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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Is videogame addiction decimating our next generation? (Part 2)

Ok, this piece is taking way too long. Here it is:

This is a continuation of my previous post, aiming to alert parents, relatives and the loved ones on the inherent danger of gaming addiction.

Addiction, in simple term, is defined as
1. A disease process characterized by the continued use of a specific psychoactive substance despite physical, psychological or social harm (www.uphs.upenn.edu/addiction/berman/glossary/)
2. Dependence on a substance or an activity, to the point that stopping is very difficult and causes severe physical and mental reactions (www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/cmed/alcohol/glossary.htm)
You may think how could a few rounds of endless fun cause physical, psychological or social harm? Well, videogame, like many abusive substances or activities do cause harm if one becomes careless. Of course, it doesn't alter the pheromones or brain chemistry like many other substances (i.e. cigarettes, drugs, etc.) and is harmless to try for the first time, but the addiction do kick in. The addiction spawns from the instant gratification and excitement while playing and it usually grows with prolonged, uninterrupted exposure. The side-effects of which aren't always acute but is cumulative and has a long inhibition period. I may not have the credential and solid proof of this but my first-hand experience and that of countless others speak more than the research results.

Videogame is a multi-billion dollar industry. It is a highly competitive business where there're numerous companies, titles and genres. In order to attract potential customers, each company must have a unique way of presenting itself and differentiate apart from others. The videogames they produce must also have a theme and be an eye catcher to gamers. With the technological revolution, many of them uses eye catching graphics and complicated storylines to lure customers. The unaware customers are the most vulnerable and they easily fall into the trap of game producers. To build a royal customer many game producers exploit many of the dominating human characteristics, including curiosity, fascination and satisfaction.

There's no doubt that we're curious beings. From the moment we learned how to crawl, walk or run, we would venture to nearby places and explore the vast unknowns. We have the urge to explore. From medieval sea seafairers like Colombus to Mallory and Irvine on the first ascent up Mt. Everest to Ballard's deep sea dive to the Titanic, humans are constantly seeking out to explore every inch that is within our capable grasp. We also have the fascination to imagine being someone more capable, more desirable, more attractive and more popular. We imagine ourselves driving fast cars, dating Mr. Right, achieving the impossible and honourable goals, and being prosperous in every way. By being curious, we explore the unknowns and become more fascinated with every discovery, we then direct all our attention and effort to fulfill further curiosity and fascinated arousal. The fulfillment gives us the sense of satisfaction and belonging. With every discovery we feel more acceptance and the entire cycle repeats.

And videogame makers know all these human traits and they exploit them in every possible way, especially with the ever popular and growing online RPG games. Taking a popular fantasy RPG game for example (i.e. World of Warcarft or Everquest). First of all, it allows the player to freely choose which race and occupation the character would be in. Then, like a barbie doll, the player is freely to dress, equip and ride whatever accessory the game provides. The character under your control could also be trained in many different abilities, magical spells and passive skills. Usually, a character don't achieve its full potential until the character's level reaches a certain point. Not only you're allow to choose, suit and train your character, you can also freely interact in the vast realm of online world. The online world usually comprises of fantasy land and scenarios, allowing one to explore, conquer and befriend with other players or beings. You can also taunt, fight against other players or computer controlled players.

RPG game is nothing new, but it has been transformed online by the tremendous growth and popularity thanks to the most dedicated of all hardcore gamers. Technologies like high-quality graphics and the Internet also played a main role. With the superb graphics nowadays (such as on XBOX 360 and PS 2) almost all of the RPG games have moved online. This trend is not only alarming but is particular worrisome to the parents. Internet capability has long surpassed the firewall and watchful eyes set to protect our next generation. With the evergrowing technology, it is only a matter of when, not if, would a gaming addiction become real.

Who would've thought that playing one or two hours of videogame would have harmful side-effects? Who would've thought by immersing ourselves in the realm of virtual entertainment would be detrimental to our well-being?

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