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Feature: 'Games and Addiction: Are We There Yet?'

How closely studied is so-called game "addiction?" What are its possible causes? Is the media providing balanced reports on this phenomenon? Do we really understand it yet? Neils Clark answers these questions and more, in today's
January 05, 2007
How closely studied is so-called game "addiction?" What are its possible causes? Is the media providing balanced reports on this phenomenon? Do we really understand it yet? Neils Clark answers these questions and more, in today's exclusive Gamasutra feature. In this excerpt, Clark, an addition and games researcher at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, likens the widespread mainstream ignorance on just what gaming addiction could be or entails to taunting an already feisty animal: "So will people choose to learn new things, choose not to, or refuse to choose? How ever you slice it, there’s a fear and anxiety that’s closely tied to ignorance. With this in mind, we can start to see where a lot of this game-related anxiety comes from. It’s tied, in part, to more broad social fears of technology. Stanford University’s Nick Yee has been looking at the trouble with calling games “addictive,” and noted that, “the level of social acceptance for technologies, objects, and people influences how likely we blame them in analogous scenarios, and how likely we take on holistic as opposed to narrow perspectives in trying to explain the problem." So not ‘getting’ games is like a stick. The mass of people who don’t understand technology, they’re like an angry badger. The badger is already pretty feisty, but give it a poke or two with the ignorance stick and it's seething. Let’s suppose, for the moment, that one particular badger is completely unwilling to understand technology or games. If somebody close to that badger, say a friend or family member, plays games, it would be a lot more difficult for the badger to tell if that person actually had a problem. The badger may very likely drag a perfectly healthy gamer away from a perfectly healthy hobby. Most people have no desire to be a badger. They know that a lot of people just play for fun. They want and need to become informed, but right now the information out there is ridiculously bad. To turn the analogy in a slightly different direction, gamers face incessant stick-poking by questionable, even laughable information on game “addiction.” With enough harassment, they’d be well within their right to become badgers, except with the major difference that they “get” games, and to varying degrees technology. They’re becoming badgers because they keep getting poked by other people’s ignorance. If good information were available it would be one more area where society could get informed and move on." You can now read the full Gamasutra feature on the subject with more on how to take away that ignorance stick, and what it means when games “approach the texture of offline life” (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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