In the light of my post a couple of days ago about the newly-released computer game 'Call Of Duty: Black Ops', I found this article very interesting.
Computer games are dangerously addictive and contain powerful psychological devices designed to make some fans play compulsively, a Panorama investigation will reveal tonight.
A simple technique based on a 1950s study of rats feeding themselves by pressing a lever, which encourages repeat behaviour by rewarding it at random, has effectively been adapted for use in gaming and is feared to encourage addiction.
The situation is so serious that the industry body United Kingdom Interactive Entertainment is now calling for more research on the issue and promising to publish advice for parents helping them to look out for excessive and problem gaming traits in their children.
The programme, Panorama: Addicted to Games?, quotes award-winning computer games designer Adrian Hon, chief creative officer of SixToStart, who admitted that that the technique once used on rats was now common place in computer games.
He told the BBC: ‘In the 1950s scientists discovered that rats which had been trained to feed themselves by pressing a lever, would press it obsessively if the food was delivered randomly.
‘People have discovered that this works on humans as well. If you give people a lever or a button to press and give them random rewards, they will press it all the time’.
In computer games, instead of food, players are randomly rewarded with extra lives or extra in-game features. The idea is to create a compulsion loop that keeps them wanting to play on.
The technique, called the variable ratio of reinforcement (or operant conditioning) is simple but powerful and is thought to be one of the reasons people become addicted to slot machines.
Mr Hon added: ‘I think people don’t necessarily understand how powerful some game mechanics can be.
‘It’s one thing to think "OK, I’m playing too much," but it’s another to just stop playing, because some games are designed in a manner that you just don’t want to leave.’
He warned that more and more children and young people in particular could be affected because games are becoming much more widespread and much more powerful.
The arrival of high speed broadband, which is scheduled to be rolled out across the UK in the next five years, will also cause more problems because it will enable easier access to online gaming.
Online games - which allow people to play with and against each other over the internet - have been described by the World Health Organisation as a serious threat to the mental health of young Europeans.
Joe Staley, 21, from Nottingham was so obsessed with Britain’s most popular game, Call of Duty, he lost his place at university.
The game has an 18 certificate and allows people to play rivals online.
He said: ‘I wouldn’t move from my bed. My controller would be at my side table, I would turn it on, play, and then I would realise it was about three o’clock in the afternoon.
‘It could be up to a full 12 hours or more or overnight. I couldn’t physically pull myself away from the game, I could go two or three days without sleep just because I was playing a game, and that to me is an addiction.’
There's more at the link. Interesting and disturbing reading.
I know a great many people dismiss such concerns about computer gaming (particularly those who play them a lot!), but I'm not so sure. In counseling situations, I've frequently encountered individuals who were socially dysfunctional, their relationships deteriorating or collapsed altogether, because of the time they devoted to computer games, either stand-alone or online. Of course, some would argue that they were dysfunctional to begin with, and their use of computer games was thus a symptom, rather than the disease itself. That may or may not be true . . . but what I think is true is that computer games will aggravate any tendencies like that.
Food for thought.