It’s hard to argue that video games are not capable of developing a dependency in their users. As I’ve posted before, the situation has grown so acute that 10 South Koreans — mostly teenagers and people in their twenties — died in 2005 from game addiction-related causes.
At a recent conference in Melbourne, Australia, Jonathan Blow, a prominent independent developer labeled modern games such as World of Warcraft unethical.
[The reward system used by many online games] is very easily turned into a Pavlovian or Skinnerian scheme,” he says. “It’s considered best practice: schedule rewards for your player so that they don’t get bored and give up on your game. That’s actually exploitation.”
Developers should provide activities that interest players “rather than stringing them along with little pieces of candy so that they’ll suffer through terrible game play, but keep playing because they gain levels or new items”, he says.
“I think a lot of modern game design is actually unethical, especially massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, because they are predicated on player exploitation,” Mr Blow says.
He believes players will naturally avoid boring tasks but developers “override that by plugging into their pleasure centres and giving them scheduled rewards and we convince them to pay us money and waste their lives in front of our game in this exploitative fashion”.
It may be relevant to trot out this old gem – The View From the Top – a post from a highly successful online gamer who, after a year of toiling away online, quit ‘cold turkey’ from the entire environment.
Don’t get me wrong, WoW did a lot of things right. At times it was a fun game that allowed me to keep in contact with friends who lived far away. More importantly it introduced me to some of the best real life friends I’ve ever met. However, it did take an undeniable toll on me and is taking a far greater one on many, many people when taken too far.