Project BioD

How Becoming Addicted to Video Games Can Be Good for You

The very talented TV presenters, Bajo and Hex, from ABC Australia’s path-breaking show, Good Game.

One of our favorite Australian TV shows is called Good Game. It’s a unique and very well-made, well-presented show about the latest computer games (the hosts, Hex and Bajo, are outstanding).

In the most recent episode, they ran an excellent segment about “Problem Gaming,” where people, usually young people, become addicted to computers games — often to MMO games such as World of Warcraft — in the same way people, usually older people, become addicted to gambling.

“Internet Use Gaming Disorder,” according to the report, is now part of the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The addicted gamer finds it hard to do anything else but play the game. He or she will sometimes stop eating, stop exercising, lock themselves away in a computer room, lose contact with friends and family. “I could only answer people with smiles and nods,” one gaming addict is quoted as saying.

Some proposed solutions include psychological treatment, counseling, reaching out for help — but also more public health regulations and greater awareness by gaming companies.

The casino industry, for example, is notorious for preying upon the gambling addict’s weaknesses. According to a recent report on America’s National Public Radio, casinos will not only lure addicts to their gambling parlors with free hotel rooms, first class flights, entertainment, free drinks and golf, but they will program slot machines to show more “near misses.” You pull the lever. You get a cherry, another cherry, and — oh! — a pear. The “near miss” is known to trigger an impulse that actually produces a thrill in problem gamblers — a thrill that can be as addictive to problem gamblers as winning itself.

Gaming companies have figured out similar, but vastly more complex ways to keep users coming back for more. “The technology is racing way ahead of the social rules,” says Professor Ian Hickie of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at Sydney University. “These social rules need to evolve.”

Efforts to help protect the public from gaming addiction make sense, but ProjectBioD is approaching the problem in a different way. What if being addicted to something isn’t so bad? Replace the game with a scientific pursuit, such as finding a cure for malaria, and suddenly the gaming addict — obsessed, not talking to friends, foregoing food — begins to resemble the much-admired portrait of a passionate scientist, tirelessly working to make an important discovery that could one day benefit society.

So the problem may be less about game development racing ahead than about science — great science — adapting too slowly to the educational opportunities around it. Put simply, nothing stops a game designer from developing games that friends and family would want their loved ones to become addicted to; because these games would involve all the things that help make people more fulfilled and well-rounded in their lives, such as socializing, physical activity, getting outdoors, eating right, learning, exploring, creating, and so forth.

Of course, ProjectBioD is focusing on just one potential benefit of gaming — namely education, particularly as it applies to the appreciation and protection of biodiversity. But if the players of our games become addicts, spending more and more time in the wilderness working to identify and better understand the local flora and fauna, well, that might be a problem worth celebrating.

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