[MUD-Dev] Death of a game addict

John Bertoglio jb at co-laboratory.com
Sat Apr 13 11:24:32 New Zealand Standard Time 2002

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional, but I am married
to one.

First of all, there no biological difference between physical and
psychological addition. The same biochemical changes take place in
the body.  The only difference is degree and speed at which these
take place. Play Everquest for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and
your brain chemistry may change. Add additional personal
psychological problems and excessive game playing can lead to real
problems. Like many low level psychological problems such as mild
depression, there is a large discretionary component.  However, over
time the problem can move become more profound and move farther from
the realm of discretionary behavior and into an actual change in how
the brain and body function.

While I have some personal sympathy for the "Think of it as
evolution in action." attitude of some of the posters on mud-dev,
the fact remains that game producers have some ethical
responsibility to their users. A game should warn its users that the
possibility of addiction exists. It should suggest the danger signs
and provide suggestions on how to proceed if they are
noted. Microsoft has labels all over its mice and keyboards warning
of the danger of repetitive movement problems. This is reasonable
since their Natural Keyboard claims to minimize those dangers. The
warnings let the user know that while the product might reduce the
risks, it does not eliminate them. Remember, the successful lawsuits
against the tobacco companies were not because their products are
dangerous. Smith & Wesson and Ski-Doo make products far more
dangerous. The lawsuits claimed that the companies lied about the
risks and suppressed information about the dangers and the addictive
nature of their products. That is why damages were awarded.

I will never sue Sid Meier over the thousands of dollars in billable
time that I have "wasted" playing Civ, Civ2, Alpha Centuri and
Civ3. It was my choice. I know that there is a terminus to this
addiction (at least on a game by game basis ) as well as a known
pattern of play from years of gaming. But some people do not.

My personal belief on this issue from a public policy point of view
is that you can apply the "NRA Principle": "Games don't kill people,
people kill people" (including themselves). I don't want to see
mandatory labeling but I do think it is reasonable for producers to
address this problem.

Final point: From a business point of view, it makes no sense to
intentionally try to make your game addictive. Everquest make the
same money if a user plays for 200 hours this month, or 15
minutes. Clearly, it is in their interest for players to use the
world as little as possible as long as they continue to pay. While
some games do seem to follow the model of older "pay-per-hour"
systems, this will change with time and eventually render the point

John A. Bertoglio
jb at co-laboratory.com

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