Designing Videogames to Treat Videogame Addiction

Matt Barton's picture

Nintendo's treatment facility.Nintendo's treatment facility.We've heard often about the dangers of videogame addiction, defined by WebMD as a "clinical impulse control order" similar to gambling, drug addiction, or masturbation. Fortunately, some game publishers are joining forces to do something about it, including Nintendo, Activision, and Blizzard. As Larry Probst of Electronic Arts puts it, "We're fed up with viewing children and thirty-something year old men merely as markets to be ruthlessly exploited. Instead, we wish to leverage our resources to promote prosperity, justice, and goodwill." But what's the plan? It's a simple but cunning plan that might just work: design videogames that will themselves help treat and potentially cure videogame addiction.

Nintendo is perhaps most prominently engaged in the movement at the moment, going so far as to create a handheld gaming console specifically for addiction treatment games. Called the "3DS," the new device features a special feature that strains the eyes, causes dizziness and nausea, and exclusively offers games designed to help gamers fight their addiction. One videogame addict, a 27-year old professional racquetball player, remarked that "After a few hours playing Steel Diver on my 3DS, I knew that I could quit."

Nintendo's strategy is similar to the psychological conditioning technique portrayed in the film A Clockwork Orange. Satoru Iwata, President and CEO of Nintendo, describes it as a sort of virtual version of Pavlov's dogs. "We want players to come to associate these intense physical and mental discomforts with the act of videogaming. This will reduce their dependency and encourage them to pursue other hobbies, such as calculus."

Other companies are joining the game, releasing titles that, at first glance, appear to be merely attempts to cash-in on already popular franchises. Eidos Montreal, for instance, is developing "Deus Ex: Human Revolution," a game designed to wean gamers off of the popular Deus Ex franchise. Under conditions of anonymity, Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, said that "We realized early on that if we released another game like the original Deus Ex or earlier System Shock, we'd create a whole generation of gamers obsessed with gaming, playing the game constantly, comparing strategies, forming communities around it, in short, fueling addiction. Instead, we turned away from that, with a sort of 'bait-and-switch' tactic. Gamers will see the amazing graphics, buy the game, and in a few hours, or perhaps minutes, become bored and disillusioned. We've basically created a Methadone for Deus Ex addicts."

Blizzard's World of Warcraft is brought up most often in discussions of videogame addiction. The massively multiplayer online role-playing MMORPG game has led to countless failed grades, ADHD cases, divorces, suicides, and interest in the occult. Blizzard's plan is simply to flood the game with professional "griefers" and "noobs" who will make the world of Azeroth simply intolerable for all but the hardcore addicts. If this plan does not succeed, Blizzard promises to release a patch that it compares to "the patch" worn by smokers trying to kick the habit. Michael Morhaime, president and co-founder of Blizzard, describes it succinctly: "After installing this required patch, gamers will notice what appears to be totally random crashes, freezes, items not showing up, and other glitches designed to maximize frustration. If we suspect a player is addicted, we will periodically shut down the server, preferably while the player is in the middle of a difficult raid." These behaviors hold great promise.

It's wonderful to see so many companies taking an active role in fighting videogame addiction. But remember--videogames in moderation are okay. Unfortunately, an unsuspecting customer might pick up a copy of Heavy Rain or Sonic 4, totally unaware that these games are designed to fight addiction. It's a bit of a conundrum for developers, who realize that addicts are unlikely to buy these special games if they are clearly labeled. In any case, the next time you play a game that feels boring or downright awful, don't criticize the developer or publisher. Instead, thank them for helping to fight this vicious problem.

Click here to learn more about these industry-wide efforts to stop videogame addiction.


Nous's picture
Joined: 04/07/2007
Fish-eye lens!

An atrocious battery life, headache-and-eye-fatigue inducing tech, as well as keeping prices high - enough to minimise temptation - should do the trick ;-)

It's a Gift from the Cod!

Joined: 09/05/2010
We've been playing the games,

We've been playing the games, but have the games been... PLAYING US!?

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