Addiction is a word that gets bandied about quite often, and frankly, I'm not buying it. I mean seriously, I think we're smart enough to avoid doing things that are detrimental to our lives, without falling victim to some mysterious concept called addiction, especially as it relates to gaming. Hold that thought, I need to get my morning coffee and have a smoke, be right back.
Okay, in all seriousness, gaming addiction has been talked about quite often of late, most commonly in connection with MMORPG's, which can wholly consume players thanks to gameplay that is literally never-ending, and the drive to compete with other players, get the best gear, and gain and maintain social status in the game world. It's a serious enough issue that the Chinese government instituted a limit on the amount of time those under the age of 18 can play MMORPG's.
While other forms of online gaming have not seen addiction to the same degree as MMORPG's, mainly because of the lack of persistent worlds and the greater social aspect that surrounds MMO's, the increasing presence of online play in the gaming world is cause for at least some concern.
Marathon Chess Session Anyone?
What is it about videogame playing in general that makes it more addictive than the average hobby though? Rarely will you see people go on a 12 hour marathon television watching session (unless they're really bored, or plan on watching a half season of 24 in one sitting), or play sports for 12 hours straight, or go bird watching for 12 hours straight. Certainly video gaming is considered 'fun' by most who enjoy it, but many other activities can be considered fun as well, yet don't inspire the same level of passion as gaming.
The most obvious element of gaming that differs from most other activities is the interactivity and reward aspect, and this is often cited as the major reason gaming can become so addictive, above and beyond its simple fun factor. Clearing a particularly challenging level, solving a daunting puzzle, or defeating a powerful boss, all instill the types of emotions in players that can rarely be achieved outside the medium, and it's the drive for this feeling that continues to push gamers on to the next challenge.
FRRRREEEEEDDDDDDDDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM!!! (think Braveheart)
Games also allow players a degree of freedom that they may not have in real life, where they can do what they want, when they want, within the context of the game. It also allows them to enter fantastic worlds that let them escape what can often seem to be the drudgery in their daily lives. This is one reason cited for the popularity of games in Japan, particularly fantasy RPG's, as Japan is a nation which is very structured.
Games with large worlds and freedom of play have become increasingly popular in recent years, and it's that freedom of play that's often cited as the reason. Grand Theft Auto has become one of the most popular series in the world in recent years, offering this style of open-ended play where just about anything can be done.
This freedom has increasingly extended into the storylines of games, allowing gamers to influence the story and determine endings based on their actions within the game world. Short of a Fighting Fantasy or Choose Your Own Adventure book, you simply don't have this ability to affect the outcome of the story in any other medium, such as books, movies, or television. PC RPG's such as the Elder Scrolls games are most well-known for having open-ended storytelling like this.
Just Pawns in Their Game...And We Love It
The videogame industry capitalizes on this by having a very sequel driven structure, building on the recognition and addictive nature of past games to compel players to buy the new games. Sony in fact is using this strategy not only to sell more copies of individual games, but to potentially increase the sales of the PlayStation 3 in the future.
By continuing to support the PlayStation 2 and its massive base of owners with new games, and then producing sequels of those games on the PlayStation 3, Sony hopes to entice those who have yet to buy a next generation system to purchase a PS3 for the ability to play those series which they're familiar with.
This strategy undoubtedly worked well on the PS2, as major series from the PlayStation 1 such as Final Fantasy, Gran Turismo, and Metal Gear Solid all had releases early in the PS2's life-cycle. The early middling fortunes of the PS3 are often attributed to the fact that this triumvirate of exclusive franchises has been relatively quiet, with only MGS receiving a new version on the PS3 to date, with Gran Turismo 5 and Final Fantasy 13 not expected until 2010, nearly 4 years after the system's release. A key strategy for the PlayStation 4 will likely be to ensure that sequels to popular series are lined up for early releases, which will give the system a much greater chance at early success. In fact, looking at the launch lineup so far we can already see this philosophy in motion with Killzone: Shadow Fall.
While video game addiction could have some very real consequences and should not be taken too lightly, ultimately as addictions go, it's one of the better ones to have I must say. Now if you'll excuse me, I need another smoke.