gamed for 48hours with out food and toilet breaks, and further enhance the experience with ‘rush’ foods: caffeine, sugar, fat etc. I have found though that getting some sleep and eating well, even exercising moderately (hour walk to shop for food), or elevated exercise benefits my gaming experience. I can stop playing if I want, but I choose to game because I am into the achievement/progression, power, better than reality expericences, and especially sword and sorcery & futuristic realities. In a sense I am making up for my lack of success in real life, and yet I can gain similar feelings of success from real-life achievements. One of the main aspects I feel is the complexity yet simplicity of the virtual environment, you don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, or who is being paid more and all the other social etiquette. An interesting note is I experience a sexual feeling when I am playing without the physical symptoms, this is also similar to the need to use ‘rush’ foods.

    Posted on 19-Sep-10 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
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  64. Shuffleblade wrote:

    An interesting article, besides being used for political purposes though, lol. If all the people played video games to not topple the government, how would the government be run? Taxes? From addicted gamers, think not. Any regime needs its people working, brainwashing them to not work would be quite counter intuitive.

    Posted on 27-Mar-12 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
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