[MUD-Dev] Dopamine and addiction

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Fri Jan 9 13:48:36 CET 2004

In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Thu 18 Dec, Rayzam wrote:
> From: "Ola Fosheim Gr=F8stad" <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?

Just to keep the terms straight, addiction is a biological term
meaing a dependency on a certain substance; the absence of which
will cause (possibly) severe physiological reactions.

What we are talking about here is 'compulsive behaviour' which is a
psychological term. While there is some overlap between the two
(addiction generally causes compulsive behaviour in the victim) the
big difference is that the first can be imposed, while the second
can not.  Using any form of drug (or alcohol or nicotin or others)
while eventually make you addicted to it.  Unless you have a
tendency towards it, you will not normally develop a compulsive
behaviour.  Note that not all compulsive behaviour is caused by a
reward trigger (which is what we are talking about here).  Anxiety,
insecurity and (other) psychological problems can equally cause such
behaviour, sometimes even pathological ones which require
hospitalisation. (e.g. self mutilation).

That said, there is nothing anybody can do to prevent somebody with
the tendency to compulsive behaviour to develop one.  The focus can
be almost anything, as long as it gives some form of perceived
reward. People who are vulnerable to this need psychological help.
Removing potentially 'addictive' activities will not help, as they
will simply find another one.

>> 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.

This is only partially true.  For one thing, the player is anonymous
to the game developer as well, and the only information the
developer or publisher has is what the player choses to reveal.  A
tendency towards compulsive behaviour is not something most people
are aware of, and they are likely to trivialise it regardless.

On the other hand, as a game designer there is a certain
responsibility to provide sufficient exit moments, giving players
the opportunity to take a break.  Games like Diablo, which always do
have 'one more challenge' just within sight, are particularly
dangerous to vulnerable players. In my experience (which I admit is
limited) muds both the text and the graphical versions, give ample
opportunity to leave the game almost at a moments notice, without
ill consequences. Subscription games must, of necessity, balance
this against their need to retain players but they are generally
looking for players who play frequently rather than obsessively.
They are not actively looking for ways to 'bind' a player in ways
that might cause compulsive behaviour.

Of course the sad thing is that the players who *need* those
safeguards are the least likely to use them.=20

>> 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.

No.  The fact that players do something they perceive as boring is
no indication that it causes compulsive behaviour in itself.
Players who are not compulsive do the same, because the game
mechanic requires it.

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

No. Compulsive behaviour develops.  Exposure to a certain stimulus
might shape the trigger behaviour, but is not the *cause* of it. The
cause is a natural tendency, which I might add we all do share,
though normally it is called habit forming and considered a mildly
good thing in humans.

>> 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.

Actually, few games are designed to keep people playing for 30 hours
a week.  Most activities in muds can be completed in a few minutes
to one or perhaps two hours. Even activities that take a longer time
can generally be broken down into smaller parts that can be
completed within a reasonable time limit. That people are playing 30
hours a week does not mean they should as far as the game design is

If I understand correctly the things said on this subject before on
this list, games are looking for as many players who are paying
their monthly fee without actually showing up as they represent pure
profit.  Players who play 30 or more hours actually do cost the game
company money.

That most games are poorly designed in the concept of entertainment,
as your example of killing a succession of mice rats dogs and so on
showed, has no bearing on their 'addictive' quality, nor on the
responsibility of the game designer towards that.

Yes - at last - You. I Choose you. Out of all the world,
out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of
my heart! You are mine and I am yours - and never again
will there be loneliness ...

Rolan Choosing Talia,
Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey
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