Matt's Podcast 4: Can a videogame get you high?

Matt Barton's picture

Turn on (the videogame)! Turn on--the gameThis week, I address a question that I'm sure we've all pondered at some point--are videogames really addictive, and, if so, is that necessarily a bad thing? I'm particularly interested here in what it would take to design a videogame that would "turn you on," offering a comparable experience to taking LSD or even peyote but without the potential side effects. How close are we to developing true digital drugs? Will you be the Albert Hofmann of videogames?

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Links to things mentioned in the show:
PlayStation Nation: Protect Your Child from Video Game Addiction
Doors of Perception
Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
Dan Carlin
Trauma on Steam

Comments

Hatta
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Joined: 04/27/2010
Fantastic podcast. Drugs and

Fantastic podcast. Drugs and games have both been unfairly maligned, for largely the same reasons. Great to see people appreciating Huxley, that book is a real gem.

I think the games that come closest to the psychedelic experience are the ones that get you into the zone. I've had good luck with games by Jeff Minter. Bullet hell shmups are actually pretty trippy too. You have to widen your normal focus (or you could say, open the doors of perception) to really see what's going on.

The thing to understand with drugs is that the experience they create is really from within you. It's your brain that's doing this, the drug just flips the switch. So it makes sense that other things could flip the same switch. People even used to auto-flagellate to push themselves into altered states. I'm glad we have more options now.

clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
I know when i play tempst

I know when i play tempst (arcade with a spinner) or my jag T2k version i almost forget time, dont notice what is going on around me. When i first got my JAG back in the day I had 3 roomates and we had the party house.. every friday and many Saturday nights we would have at least 20+ people over, far to many drinks.. and yes the REAL drugs where used..suprisingly for the 3-4 years it went on nothing majore ever happened.. no fights, no injuries, no busts.. Video games didnt get alot of play as it was about 50/50 male female. most of us had GF at the time.. so the TV if it was on had MTV going but most of the time it was the Stereo.. some pair would normally go throuhg my cd's ( i had about 2000 at the time, i was a bit of a music freak) and I had a 10 disc changer you could program (very cool like a jukebox in a way) so people would be the DJ's so to speak.. err.. getting off topic... Me and a couple other spent a few parties seeing how drink and drugs effected us.. Drink.. well we all sucked after so long.. I wont do the 'standard" .. "we all got better for a bit" none of us ever improved.. I think there is a point when you are just drunk enouhg you can close off the outside world and maybe it would help you stay focused on the game.. but its a very short time.. Now drugs.. (and before we all jump ot the conclusion in a wastoid.. I owuld never have gone that far.. but in the past I did indulge.. and I did try several things, I liketo explore not onluy in video game, but real life.. Matt mentioned payotte.. well I have had that..but this is about that) they effected us all differtn i think.. i wont say anybody was better (again, I dont think any of us where.. and this wa no ddep scintific study.. just some messing around).. but i think some of us played slightly better with the mellowing effect.. again for a short period..

and my point (colective sigh of releif from the crowd). Tempest.. on my jag. I when bored, or crappy weather or whateer.. was stuck inside.. I can remeber many a day being 100% wasted.. playing that game.. in a ZONE.. a HIGH so ot speak. I didnt want to quit it just felt good to play, I cant give any reason.. it snto the score, its not the fact it was a singel credit that lasted all day.. I think its a combo of alot of things.. a game I loved, Ihad some skill in it, it was lasting without starting a new game, the feeling of being goood.. i think the game itself has a slight hyponotising effect.. especially when played for more then a few minutes. it was great feeling .. a High.. it wasnt somethng that worked every time.. which is whre you start to wonder.. shouldnt a High work the same.. but when it did work, the zone was achived.. it was a feeling I could enjoy for hours.

addiction: Everquest was my first video game addiction.. I dont theink I hever had that HIGH with it. but man I couldnt get enouhg of it.. when expansions (first few) came out I skipped work to play, I planned (with my guild) raids .. and severl lasted 10+ hours when things went right.. (wow is for pussies when it comes to raiding).. I was with a guild that killed an dragon that wasnt suposed to be killed (ban hammer! and went throught he BS of getting reinstated (my one and only time as a guild leader, never happen again.. its worse the work when you have people in a guild whining at you)
That game was real addiction.. it topped any DRUG (real or digital) i have ever known.. I spent about 5 years.. totally addictied to it 7 years playing it.. my wake up call was ( i had 3 accounts and I 3 boxed sometimes) tally up the hours played on my 3 main characters.. in 7 years I had 3 REAL YEARS of playtime.. how did I do that?.. I had GF at the time.. maybe had is the key in that sentance. 3 friggin years of hours in a game played 7 years.. that really does add up to almost every waking hour when I wasnt working and sleeping I was playing EQ for 7 years.. gosh.. its so sad when I think about it now.. I kept telling myslef some people drink there life away, or gamble.. i do this and it dont hurt anybody so its better.. but to understand addiction you have to understand why it harms you.. I dont theink the game was bad.. my lack of being able to "not play" was the issue...I had friends i saw weekely , then for 7 years.. maybe 2-3 times a year.. i used to go to movies, go out with friends, be in bowling leagues, dart leuages.. etc.. that all quit... i didnt have time for um.. Some good did come out of it.. I quit wasting money on those legues.. i still do it rarely every year or 2,, but just one.. I dtill havent got back into movies at theaters.. a 65" big screen at home with surround sound and a much more comfy chair .. I will stay at home and wait 2 months to watch a movi3e now.

with anything there has to be control.. and thats not the game, its the person.

Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Clok, allow me to respond to

Clok, allow me to respond to your post about addiction. There are some points I'd like you to consider.

First off, this issue of spending so much time playing Evercrack. Was that time really wasted?

The next is the topic of addiction. I define addiction as being unable, rather than unwilling, to stop doing something harmful to yourself. I believe there are very few things that can affect a healthy mind to that degree, and generally skeptical of such claims. People say they are addicted to cigarettes, for example, yet I know plenty of people who were able to quit. On the other hand, crystal meth, crack, and so on seem to require treatment to break people off of them. I still think there is a helluva lot more involved than just the chemicals in the drugs; the typical "crack whore," for instance, has plenty of other serious problems besides just the crack. Even without the crack, would that person be in a desirable position in society? I seriously doubt it.

Anti-videogamers have to dig deep to find cases that really look like videogame addiction, which is why we've all heard that same story about the Asian man so many times. But the truth is, if there was real addiction here, there would be hundreds of thousands of such cases in the news. I'm sorry, but something is not an addiction because you'd rather indulge in it than spend time with a girlfriend or pursuing a degree. Those are choices that you make, and they may not be bad choices if you think of them objectively.

Which brings me to my first question: are you videogames a waste of time? I've already covered this is another podcast, so will only briefly answer here. I don't think so. At worst, it's harmless to society, doesn't waste resources, expose you to dangers, relatively inexpensive, etc. At best, even if you think it's just a waste, you are developing skills. Most of those skills are how to play that game better, but some are more general and transferable, such as focus, navigation, management, precision, or whatever. Furthermore, with an MMO, you are playing with other people, which is a social activity. Would you feel as bad if you'd spent an equivalent amount of time doing intercollegiate sports, say the rowing team? I don't see anything fun at all about rowing, but people who go for it seem to have similar drives to MMO fans; want to be with other people, want motivation, like clear goals and competition, etc. Ultimately, though, it's all a "waste" if our criteria is that you should've been doing something to make you Rich and Successful (TM).

Finally, I come back to what you "ought" to do with your time. We have a very narrow view of what constitutes "the good life" that is extremely silly when you look at it. Most of us even feel bad that we don't have "the good life," which usually amounts to a beautiful spouse, gorgeous house, millions of dollars, high profile job, a perfectly toned body, etc. Yet you'd have to be an IDIOT to think those things really amount to a hill of beans. All you need to do is look at people who have those things, and you see at a glance how miserable they are. Sure, somebody who is starving or living with constant pain would disagree, but most of us are fortunately not that bad off.

In short, if playing a videogame can make you happy and feel fulfilled, that's a very inexpensive tradeoff to wasting years endlessly pursuing the unattainable happiness that supposedly comes with riches.

My own narrow view is that any talk of "being productive" is a load of bull. It really seems to be a sort of conspiracy to keep workers in line, toiling away. Sure, work for us, make us richer, and that should make YOU happy doing it. Err...No thanks.

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clok1966
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Joined: 01/21/2009
agree
Matt Barton wrote:

In short, if playing a videogame can make you happy and feel fulfilled, that's a very inexpensive tradeoff to wasting years endlessly pursuing the unattainable happiness that supposedly comes with riches.

My own narrow view is that any talk of "being productive" is a load of bull. It really seems to be a sort of conspiracy to keep workers in line, toiling away. Sure, work for us, make us richer, and that should make YOU happy doing it. Err...No thanks.

I dont disagree at all.. as i was sorta (mispelling make my ramblings hard to read even for me I really gotta finally bite the bullet and move to chrome) I dont feel video games are a waste of time ever if you like them.. I think much like you do, If i enjoy it and its not hurting others why is it any differnt then sports, the bar, etc..

But again.. if you have friends you socialize with, a GF you commit to.. then you just "forget" them, as they are less interesting then a game.. did i just step into the "hurt others" area? part of freindship is being with your friends .. same with relationships.

I'm really playing devils advocate here.. Im not disagreeing with you really.. but anyhing done in excess can be bad. When i was a evercrack addict I saw nothing wrong. I said excatlly what you are saying. I'm not hurting anybody, I enjoy this, its better then boozing it up. And.. I still agree with all that somewhat.. But time and with all things you do examine them more closely when people around you start to question them. My freinds asked where I was all the time, why I wasnt out at a movie, out at a party, at thier wedding (there was a big UPSIDE to it, yes!!!!!). I started to examine it.. While I still agree it wasnt bad in a huge way.. it was harmfull. In the end some freindships where damaged.. its easy to say if 3 years of almost no contact damged it , it wasnt a good friendship.. but frienship is 2 people.. not one the reason it was damaged was I wasnt a part of it. then you can say, well if the game was more fun... big deal.. it gets back to the helo deck thing.. I played becuase i gave no thought to anyting else.. I made sure I worked.. I had to.. but I skipped anything else. I see that as bad.. no two ways about it. And I agree that part is all on my shoulders, the game didnt do it, I did it.. there was never a time when I would 'do anything" to play it... but it was always what I was going to do if i could.. I wouldnt have died in front of my monitor, but there was several weekends of 7am to 3am.. probebly more then a few.. I know 100's of weekends i never left the house, I was the stereotype.. fast food (mostly pizza as you dont leave the house to get it) boxes build up for a few days.. (een i have my limits.. 1-3 days max till i have to clean)

today I feel it was wrong and not a good thing in teh big picture.. it wasnt wrong like destroying my lungs or liver and spending all my money and sitting in a bar 24/7 but in way its like that replace Booze with a game. YOu want it.. you go where it is.. you dont care if anybody comes with you, you just want that one thing..

again the game is not to blame its the person.. everything has to be done sensibly.. even fun.. and Everquest was where I lost that sensiblity. And I was to blind to see it till later. it never harmed me.. depending on how you look at it.. I gained about 20 lbs in 3 years.. outside guy moving to indoor activity is hard on you.. and I have been fighting that since.. Even today my outdoor life is much less then it was.. the people are gone, grown up, etc..age may have someto do with that.Some friends are alot more distacne then they used to be.. and again, families, ageing, growing up can all count on some of that..

I think when i understood it was when I knew I felt it was "wrong" enouhg I would never let it happen again.. so maybe the judgement of "wrong" is more a personal thing. I WOULD change it if i could.. I would still play EQ, still play it alot, but i would have made sure I still did the other things too.. mayeb in the end I would still be at the same point, i might attribute alot the cahnges to my life due to those shut in years.. but they did come when my friends where all getting there own families, 3-5 guys hanging out going to bars was maybe just comming to an end. But I do know if oyu never show up for anything.. well you cant do it.. I did other things and can consider them a replacement.. but One game.. sjhould it replace 100's of differnt activities.. I do think varity is a good thing.. I alwasy say et ice cream every day pretty soon you dont want icecream..

IF video game can make you HIGH (i think they can) then they can make you LOW too.. I guess i look at it like the guy who goes to school his whole life.. nothing worng with that he knows alot.. but in the ned he nver got out into the world to use that knowledge.. is that wrong? the people that think knowledge should be shared and used think so.. the peolle who love to learn envey that guy.. so where do you stand on it.. the guy who played a game he enjoyed for 3 years straight, do you envy him. Or wonder what he missed? As Im that guy.. when I was playing I envyed him, when I got older, I think he missed alot..

Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Again, I think you're bumping

Again, I think you're bumping up against reality here, Clok. There are social and cultural pressures on you, sending you messages about how you ought to prioritize your time. Girlfriends and "real life" friends are important, for instance. But looking at it realistically, why?

I think a lot of us pursue girls that are not on our level. What I mean by that is that we aren't in balance with them relationship wise. Either YOU want to spend more time with HER than she desires, or vice versa. Ideally, and I've only achieved this once in my life, you strike a balance, so the girl wants to spend about as much as time with you as you do with her. Love? Ha, I don't think I'd call it that. But it is realistic and something you can enjoy and sustain indefinitely.

The same with friends. If it's a real life friend, I'm guessing you met more by accident than purpose, such as being a roommate or going to the same school. I find that most friendships are based on mutual boredom or low self-esteems. I'm bored tonight...too chicken to go out to the clubs by myself...hm, I'll call up Smith. Hey, Smith, got anything going on tonight? Nope? Great, let's go out, DAWG! Is that really so much better than playing Everquest all night?

I'd even go so far as to question family. Maybe I'm just a hopeless sociopath or something, but I don't think there's anything automatic about loving somebody just because they're related to you by blood. I have to laugh at movies and shows where people discover they have a brother they've never met or something, and the implication is that this perfect stranger now means the world to them. HUH? That's just stupid.

If somebody was saying to me, "Why are you spending so much time playing WOW instead of hanging out with me?" I'd simply say, "Because I enjoy it more. Can you make hanging out with you more enjoyable than this game?" If the answer is no, I'd say I made the right decision.

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