Various sites are reporting today that Dong Nguyen, the creator of the iOS/Android game "Flappy Bird" has decided to pull his game from both app stores. Reportedly because he felt that the game was "Too Addictive". Not having heard about the game before seeing this news, I did some quick Googling. Which took me to some interesting IGN reviews that question whether this addictive game is actually any good or not. Which got me thinking about addiction in games generally.
(WARNING: This Article Might Be Uncomfortable To Read Or Think About)
The most interesting IGN video review, with a discussion between two commentators, is here. But it doesn't want to embed for me. So here's a different one:
In World of Tanks, for instance, I often find myself falling into a certain mind-state after playing for a while. Where I'm almost on auto-pilot. Move. Acquire target. BOOM! Move Acquire target. BOOM! Is that simply a sensory addiction? Is is good for me long-term?
In the game's garage-mode, I find my buttons being pushed as I look to 'complete' a tank's upgrades. It bugs me when I have a tank without a camo-paint job. It bugs me when I don't have one of every type of tank. Etc. When I get impatient, out comes the credit card. I feel dirty, but happy for a while. Then the same urges start gnawing on me again.
In the tabletop realm, a game like 40K, Fantasy, Flames, or X-Wing has multiple addictions too. Addictions to hobby/painting as a calming sensory experience. Addictions to praise for winning games or painting well. Addictions to endless list-building. Addictions for the collector who must have everything, or at least the special thing that only a few have.
We don't call it plastic crack for nothing.
This isn't confined to just games, of course. I avoided watching "The Walking Dead" and "Breaking Bad" for years because I knew that I'd get "hooked" on them. Losing days of potentially productive time to Netflix "binges". Which did happen once I finally gave in. Though I'm often able to "get through" them by half-watching the shows while I paint or play World of Tanks. What's that say about my real level of interest in either?
Obviously, nobody would start one of these addictions if there was no pleasure involved. But at what point are you just clicking to kill the next tank, write the next list, watch the next episode, or what have you. When does painting models for pleasure turn into a souless desire to complete an arbitrary set? Simply because you're compelled to see how the story ends, how the characters escape, or how high you can score?
Is spending a weekend playing a new video game in your underwear, eating nothing but hot pockets and Mountain Dew really all that different from what a chemical addict goes through during a binge?
Recognizing that these are addictions, and as a potential, if not an actual problem.... What we do about it? How do we define what an "ethical" or "unethical" addiction is? As a game designer or a TV writer, are there lines that shouldn't be crossed in creating potentially addicting games or stories? Or would the whole entertainment industry simply fall apart if we did?
Neuroscience will probably offer most of those answers eventually. As we continue to make progress in exploring how working brains function, we'll eventually be able to identify the effects of various stimuli. We'll also be able, eventually, to compare the neurological effects of certain addictions versus others. Labeling them 'good' or 'bad' according to which areas of the brain they stimulate.
Here's a good TED Talk on how games affect the brain:
All of this brings me to my final questions for the community:
As I see local players dropping 40K & Fantasy, they dabble in this and that. But mostly they seem to be gravitating towards board games instead of direct 40K competitors like Flames/Dust/WarMachine.
Is this simply because they can't afford miniature wargames anymore? Or is it because they've recognized (consciously or unconsciously) that boardgames are more "honest" and less addicting (at least in a financially demanding way) than miniature wargames are?
I see it as being potentially analogous to how a hard-core MMO player might get tired of all the online micro-transactions and switch to only playing boxed video games. Where you pay for the entire experience up front. Much as we once did with Diablo II or the original Starcraft years ago. Where, once you paid the developers your money, you didn't feel like your in-game progress depended on constantly paying even more money to continue the experience.
And if that is the case... Is the miniature wargaming industry, as conceived by GW and later imitated by others, a now-flawed business model? We know that the industry is in a general decline. But is that purely due to the various companies in that industry failing to offer a good value within that model? Or is it because, as we gamers come to grips with the science and consequences of our addictions, of a larger cultural shift away from leisure activities that are now seen to be exploitive in nature?
I don't know the answer to that question. Or maybe I just don't want to admit it.