Very interesting perspective from a game designer on how games affect people, and how game designers can best work with the influence they have.
<quote> Based on the research I did, I ended up concluding the following:
* The people who were getting hooked on online games were finding them meeting a need that they weren't meeting elsewhere. To pick the commonest example, people whose social needs for basic human contact weren't being met in meatspace, and who therefore sought friendships in MUD/MMO space. In this sense, the participation was basically therapeutic, and was often even vital to their happiness or survival. It is no accident that early MUDs and MUSHes were so often safe spaces for a variety of people whose real lives were difficult.
There is an enormous body of literature of the use of alternate genders in virtual spaces, for example.
* That there was some proportion of people who got hooked because they were susceptible to getting hooked on things, period, and that there wasn't much that could be done about it.
* That mentally, the notion of "telepresence" and a variety of aspects of how our senses function means that players will take interactions in a virtual space as "real," including having involuntary emotional reactions to things like abuse, violence, affection, and really, any other human interaction. Some people are able to distance themselves from this, but many more will simply treat the game as mediating the experience, like any other channel of communication. In other words, just as people can hurt one another, or fall in love, over the phone or with the written word, they can hurt one another or fall in love via a game.
* That periods of "addiction" to virtual spaces, or at the least, intense involvement in them, often seemed to have a standard lifecycle: a couple of years, then naturally over as people "graduated" from the hobby altogether. This may be attributable to Dr. Richard Bartle's theory that virtual worlds are about learning about oneself, about self-actualization in a sense. Learn enough, and you move on.
* That games, like any other medium, are capable of teaching behavior, moral lessons, and patterns to emulate. In this, they are no different than anything else. If a game portrays violence as the proper solution to problems, it is providing the same sort of moral lessons as a book or film that argues that violence is the proper solution to a problem. We have used stories as a means of teaching lessons for millenia, and there's every indication that they work.
* Further, unlike most media, games do have an entraining component, whereby reflexes can be conditioned. These reflexes are not only physical, but are also mental reflexes, the building of intuition through accreted knowledge. This has been explored in books such as Sources of Power and Thinking Fast and Slow. This entraining component is powerful (it "rewires brains" just like other forms of learning do), is sometimes hard to see (because we do not think about the decisions it leads us to logically, that's the whole point), and in designing a game we are creating learning patterns in players whether we mean to or not.
So, my conclusion was that *creators of games are correct to worry. But not in the sense that "games are bad for you." Instead, in the following ways... </quote>