Killing Time Online Why are online games so addictive? Science is providing answers.
Mars W. Mosqueda Jr. > Reader's Digest October 2006
Classes had just begun at the Mapua Institute of Technology in Makati City, Philippines, on a beautiful Tuesday morning in July 2003. While Stanley Vincent Dimaya's classmates were busy writing answers for a surprise test, the 18-year-old computer science student was having trouble concentrating. He tried to focus on the questions, but he couldn't stop thinking about warriors doing battle. Vivid scenes of fire-breathing monsters and cursed ghosts killing humans played repeatedly in his head. Within minutes Dimaya was consumed by an intense desire to play Ragnarok – an online role-playing adventure game based on Norse mythology. His eyes darted between his paper and the door. Abruptly he pushed his chair aside, grabbed his bag, and told his professor that he had a stomachache and needed to leave. Dimaya was soon rushing out the school gate. By the time he reached the unkempt Internet café he frequented near his school, he had forgotten about exams or classes. Finding a vacant computer station, Dimaya clicked on the Ragnarok icon and in a few quick keystrokes began his journey into the fictional empire. Knowing that he'd lose track of time, Dimaya checked his wallet for cash and realised that the 500 pesos (US$10) his parents had given him to buy a computer textbook would allow him to play for more than ten hours. Dimaya eased back into his chair with a grin – it was going to be a long day. Dimaya's experience is alarmingly common in Asia.
According to research firm DFC Intelligence, Asia is the leading region for online games. In all, 114 million people worldwide play online games such as EverQuest, StarCraft, and World of Warcraft. The sheer number of Internet cafés – the Philippines alone has an estimated 1500 – that are easily accessible day and night, has created a fertile environment where online gaming has flourished. More worryingly, it has also led to people becoming addicted to online games. South Korea, where 17 million people play online games, has seen the tragic consequences of this addiction – in August 2005, a 28-year-old man collapsed and died after reportedly playing StarCraft at an Internet café in the city of Taegu for 50 hours straight.
Easy accessibility aside, leading addiction researchers say the real problem is that online games can be habit-forming. The captivating games lure and hold people in their grip by playing off powerful psychological processes. For Dimaya, the day he ran out on his computer science test wasn't the first time warring monsters had beckoned him; he played Ragnarok almost every day.
''Many people feel powerless in society, but in online games they're in control of armies, of cities, of other people,'' says Goh Chee Leong, dean of the Department of Psychology at Kuala Lumpur's HELP University College. ''This power is exhilarating and provides the mental challenge their brain seeks.''
The rapid gratification of winning not only help a players forget their problems but also becomes a powerful trigger, creating an urge to play in the first place.
Psychologists describe this trigger-response mechanism as ''classical conditioning,'' a concept developed by pioneering behavioural psychologist Ivan Pavlov. In Dimaya's case, his mind created an association between the pleasant feeling of winning and Ragnarok's graphic images. When he wasn't playing online and experienced negative feelings, such as the stress of an unexpected class test , his mind would seek pleasant thoughts and recall the feeling of victory he enjoyed while playing Ragnarok. The association was so powerful that battle scenes between monsters and warriors would switch on in his mind.
Chemical Reaction. Dr Muni Winslow, director and senior consultant psychiatrist of the Community Addictions Management Program at Singapore's Institute of Mental Health, says some people may have a greater vulnerability to online games addiction. As a result of their genetic makeup, they suffer disturbances in naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
These chemicals influence impulsive feelings and behaviours. The main neurotransmitter involved in all addictions is dopamine, says Winslow. People with low levels of dopamine are more prone to anxiety and cravings. Advancing to the next stage of an online game gives them a buzz that causes an increase in dopamine and makes them feel better and more motivated. This winning feeling is so rewarding that its memory takes on a great intensity and becomes more desirable every time it is recalled. For Dimaya, the pleasure he got from playing online games became all he could think about.
Low dopamine combined with low serotonin, another brain chemical that normally causes calm and controlled behaviour, can give irrational urges even greater free rein. ''An imbalance of serotonin neurotransmitters has been implicated in aggressive and impulsive behaviour,'' says Malaysian biopsychologist Chitra Karthigeyan. This explains how Dimaya could cut class to play an online game without regard for future consequences.
If this chemical chain reaction in the brain makes people vulnerable to the lure of online games, what compels them to plug in at the expense of other important activities? The psychology of game design may hold the secret. ''Psychology provides game developers with powerful tools to understand the people they create games for,'' says Katherine Isbister, director of the Games Research Laboratory at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and author of Better Games Characters by Design. ''Classical behavioural psychology, which discusses reward schedules, is of value to game designers who want to ensure a person keeps playing a game.''
>>> Kaya Guys Hinay-hinay lang tayo sa paglalaro ng fave online games natin! I bet kahit papano your usual activities were affected when you are hooked on playing.. It's ok to get "addicted" with something, but don't let it ruin your life! Lahat ng sobra masama! Life has something more in store for you, madami pang mauusong mga games in the future hindi lang yang kinababaliwan mo ngayong Ragnarok, Ran Online, Freestyle, Star Craft, etc.. pero the time you've spent or wasted, eh di mo na maibabalik.. Peace out Gamers!
2 months ago