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“We have to attract them, keep them addicted”

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When Google released a free version of PacMan (Pac-Man) last May, the US workforce lost $ 120 million due to diminished productivity. The new extension of World of Warcraft, “Cataclism”, may cost the United States much more in its launch on December 7 (2010), as more than 12 million Warcraft fans will stop attending to their obligations to play . As estimated sales estimates of 3 million dollars and only the first day, we will see a lot of online matches.


And although it is a real economic problem, that each launch of a successful video game costs our country millions due to low productivity, the most serious problem is one that the United States refuses to recognize and, of course, does not do anything about it either: The addiction to video games.

Canada, China, Germany, Holland and South Korea have many treatment centers for videogame addiction (China and South Korea have hundreds). And in the USA? There are few. While South Korea promulgates a law that prohibits children under 18 from playing after midnight, 1/3 of young Americans have a video game console in their bedrooms, and many of them admit to playing even after their parents leave. to sleep.

And while many countries (Australia, Brazil, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Thailand, United Kingdom, among others) prohibit certain violent video games, the United States has no problem with games like Rapelay (the player gets into the skin of a rapist), V-Tech Rampage (recreation of the massacre at Virginia Tech) and Operation Pedopriest (pedophile healing operation). All in all, violence in video games is a subject in itself. We’ll see in another entry.

I do not blame the creators of the games of the global epidemic in which addiction to video games has become, but let’s face it, they care less about the health of their customers than McDonald’s, Philip Morris or Anheuser-Busch. They all seek to (a) sell products, (b) make money and (c) keep their jobs. At a recent conference of game developers in Cologne, Germany, Teut Weidemann, lead designer of Settlers Online, told his colleagues that “we have to attract them, keep them addicted and keep them playing.”

With the video game industry producing more than 40 billion dollars a year (according to figures from the book, Fun Inc), it is clear that they are doing quite well taking advantage of our weaknesses. As Weidemann says, they do it on purpose. After all I have lived it, years ago, when I was hired to write the script of a new videogame, I was given a specific list of psychological triggers that I should include in the development of the characters and the general narrative.

The creators of games have a term for this effect: “sticky”. A particularly “sticky” game, like Word of Warcraft, is a game you think about even when you do not play, for example while cutting the grass or eating a hamburger. The game “hits” you because of its psychological and emotional impact. They are structured in such a way that they trap us with their variable reinforcement rate. “Warcraft steals your spirit” is a phrase that often appears on (a site run by volunteers that has registered more than 50,000 testimonials from people trying to leave World of Warcraft).

Video game addiction is no nonsense, but admitting addiction is making a fool of yourself. There are no celebrities who say it openly. It is not fashionable. It is something similar to the foolish cousin of real addictions. But if we consider that currently there are about 15 million addicts to the game in the US, the last thing we need is another very “sticky” game without a bit of social awareness of the problem. That would be a true cataclysm.

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So, whether the idea of having your first level 85 goblin drives you crazy or not, there are some things you should know. (1) The Sun reports that 1 in 3 British men prefer playing video games than having sex with their partners. If it is a new game, 75% prefer the game. (2) 3 billion hours per week are spent just playing online games. (3) A survey conducted by Harris in 2007 revealed that 23% of young Americans (8 to 18 years old) said they felt “addicted to video games”, 44% said their friends were addicted.

Anyway, December will be a good month for Blizzard, 12 million subscriber accounts at $ 15 each. Five million copies of the “Cataclism” extension, or more, at $ 40 each (the collection edition)