We must use games for good, or they will be used for evil.
You think I’m joking? Not a bit. Read on.
The release of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion set has sparked up the old ‘Are Video Games Addictive?’ debate again.
Chris Vallance over at iPM sums it up succinctly. Millions of people all around the world are playing WoW – and that’s just one of many MMOG’s. Edward Castronova estimates that the average MMOG player plays for 22 hours a week. That’s a lot of brain cycles.
In China, officials are getting mighty antsy about the millions who are being “lost to the internet . . . mainly to unhealthy online games.”
‘Web games are the biggest culprit for Internet-related crimes in China, especially World of Warcraft, which has made many young minds unable to tell the real from virtual world,’ the Xinhua News Agency quoted Dr Kong Derong, a psychologist from a hospital in central Henan Province, as saying.
iPM has gotten a lot of letters on this topic:
Mike Rochester wrote to us saying, “For 7 years I was Housemaster to 65 independent schoolboys aged 13+ to 17+ and grew concerned that several were drifting into underachievement through their obsession with computer games“
WoW and other games can be so popular that they detract from people’s relationships, school or work, etc. This is not a good thing.
But let’s look at why this happens. In a way, Mr. Rochester’s boys aren’t drifting into underachievement. They’re ditching their studies because they’ve found a source of achievement that seems more rewarding.
The reason WoW is so popular is because its designers have totally fine-tuned the challenge/reward structure that is at the core of any game.
WoW (like any game) gives its users a sense of achievement. They accomplish something – they win, they fight, they kill baddies, they level up. Even if it’s only in the confines of the game, players have achieved something. The experience is exciting and full of rich sensory stimulus, so winning causes a very real dopamine release in the player’s brain.
Plus, in WoW, you’re not alone. Other players are there, to witness your triumphs and to save you from disaster. They believe in you. That makes it real.
This structure – the challenge/reward mechanic – is at the core of every game. If it’s finely tuned, as in WoW, it makes video games one of the most powerful communications media we have. It is no exaggeration to say that this medium can draw people in like a powerful narcotic.
So, are video games addictive? Yes, video games are addictive. They’re designed to be.
That is why we must use them for journalism.
I think good journalism is vital to our civilization. Democracy and a liberal civil society cannot function without good information in abundance. It follows that journalists should use the most effective tools at our disposal to get that information out to people. Ignoring a medium as powerful as the video game is the height of folly.
I haven’t made up my mind about WoW. Part of me is awed by the excellence of its game design, and part of me is scared by how it can suck people’s minds in, leaving little trace in the outside world. That’s why I haven’t played it.
But the examples of WoW makes the point: this is the most powerful communication tool known to our species. Like books, and movies, games can change peoples’ lives. The entertainers and propagandists are already using them.
Let’s get on with it.
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