The Addictive Nature of Gaming

Video Game AddictionIt’s 3 o’clock in the morning. My eyes are heavy like somebody has tied weights to them. I can feel them starting to droop, but I don’t care. Who cares if I have work in the morning? What does it matter if I’m running on empty with only the blinding light of my TV casting dark shadows about the living room? I’m just trying to get to the next boss. Trying to reach the next level. Trying to grab that upgrade. Wanting to get another headshot.

Whatever the reason for doing this to ourselves, we’ve all done it at one point or another. And while it may not always be the lure of a soft pillow to sleep on, we’ve all blown off plenty of things to do just a little bit more in a game we love or loathe. Sometimes it’s a girlfriend, a spouse, a job, a duty, or a social activity. They’re all just different suits that represent the same thing: distractions.

And the thing that is really odd to me, is that I don’t really do this with my other hobbies. There are plenty of other things that I love to do, besides playing videogames. I write, play guitar, watch movies, read books, hang out with friends. But none of those things make me think about them when I’m gone to the level that a Final Fantasy does. Or a Call of Duty. Or anything in Bioware’s library. So what makes videogaming so different than everything else?

Honestly, I’m not really sure that I have the answer to that one. Videogames strike a unique place that other things don’t quite seem to reach. They combine a strange bit of task-oriented and easy to reach goals, fun, competition, rewards, interactivity and story that makes them truly stand out from the pack. Right now, I’m completely sucked into Final Fantasy XIII, and while I enjoy the story, it’s nothing that’s completely blowing me away. To be honest, I can’t really say what it is about the game that keeps luring me back, but it must be a combination of all those things that I listed.

When I think back on games that I’ve been addicted to in the past, this becomes even more clear. There’s not really any rhyme or reason to them. Counter-Strike: Source and Halo are shooters that had a gripping multiplayer component, for sure. But they are totally different than Warcraft 3, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Mass Effect 2 or Final Fantasy IX, all of which I’ve sported a rather nasty addiction to at any given point over the last decade.

And really, the more I think about it, the more this seems to prove to me that there really is something immeasurably different about gaming as a medium. Just a couple of weeks ago, the dudes at Penny Arcade put on PAX East for folks on the East coast, and were amazed yet again at the turnout. In the parting thoughts of the convention, main writer Tycho wrote some thoughts about the event, and said some things that really stuck out to me. He postulated that gaming forms something of a collective memory, moreso than any thing else we can think of, and that’s what really makes it unique. And, I think, possibly addictive.

Sure, there are plenty more reasons, which I listed above. But the idea that gaming forms a collective memory amongst gamers really is an intriguing idea. That the more we all play the same games and do the same things, the more we kind of share experiences. To me, it’s not the same as watching most TV shows, because most of them can’t elicit the same kind of attachment that gaming creates with its participants. We are ridiculously linked to these pieces of software, and I know that I for one tie periods of my life to what games I was playing at the time.

And now that I think about it, one of the big drives of returning to Final Fantasy XIII right now is for more than just the gameplay or the story- it’s because I’ve got a few good friends going through the game simultaneously. I know that the more I play it, the more I can talk about it with them, and vice versa. It’s interesting to me that we can all experience the same game- story, combat, gameplay, design and all, and get much more out of it than any movie or song. Obviously this isn’t the entire reason I’m addicted to all games, but I know that the desire to share in something other people have is a huge driver for me.

So what do you guys think about the addictive nature of gaming? What qualities make games addicting to you? Go!

Written by

I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

8 thoughts on “The Addictive Nature of Gaming”

  1. To me it’s part sharing experience with friends and also part something else. It’s a difficult one to explain but I shall try my best to articulate it.
    Part of it is that they’ve been part of my life for so long. But what was it that got me in the first place? It can’t be the fact that I’m good at it because I’m good at Maths but don’t enjoy it (that’s a weird thin though, because I love physics!). In other words, even though I’m skilled at something, I may not enjoy it (or vice vursa). My theory is that there is a constant sense of both progression and immersion. I am constantly gaining knowledge or skills relevant to the game’s universe or genre. I could also be immersed in the experience, such as with games involving moral choices I will do what I myself would do in said situation. Yet another reason could be that it enables me to live out fantasies: What if I were a hero (eg. of time)? What if I were a soldier (I always wanted to be in the army when I was young, but now I think an office job would be MUCH safer)? What if I were in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, how would I survive assuming I required no food? It’s this search for these answers I feel I must know.
    I guess I explained that something else pretty well!

  2. Since I literally grew up with video games, it’s just the experience of playing a game is addicting. Experiencing a new environment and interacting with it and accomplishing challenges is what makes video games so fun and unique among the rest of the forms of media.

  3. As all Dragon Age players know, the game is pretty damn long. Well I had yet to play it and being the Bioware fan that I am, when Steam had it on sale during spring break for $33, I jumped on the opportunity. Well, I spent nearly every day on that game until I beat it, constantly being sucked into this world and it’s characters. 45 hours of playing later I was totally distraught because I wanted to continue my character’s story, or rather the more appropriate term when it comes to Bioware, MY story. Mass Effect and KOTOR did the same thing, pretty much anything with lovable characters and a great story grabs me like some kind of illegal drug. Weird hobby we share, huh?

  4. “and I know that I for one tie periods of my life to what games I was playing at the time. ”

    Wow, you and me both man. Tycho knew what he was talking about alright, with the collective memory. When I talk to friends (Or family members who also play games) our experiences mirror each other’s in some way, but with a unique experience twist that makes them special and easy to relate…not sure if that makes sense, but it sure makes you feel close =D

  5. It’s just fun. I really don’t know what it is. There are some games, if I hear a bit of music or even see a screenshot, then I am dying to play it again.

    Excellent post.

  6. I grew up around video games. The Sega Genesis rocked me to sleep, the N64 taught me in Elementary School, and the PS2/360 got me through puberty.

    Now in college, I can’t imagine what I’d do without it. Honestly though, I remember a guy asking me if I was in a romantic relationship at the moment. My reply? “Why yes, with video games.”

    For me, life is just a side-quest without my precious electronic babies. Seriously though, there was a time last semester where I didn’t leave my dorm and ate only ramen (I think that was the release of AC2..).

  7. I really loved this post. It’s certainly an interesting thing, our gaming. My roomates walk by and hear me talking to people in CS and they say “Oh, you’re playing Gunfriends?” That’s right, I have ‘gun friends’…

    At the same time, we bought a Wii today. It’s funny that gaming can be either for the serious gamer, as well as the passive dudes that just wanna play some Mario Tennis. I think the games that bridge that gap are often the most rewarding (i.e. Early Mario games, racing games, platform games).

    Can’t get enough lately.

  8. Great post, Eddy, and I think that it’s a very fun topic to talk about.

    For me games have always been big to me because they’re like a culmination of all forms of art and entertainment. They include music, pictures, stories, puzzles, challenging timing games, games of chance, and sports (no, not sports games. More like deathmatch and stuff which includes all of the basic elements of a sport). When a game pulls it off just right, every single bit of your sensory is being played with, and the sky is the limit. You can play games alone, with friends, with people you don’t know across the tubes. If you feel like mindless fun you can pop in Duke Nukem or Boom Blox or Super Smash Bros. If you feel like testing your coordination and timing skills you can pop in Ghosts n Goblins, Contra, Battle Toads, or Ninja Gaiden. When you feel like scaring yourself pantsless you can pop in Silent Hill or Resident Evil. Feel like an enthralling story you pop in Heavy Rain or the like. If you just feel like having fun then you pop in something like Little Big Planet.

    I think the big thing for me is that they’re like movies that you can interact with, and the best games are the ones that really immerse you and make you feel like the player is an extension of your body. Once you have that I’ll probably have fun no matter what I’m doing. Adding in some sort of story or challenge and suddenly I’m inside of a fantasy. Instead of reading about other characters who are making their own decisions I’m controlling one of them, affecting the outcome of the game.

    Wow I would go on with my rant but I just realized that it’s 4 in the morning and everything that I’m saying probably sounds really stupid. I may check back tomorrow and see if I have anything actually intelligent to add 😛

Comments are closed.