Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
 
Addiction vs. Fascination

Life is all about managing priorities. As a gamer sometimes a game becomes very important to us, and moves up quite high on our list of priorities. That can lead to other things that other people consider of higher priority to be neglected. Sometimes that is just a good night's sleep, but we might also neglect studies, work, or family. And then often the other people are starting to talk about "addiction". There are even clinics where parents can send their children to, to cure them of their "gaming addiction".

I think "addiction" is the wrong word. I would use the word "fascination" instead. One important difference is that fascination, by its very nature, doesn't last. We lose interest in that game that was so very important to us last month. We might then actively seek out another game to be passionate about, but it isn't as if we got fascinated by any game we try. And unlike an addiction our fascination with some game can easily be cured by simply not playing for a week, because we lose that fascination rather quickly. We come back from a holiday and find that we lost all interest in a game that was highly important to us before the holidays.

Of course losing that fascination was easier when games were mostly played on desktop computers and consoles. Mobile games are less easy to get away from. But until our phones and tablets get a lot more powerful, mobile games aren't quite as intricate and pretty as PC and console games. People do get hooked on Angry Birds or Candy Crush Saga, but more easily if that phone or tablet is the first gaming platform they own. And many mobile games have game mechanics that prevent you from playing for hours, and if not your phone battery is making sure you don't.

The fascination that games have on us isn't necessarily inherent in the game itself. Frequently they are means for escapism, we play games because the real world around us is unpleasant or boring. Less than a third of people are really engaged in their work, people get bored with their marriage, and the safety of modern life means we are less often worried about really important things like our physical well-being. Games (or other non-essential hobbies and activities) become very important to us because there isn't really much competition for our attention. Of course than can be an illusion, and by neglecting real life we risk to lose stuff we took for granted. But in the majority of cases fascination with a game doesn't hit that level. We just need *something* to be passionate about, and the rest of our life might just have failed to provide that.

Comments:
Wikipedia has a useful definition of addiction as "compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences"

I think we can all agree that computer games provide rewarding stimuli and I suspect that most readers of this blog will have indulged in compulsive engagement in games at some point or other. The remaining question therefore is whether or not there are "adverse consequences" and whether or not they are serious enough to justify the tag of addiction.

Lots of gamers spend a little bit more time gaming than they really ought to but they still manage to pass their exams, hold down jobs and do the things that responsible adults do. However some unfortunate gamers go well beyond this and spend far more money or time than they can afford. Some lose their friends, some fail their exams, some lose their jobs, some neglect their children. At this level of adverse consequences I think we are justified in using the term addiction.

An unfortunate reality of modern free to play gaming is that is this unfortunate group of people who are the target audience (the whales) that the entire business model depends upon. The vast majority of players pay very little or nothing at all but the slippery slope of in app purchases is designed to entice and ultimately entrap addicts who will spend and keep spending disproportionate amounts of money in the item shop. I previously likened it to a casino but a more apt analogy is the Nigerian email scam where a million emails are sent out in the full knowledge that 99.99% of them will not garner replies. The the unfortunate 0.01% who do respond are a self selected group with the potential to be sucked in to a bottomless money pit of extortion.

I like your suggestion of not playing for a week. Even such a short time away from an activity allows you to get a bit of perspective and breaks the cycle of "I must log in every day to do X". I also think that the ability to take such a break is a useful test of an unhealthy level of compulsion which may border on addiction. If someone finds it very difficult or impossible to take even a one week break then it is time to get help.

 
Addiction refers to people that still spend large amounts of time on a game even after the 'fascination' has passed. It can even degrade to the habit of playing the game while not really wanting to.

I know people that (still) play WoW very obsessively, but at the same time if you ask them they will reply that the game is 'meh'/archaic/'not fun anymore'. And yet they log in daily and do their chores/dailies/garrison stuff.
 
Chris K.: that's the consequence of sunk cost fallacy. People have played their toons for 10 years and the thought of abandoning them is hard to swallow.

I had a point in classic were I played a lot more than I probably should and thought about what would happen if Blizzard shut down the servers. Took a while to come to a point were I changed from playing for the future ("have to" farm mats to be able to raid tomorrow) to playing for the enjoyment of the moment. Sure it would be sad if the servers get shut down tomorrow but now it'd not be the end of the world.

This thought process 10 years ago was not that different from me quitting to smoke 15 years ago.
 
I've gotten a bit into MTGO, Transformers:Legends and a few mmos over the years. As well as the now failed beta of MechWarrior Tactics.

Compulsive stimuli can hurt.

 
I think that by denying the addiction tag you run the risk of trivialising something that is a major problem for some people.
I find WoW a bit stale, dull and repetitive but I am still playing it after 10 years. I don't think it fits in your definition of a fascination (but I won't claim to be addicted either).
Breaking the habit is not a cure-all either. I'd go so far as to say that something that can be fixed with a time-out is not an addiction. Addictions take hard work to eliminate or learn to cope with. Spending time away can dull the urge but the underlying desire is still their and requires managing.

 
Gaming addiction shows its true nature when you start spending too much time ingame, even when you're not playing it.

You're at school/work but you keep thinking about the game and just can't wait to go back home to login. You sometimes dream about it. You would love to have a gaming-themed birthday/wedding cake. Having a famous WoW boss tattooed on your chest? A dream. Some game gadgets (plushes, statues, collectibles), why not?

Got some spare time? Let's check the latest Youtube videos about my beloved game: tips, tricks, tutorials, parodies, jokes, machinimas, ... Then just a fast Reddit check for the latest posts. Oh boy, I can't wait to dress like myvideogame-hero-name for the next nerd-costume-party!

That's what I would call addiction. Which has nothing to do with fascination.
 
Rugus, the behaviour you described is pretty much everyone who is passionate about something. Think sports fans who want all that.

Addiction is when you cancel plans to go to the movies with your friends to idle around in Stormwind.
 
@ Bryk

It's a very thin line between passion and addiciton. And yes, some fans are obsessed with their teams too. It's a mixture of passion, obsession and addiction.
 
For me addiction is more of a medical condition. Applying it to pretty much everything that people are just passionate about voluntarily is just a marketing device of quacks who offer to "cure" people of that "addiction". That works about as well as previous attempts of "curing" people of homosexuality, which is to say not at all.
 
> For me addiction is more of a medical condition.

It is. And it can be cured (as long as you are aware you have a problem and are willing to fix it).

This also applies to smoking, drinking and other bad habits. Gaming isn't a bad habit -in general- but it can turn into something that disintegrates your (social) life. If you don't moderate yourself you risk to fall in the obsessive-compulsive category. Which is what we are talking about. You leave the "passion" and enter the "obsession".

I don't get your homosexuality reference though, can you elaborate? Being homosexual isn't a choice, it's just how you are (like being black, being tall, being dwarf, being blond, having blue eyes, etc). Gaming IS a choice and wasting time or money for videogames can bring huge problems to the gamer's life.
 
Gaming might be a choice, but the need for entertainment isn't. If you would treat somebody "addicted" to gaming with electro-shocks until he found the very thought of gaming unbearable, that wouldn't solve his underlying problem of nothing more interesting than games going on in his life. He'd quickly become just as strongly obsessed with some other hobby.

Smoking, drinking, and drugs are different because they cause a *real* addiction, a chemical dependency, which is completely artificial and not a part of basic human needs.
 
> He'd quickly become just as strongly obsessed
> with some other hobby.

I don't agree. You can stop being a drug addict, learn the lesson from your experience and move on. You can stop eating like an elephant, lose weright and keep living with a healthy diet, learning from your experience. Gaming addiction can destroy your life but if you understand the problem and feel the need to change, you can do it (with some support, I suppose).


> Smoking, drinking, and drugs are different because
> they cause a *real* addiction, a chemical dependency,
> which is completely artificial and not a part of
> basic human needs.

I compared videogames to smoking and drinking because they're non-necessary things that everyone knows to be potentially dangerous, if you don't control yourself. You can smoke without being addicted, you can drink without being addicted too. Many things can be done with moderation and wont harm you, ever. Gaming is one of the many things that can derail and become a problem. That has nothing to do with "fascination", it's just a wrong word for this context. I guess everyone agrees that if you abandon a game after few days or weeks that's not a problem at all.

 
I guess everyone agrees that if you abandon a game after few days or weeks that's not a problem at all.

But that is exactly my point. 99.9% of people playing a game, even passionately, abandon that game after a few weeks. The same can't be said about heroin, or even cigarettes.
 
> But that is exactly my point. 99.9% of people
> playing a game, even passionately, abandon
> that game after a few weeks.

While I understand what you mean, in your post you mix two completely different "conditions": being fascinated by a game (which may be played occasionally and will soon lose its initial appeal) versus being addicted, which may cause serious problems (both social and physical) and leads to an obsessed need to play it, even when you're supposed to not play it.

When you say "... often the other people are starting to talk about addiction" you then comment that "I think addiction is the wrong word, I would use the word fascination instead" I think you're wrong. Maybe they are trying to help you, because you're unable to actually understand you are addicted to videogames. This is exactly like lazy-obese people who keep telling themselves "but I just eat two times a day", which is obviously a lie they don't even understand.

When someone calls you "addicted" to gaming, most probably you really spend too much time on videogames, leaving real life priorities aside. Stuff like family caring, talking to your children, daily duties, your job, social life, etc. If someone grabs you and tries to tell something like "Hey Bob, stop it, you're obsessed with [game_name]", maybe he/she is right and you are unable to accept that. That usually happens when you stay 45 minutes in the bathroom, bring your cellphone at the table, keep checking your "energy level" while out with friends or assisting your children's homework, etc.

THAT is what I would define addiction/obsession. Which has nothing to do with being passionate with videogames (or sports, or anything else).

I am not addicted to games but I've been in the past. World of Warcraft obsessed me for quite a while but I was unable to see it for myself. Reading posts on Reddit I slowly started to see a similar pattern to those who clearly had an obsession. I became aware of my "condition", so I talked to my wife (we still didn't have kids) and she told me "yes you spend a lot of time on it, mostly at night, but I'm fine with that and I love you".

That day, almost 8 years ago, I understood I had to stop it and control myself, to spend more quality time with her and -in general- be less obsessed with any videogame. I slowed down and -surprisingly- I also started losing interest in videogames in general, apart from occasional gaming sessions here and there.



 
There's a stigma in public discussion:"Oh, all those gamers are just addicts". - Of course not. Most gamers enjoy gaming a lot, and rightfully so. People from traditional culture just don't yet understand that games are shaping our culture today. So they look for explanations: gamers look like addicts to them.

But for a tiny fraction of gamers, the games they play have indeed become addictive. There are people that play more and more. People that play although they resolved to stop playing. They're in a bad mood during and after play, but they continue anyways. And they think that they really should call up their friends again, but they don't. They want to go out and do sports, but they don't. Not because they don't want to, but because they're drawn to the game so much that they postpone everything else. They feel that gaming hurts them, but their life remains unchanged by that feeling.

It's hard to draw the line. But the gamer himself feels very well whether he's addicted or not. He can trust his guts there. So if you play out of fascination - enjoy, and be proud to be part of the leading media of the 21st century!
And just in case you don't - trust your feelings.
 
I think the right question to ask a gamer is "what else is going on in your life?". If the answer is "nothing much", then maybe the guy has a problem. But if he can tell you about friends, family, and work or study in a positive matter, he is pretty much certainly not addicted.

A lot of those "addiction" accusations come from people who if asked what they did last weekend will tell you that they binge-watched the whole new season of House of Cards on Netflix, and don't consider THAT a problem.
 
> if he can tell you about friends, family, and work
> or study in a positive matter, he is pretty
> much certainly not addicted.

Of course not, but no one will tell you "nolifer, addicted, get a life, get a break" if you have a "normal" gaming life. That's not the case I was talking about. I was referring to those who pretend to be "normal" gamers when in reality they are not.

You are/was a WoW player so you may better understand what I mean: if a player can showcase amazing achievements, hundreds of mounts and pets, 10+ alts leveled to 100 with full gear, Mythic clears, tons of gold, high PvP rankings... Then you know that's not a common player. You don't reach certain levels by playing occasionally, just when you have some spare time. You have to seriously dedicate to the game, focus and keep playing on a daily basis. It's not a hit and run. And if you believe that, you are lying to yourself (you is referred to a random player, not you "Tobold").

I insist on this aspect: gaming addiction IS a problem. Most addicted players will never admit to have a problem. They will simply tel "I have a life outside [game_name]". You knbow what's the most common excuse when you ask the total /played time? "Yes it looks like it's 6 hours a day in the last 2 years but... err... I mostly idle in Stormwind or alt-tab to do my stuff".

Lies. That's pure obsession with a sense of deep regret. You may be alttabbing but you still keep track of the game, you still login every day, you still think about doing your business in the capital, in your garrison, etc.

Casuals don't achieve high-end stuff, don't down big bosses, don't collect milions of gold, don't reach the "endgame". No one will tell them "you are addicted". Because they are not.

 
@Tobold there are addicts out there, and some are addicted to drugs, others gambling or alcohol. More recently, this includes video games. Addiction can have a genetic component, but it also has a psychological element as well. Addicts usually have other issues, which the addiction is providing substitution behavior for (avoidance) and leads to serious neglect in life. It's a real thing, although the idea that gaming addiction is somehow distinct from other addictions is (imo) a bit silly.

I've been married three times, and my second wife was a severe gambling addict, bad enough that it sunk us $32,000 in the hole. She would drive our account into the negative by hundreds of dollars, go directly to the casino and cash her paycheck then play it away. It was clearly an addiction. My third, current and final wife has dealt with an addiction to World of Warcraft; at it's height, when I met her early on many years ago she was playing 18-20 hours a day, lost her job because of it, and more or less was surviving on ramen noodles (her addiction would have hit a hard wall if she lost internet). BUT! She has other issues which when addressed led to better behavioral management....WoW addiction was a symptom of other conflicts and issues and with time and effort she got better; she also got involved eventually with a regular stable base of online gamers who helped created a more productive online social environment for her, one which didn't feed in to the compulsive demands of the gameplay in WoW. That said, it's still something which manifests on occasion so the issue has never gone away even after ten years of working on it (and being married since 2009). She has her lapses, but having a husband and son to point out when she's sliding really helps.*

Fascination is something I can relate to: I play lots of games for this reason, and leave many behind when the fascination wears off. But addiction is very real, and video game addiction is one element of how it can manifest. My wife's sister also has an addictive personality, but she turned to drugs and other more damaging behaviors....I consider it lucky that WoW was her expression of this problem and not something more directly damaging.


*Sliding: so here's how I define this. I've played like 6 hours of Halo 4 in the last week, and I spent a good 12 hours last week finishing Alien: Isolation; mostly during the evening after my son is asleep, or maybe playing with him (he's almost 4 but well on his way to being a true gamer); 18 hours gaming. I've also spent 50+ hours at work and kept up dinner, dishes, garbage, playtime with son and pretty much run myself ragged keeping up with it all. The gaming this week was unusual; I usually get half that in...but I'm trying to finish some games so I have room for the new stuff coming out.

In a given week on a "slide" my wife might start gaming from 5 PM to 7 AM, take my son to pre-K at 8 AM, crash until it's time to pick hi up at 4 PM, then start the cycle again. Meanwhile I'd end up doing all chores, dinner, putting son to bed, etc. until the sense of guilt and responsibility hits her and she backs out of her addiction-binge. We've tried the "get away from it all for a week" and that doesn't work with her: she hits it twice as hard when she comes back. Therapy is ongoing. It works, but depends heavily on her resolving the issues in life which led her to lean so dependently on WoW (and the occasional other) as a substitute for confronting those issues that foster the addiction within her.
 
One more comment....Tobold, I think your ideas here are framed by a lack of experience with addicts. Just consider yourself lucky on this; I've dealt with a variety of addictive personalities over the years (SW US has plenty of them) including everything from alcohol and drugs to gaming (my wife being my personal story but not the only gaming addict I know). They all have one thing in common, regardless of whether it's a chemical or psychological addiction: they have underlying issues, they seek escape, and they will do so at any cost and regardless of the damage done to their own lives and those around them. To give you a random example where one must absolutely ask, "What is this guy's life really like?" I would point out that you can find people on Steam with hours logged into games like this:
http://steamcommunity.com/profiles/76561197991420654/games/?tab=all

Ask yourself: what is this guy's quality of life like? Even if he's not binge-watching Downton Abbey instead of playing CS I can guarantee that at 34,044 hours on Counterstrike....which is an average of 2269.6 hours per year for the last 15 years since the game was released. That means he's possibly logging 6.2 hours PER DAY every day, 365 days a year, since game's release.

There are cases where the above might lead me to say, "okay, I understand why this is happening." Maybe he is paralyzed from the waste down, and CS is the venue that lets him live vicariously through his ruthless mercenary dude. Maybe He's severely autistic and this is his medium. But there's not scenario I can think of that says, "This is a balanced, normal guy with a completely normal life who just happens to spend 25% of his day, every day, for 15 years playing CS."
 
If everything is equally addictive, then why do we have a war on drugs, but not a war on games? Can't you see the difference between a heroin addict and the guy playing 6 hours of CS every day? I'm not saying it's healthy, I'm saying its different.
 
> A lot of those "addiction" accusations come from people who
> if asked what they did last weekend will tell you that
> they binge-watched the whole new season of House of
> Cards on Netflix, and don't consider THAT a problem.

You are an intelligent and claver person, how can you compare a weekend House of Cards marathon with a gaming addiction that can persist for YEARS? A "whole new season" made of 15-20 episodes will require less than 20 hours. How can you even compare it with videogaming addiction... Seriously.


What we are desperately trying ton tell you is that ADDICTION and FASCINATION belong to two completely different worlds and shouldn't be mixed.

When someone tells you "you are seriously addicted" that's because -probably- you really are and you don't know that (meaning you either aren't aware OR you don't want to admit it, lying to yourself). It's not just a funny joke people do with gamers. Not anymore. Gaming/videogaming addiction is a pathology which can lead to horrible situations and you shouldn't talk about it so lightly.

Fascination has nothing to do with that, I am sorry but you pictured a completely wrong scenarion in your article. Those who get hit by gaming addiction have *nothing* to do with fascination. At the same time, your definition of fascination isn't something people will ever notice. Playing a videogame for few hours and then abandon it it's a perfectly normal behaviour.

Addiction can manifest itself in many ways, Nicholas told us one of the worst cases (in my opinion) and I realy feel so sad for him and his wife. But you can be addicted without falling into that kind of excess, and still that is NOT fascination.

 
Those who get hit by gaming addiction have *nothing* to do with fascination.

Then maybe you need to find a different word for it. Because your "gaming addiction" is at least as far away from a heroin or meth addiction than it is away from fascination.
 
> Because your "gaming addiction" is at least as far
> away from a heroin or meth addiction than
> it is away from fascination.

How so? Why?

Why a gaming/videogaming addiction that can destroy a family is so different from heroin, meth, alcohol, etc? Did you read Nicholas comments? His life (and his wife's life) got fucked up multiple times due to gaming problems/addiction. If his wife was just "fascinated" by games, do you really think he would have experienced all of that?
 
If you think that is the same, you obviously don't know any drug addicts. A lifestyle that still has Ramen noodles, a computer, and internet access is luxurious compared to the lifestyle of an addict on hard drugs.
 
> If you think that is the same, you obviously
> don't know any drug addicts


Unfortunately I did and that's why I am talking about all of this stuff: because I know what I am talking about. But what you just said in your comment made me realize that you don't know what you are talking about.

You know, there are parents who forgot about their children under a pile of poo and/or left them without food due to gaming addiction.

You really don't have a clue about this stuff.
 
You know, there are parents who forgot about their children under a pile of poo and/or left them without food due to gaming addiction.

There is ONE reported case of that amidst what must by now be a billion gamers. Amidst addicts of hard drugs the rate of people not caring about their children any more is closer to 80%. 25% of people trying heroin just ONCE become immediately addicted, in gamers that is a one in a million chance. Your so-called "gaming addicts" suffer no physiological consequences except for those from lack of sleep and exercise, meth and heroin addiction also destroys the body.

In short, you can shout insults at me that I know nothing allday long, but I have all the world of science and facts on my side that prove that an unhealthy obsession with games or other hobbies is fundamentally different from a drug addiction. If you took a drug addict and got him to abandon drugs in favor of a gaming addiction, doctors would consider that a cure. Would you wish Nicholas' wife to become heroin addicted?
 
I am not insulting you, I am discussing a point of view. I criticize your way to easily mix "addiction" and "fascination" in this specific blog post, because I don't agree when you say that "it's not addiction, it's fascination". This is where I consider you're totally wrong in your article.

Sure, heroin is way worse than gaming (or smoking, for example) but that's not the point: in your article you address what I call "addicted gamers" as simple "fascinated gamers". It's like when an obese child is called "my healthy little boy" by his mom. It's just wrong, he's obese and he has a problem (which can be fixed) but his mom refuses to accept and face the truth.

I honestly can't find another definition for someone who plays 20 alts for years, scoring an insane amount of /played hours (I once read about a guy who had 7 hours/day for the last 5 years). That's not fascinaion, that's pathological obsession/addiction with a videogame.

 
I agree with "obsession", even "unhealthy obsession". People do a lot of bad stuff out of obsession, like getting into fist fights or worse because of an obsession over a sports team. But addiction has a biochemical component to it that goes beyond naturally produced dopamine. An obsessed person really, really doesn't WANT to stop what he is doing. An addicted person can't stop even if he wants to, and his body chemistry reacts very badly if he does.
 
@Tobold I don't think anyone here (yourself or myself) is arguing that a heroin addict is somehow equal in addiction to the WoW addict. The argument is that both are addictions, and both are destructive in different ways. The difference is no one questions that a heroin addict has a problem, but a gaming addict is usually downplayed severely because it hits a bit closer to home for so many of us.
 
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