Are Game Designers Responsible for Video Game Addiction?

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Video game designer David Perry claimed in a TEDtalk he gave in 2008 that rather than improving the visual and audio aspects of video games, game developers were focusing on “emotion, purpose, meaning, understanding and feeling. …can a video game make you cry?” Their goal, according to Perry, was to create a gaming experience that mimicked, and even surpassed, real life. If you were to take a moment to step into the universe of World of Warcraft, The Old Republic, or a non-MMO such as Diablo or Call of Duty, you might argue their goal has been achieved. The question is: at what cost?

Perry’s own presentation included a 8-minute video description of life as a video game addict titled “As Real as Your Life” by Michael Highland. I found it incredibly interesting that as a game designer himself, Perry did not directly address this as a social issue. Many people still don’t believe that video game addiction is legitimate, but in fact the American Medical Association determined that 15% of America’s youth (or 5 million kids) may be addicted to video games. This is to say nothing of the 20-30 something’s, who are in fact the average-age gamers.

WebMD describes video game addiction as an addictive behavior, akin to gambling. Criteria to meet the addiction include:

“1. The person needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him going.

2. If the person does not get more of the substance or behavior, he becomes irritable and miserable.”

In 2010, a 16-year-old in Philly beat his mother to death in her sleep because she took away his play station. Obviously, not every gamer becomes so obsessed as to lose their grip of right and wrong, but there is an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to those who have. So while gamers become more and more immersed in fantasy worlds and characters developed for them by designers, are the designers to blame when things go wrong?

As the creators of this new phenomenon, I think the game-designing community should at least acknowledge this growing addiction and its negative effects. For example, the fact that Perry showed that video to the audience, and then glossed over it, implying that he only hoped to create more addicting games in the future (and even stating he hoped his daughter would enjoy games) seems odd and irresponsible to me. They didn’t create this monster on purpose, but it’s still been created. Someone has to do something about it.

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