Oh, hello. I didn't see you come in. I hail from the now-defunct 1UP and am looking for a new home/community for the grand reopening of my blog. Why I didn't think of Destructoid earlier is anyone's guess, but it seems like things will be a good fit here...or at least I hope they will. If you like esoteric ramblings on small, nitpicked issues in gaming, you've come to the right place. Maybe I take things a little too seriously, but I like to think of it as passion rather than pretention. Please to enjoy.
Before reading this post, please take the time to watch the video in question in its entirety. If you're feeling particularly bored, I would also recommend their previous two videos on the topic as well, though I believe they're listed under "Game Addiction" rather than "Game Compulsion." They aren't prerequisites for this post, but they're good watches in their own right. While I'm generally a fan of the Extra Credits series, there are occasions when I take some issue, often a minor one, with the stance it takes regarding a certain topic. This is one such occasion, though the issue I find myself taking with this video isn't so much what they are actually advocating. I do believe that game "compulsion" is a real issue that plagues a lot of players in some capacity, and I agree with many of their postulates of the sources for game compulsion amongst a large majority of those afflicted. I even have a couple blogposts which detail my own experience with game compulsion which some may find interesting. Rather, the problem I have with the video is the naïveté of its message.
The message is naïve in two ways: it belittles the problem of game compulsion, and it grossly misunderstands the nature of today's gaming landscape in kind. The final minute or so of the video more or less boils down to, "buck up, kid," offering little to no practical advice beyond simply telling players to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and overcome their problem with game compulsion. Which is unsatisfying to say the least. How do you overcome game compulsion? By overcoming game compulsion, of course. Thanks, Extra Credits.
I don't want to be too harsh with my tone here, as Extra Credits is one of the few outlets I've seen address this issue beyond the more extreme cases like those who die of starvation at the hands of League of Legends. But there's only so much credit one can give to those who offer such an impotent and ineffectual message. "Using" the feeling of accomplishment in games to compel oneself to action in real life is much easier said than done when actually gripped with game compulsion. The courses of action one could apply that feeling to in real life don't simply appear to be greater obstacles than we feel we can accomplish; they seem less important as well. Making progress towards one's virtual goals begins to take precedence over making progress towards one's tangible goals, and soon enough, those goals get pushed to the side in order to power level a character for yet another 14-hour day. One's virtual goals not only begin to feel more attainable than real-life goals (because they intentionally are), but especially within RPGs or other narrative-driven experiences, they begin to take on more significance in one's psyche. Saving the world feels a lot better than retouching your résumé, even if it doesn't yield tangible rewards, but that immediate feeling of accomplishment you feel from games begins to overwhelm any sense that the endeavor is ultimately an under-productive (if not unproductive) use of your time.
And that's even after one has come to terms with how patronizing video games are at their cores. Virtually every video game is crafted to be completed by its target audience, and as such, the obstacles games present offer enough challenge to make the player feel accomplished after overcoming them, but not enough challenge to prevent that same player from surmounting it. The feeling of accomplishment in games is ostensibly an empty one, yet even being presently aware of that fact, there is a comfort in being all but guaranteed success in one's endeavors, be they virtual, tangible, fruitless, or rewarding. When one is suffering from game compulsion, that comfort can be intoxicating, making tasks without that safety net feel not only more daunting, but futile as well. Why try and possibly fail when given the opportunity to try and almost always succeed, especially when the fail-safe task is so much more interesting than the minutiae that plagues our everyday lives?
The industry is, in many ways, well award of this mentality, and it could be said that many are exploiting it for financial gains. That Extra Credits failed to mention the outright Skinnerian feedback loops that developers often consciously design into their games is a terrible shame, as gaming compulsion could easily be thought of as a two-way street rather than a solitary addiction. Some obstacles and tasks offer greater challenges, some offer less, each offering rewards of corresponding values to the player upon their completion, and game designers, especially those who design MMOs, are perfectly aware of how best to craft the experiences of their games so as to provide the optimum experience of progress for their players. Whether that gambit is being employed to extend players' accounts beyond monthly subscription dates or to coax players to purchase some time-saving mount using microtransactions, it's not-so-ulterior motive is always clear: keep them playing. Get them hooked, make them come back for more. More and more MMOs are going free-to-play these days, and the cynic in me thinks it's because MMO and mobile developers are finally learning that the first hit should always be free. Not everyone's going to come back after the initial taste, but those who do will be hooked for quite some time and eager to pay for more.
Game compulsion can be a serious problem for gamers, and isn't something to be brushed aside in the manner Extra Credits was apparently wont to do in their most recent episode on the topic. It's a surprisingly intricate issue that can't simply be addressed and corrected en masse in one web video, especially one that glosses over nearly everything that gives it its depth. Attempting to do so doesn't respect those who have experienced game compulsion in the past nor those who are experiencing it now, and it's sad to see an institution I otherwise have little issue with make such an error.