[MUD-Dev] Dopamine and addiction

Rayzam rayzam at travellingbard.com
Thu Dec 18 00:25:49 New Zealand Daylight Time 2003

From: "Ola Fosheim Grøstad" <olag at ifi.uio.no>
> "Rayzam" <rayzam at travellingbard.com> writes:

>> of the beholder. So if someone is addicted to a game, and that
>> affects his life negatively, did the game cause the addiction
>> [and thus ethical game design is an issue], or does the
>> individual have an addictive personality and manifest it in the
>> game?

> I think I disagree with your premises. I consider you to be
> responsible if people with an illness is getting hurt by your
> product/artifact if you ought to know better.

But it's not black and white. Games don't make everyone or a
majority ill. You seem to be suggesting that if a game makes anyone
at all ill, it should be removed. That's like saying that people
should be prevented from injesting all toxins and poisons, while
many drugs are toxins or poisons in different amounts, or some
people have life-threatening allergic reactions to some beneficial
drugs [such as penicillin]. If I read your argument right, what
you're suggesting is equivalent to banning penicillin from everyone
because it will make a few very ill and possibly kill them. And
their allergy is built into them in the first place.

> Anyway, pure numbers and the fact that players stay in activities
> they find boring... ought to suggest something beyond that? But I
> suppose it would be easier to show this to hold/not hold for a
> predisposed person. So we can stick to that.

Well, I won't argue the boring or not boring part. I don't
understand why someone maintains a boring activity unless there's a
motivation for a later beneficial pay-off. Can we imagine a game
that players enjoy? :) Which is more likely to be addictive to the
individuals we're discussing.

>>   - does the person have some threshold that after so much
>>   intense game playing, now becomes addictive.

> Hm. In general the most likely would be that they are designed in
> a way which makes players perceive it as meaningless to play less
> than 30 hours every week. So eventually you need to get your daily
> "shot" of dopamine?  And there are no obvious opportunities for
> exit (unlike some reset based games that at least go through
> transitions)...

Okay, I concede your point here. Games that are designed to keep
people playing, aimed towards 30hrs-plus a week, are 'pushing' their
product. I'm part of the camp that believes someone should be able
to have a fulfilling game experience in 1-2 hrs, which is the time
spent watching a movie. A game should be playable at any level of
time spent. Some games have the problem that the lower levels are
killing rats, then you kill dogs, wolves, and only later go for more
involved plots that are enjoyable. That's not a necessity, but a
crutch, and can be fixed by designers.

As for a daily shot of dopamine, which is a different
issue. Actually, the dopa/acetylcholine balance, along with
serotonin modulation, does require something akin to that. Severe
imbalances lead to things like self-mutilation. Everything in

>>   player games, then online games. You need bigger fixes with
>>   biological addictions after all. That'd be either more intense
>>   experiences, or more time spent overall to increase the
>>   dose/day or dose/week.

> You need more and more sex? More and more food? No?

Depends. We were talking about biological addictions. If someone is
diagnosed with a real biological addiction to sex, then yes, they
need more and more. The same way alcohol addiction works. When it
comes to the nucleus accumbens and limbic system in the brain, it
doesn't matter what the addicting substance is. The brain handles it
all the same way, be it alcohol, cocaine, sex, or games. So if a
person was addicted to either of those, then Yes, they'd need more
and more, due to tolerance, another builtin part of the neural

>>   - is a games addiction replacing a more destructive addiction?
>>   I'm not saying mogs can replace say alcohol addiction.

> Yes, I know of cases, but that is a rather selfdefeating argument
> unless the doctor prescribed it! ;)

Why? People can care for much of their health without going to a
doctor.  Over-the-counter medications, Over-the-internet mogs :)

>> person's interactions with others? Some people are too shy to
>> interact in person, but find that they can online.

> Somehow pure chatsystems seem to have less impact? Or?

I don't know why. Perhaps it has to do with the existance of an
avatar.  Psychotherapy uses dolls or puppets at times to get
patients to open up, when they can't just lying on the couch not
seeing the therapist. For thepoint I was making, it doesn't really
matter if there's a difference in impact. The point was just based
on the (empirical, not scientifically studied) fact that some people
become less shy after engaging in mogs.

>> can overcome it. Or it could cost him a job and a family. Both
>> are extremes of the continuum once more.  - is it the PvP aspect?

> Hehe, I am sure the PvP can be a reason (revenge, "you are not
> going to force me out of the system"), but PvP isn't really
> widespread.

True. Not saying it's widespread, but it could be one factor for
some people.

>> Perhaps its a form of anger management. Perhaps its an outlet to
>> deal with abusive situations that the person is stuck in.  Or
>> maybe it will provoke real life violence.

> I am sure it would. Take away the addictive substance and addicts
> will get angry ;).

Well, you're avoiding the beneficial side. I pointed out both.

>> Overall, the question about whether our games are ethical or not
>> is complicated and nuanced.

> Mmm... I find it easier and easier to say that they are not
> ethical. Year by year. I would have less problems with them if the
> users actually had true freedom to create. It is not the "world"
> part I think is the most troublesome, it is the "game"
> part. Although it is sad that players in general don't have the
> opportunity to meet in person and give hugs.

So even if many people are helped by games, and even more are
enjoying them for the games they are, if a few have a genetic
predisposition to addictions and access to the games, the games are
unethical? I'm not for banning the sales of all peanuts because a
few people have a severe biological allergy to them that could
really hurt them.

What would you have games do? Run the player's genetic code to vet
them for addictiveness, and if they are, don't let them
buy/subscribe/play the game?

This reminds me of the McDonald's case where someone sued them
because they got fat eating the burgers.

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