Gaming Today: From Amusement to Addiction

16 minutes to read
Paper
Julia van der Staak
25/10/2019

Today, gaming plays an important role in the lives of many people. With the rise of online gaming, the manner in which games are played, the motivation behind playing, and in-game social aspects have changed, creating new benefits and downsides for gamers.

Gaming today

Gaming has become one of the most profitable entertainment industries in the world (Chikhani, 2015). What started out as a predominantly technical odyssey has flourished into advanced gaming consoles and increasingly difficult and well-designed games. However, just like many other modern media today, gaming comes with its own downsides, such as escapism, addictions, and insomnia.

Recently, gaming disorder has been added to the 11th Revision of International Classification of Diseases by the World Health Organization. It is defined as 'a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences' (WHO, 2018). 

Yet, many arguments can be given for the benefits of gaming as well, such as stress-reduction, developing teamwork and social skills, and an improved learning ability. A closer look will be taken at how the gaming industry has changed accordingly with the rise of the internet, as this has given way to online gaming.

Additionally, the social aspects of gaming have changed since playing online became popular, and for some gamers their motive for playing has therefore changed as well. This essay will take a closer look at how gaming has changed due to the shift from an offline to an online environment and will argue that more effort should be made when it comes to investing in offline co-op gaming.  

A Short Overview of the History of Gaming

During the early years of video gaming, meaning the 1950’s-60’s, the Brown Box was released. This was a vacuum tube-circuit that could be connected to a television and enabled two users to control cubes that chased each other on the screen (Chikhani, 2015). It contained ping-pong, checkers and various sport games. Around the beginning of the 1970’s Sega and Atari, two companies that produce and develop gaming consoles and games, noticed peoples' interest in video gaming and started a whole new industry: arcade gaming.

This led to the development of multiplayer gaming in the late 1970’s, from the use of joysticks to home gaming consoles being introduced in the 1980’s. Later the introduction of the internet enabled online multiplayer gaming. Games like RuneScape and Everquest were introduced around the turn of the century. MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), in which you can compete against people from all over the world and interact with them through chat functions, became immensely popular. At this point, the social aspect of online gaming began to play a role.

Community in Online Gaming

When gaming was first introduced, games could only be played by one person at a time. This later developed into co-op gaming, meaning that two people play on the same screen while they are in near physical proximity to each other. With the rise of the internet, games were developed in which people can play together without having to actually be near each other, which is beneficial since there will always be someone to compete against or play with.

However the dynamics of gaming, meaning gamers’ experience while playing, the social processes between players, and the motivations for gaming, have changed drastically when we look at where it started versus where we are now.

The difference between MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) and MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena) games has to be explained first. MMORPG is a genre of role-playing games in which a great deal of players from all over the world can interact with each other. This virtual online world will keep changing and evolving even though the player is offline. Examples of MMORPGs are World of Warcraft, RuneScape and The Elder Scrolls Online.

Both MMORPGs and MOBAs are clever in the sense that they contain many functions which make games addictive. What is typical of World of Warcraft, and some other online MMORPGs is that in order to play (or in order to be able to play certain side-quests, obtain certain items or level-up), you need to get a weekly, monthly, or yearly subscription. This lures gamers to purchases, since it is an easy way to get better at the game and it is an easy way to make money for game owners.

MOBAs are a genre of gaming which consist of online battles. Thismeans that if you do not enter a battle, your character is not affected as you are not participating in an online world that moves on without you, as it does in MMORPGs. However, in a popular fantasy MOBA game called League of Legends,  once you have entered a battle and have to drop-out, an automatic system will put a penalty on your account, leading to lower priority queues for the next few battles, meaning it will take longer to find one you can join. Repeatedly dropping out mid-game can even lead to your account getting banned, which is another way in which game makers have succeeded in appealing to the dedication and loyalty of aplayer to their game. 

In MOBA games you are a champion on one of two teams and together with your team you are battling the other. Ever since the release of League of Legends, MOBAs have become the most played online games since the surge of MMORPGs that came with the release of World of Warcraft (Jonhson et al. 2015, p.2270).

Lately MOBA shooter games like Overwatch, Fortnite and CS:GO have become increasingly popular as well. MOBA games differ from other genres in that team-work is a key determinant of in-game success. They are streamlined and very competitive games since they revolve entirely around battles, as opposed to other games that follow a storyline or revolve around adventure and the growth of the character you play. MOBAs encourage less autonomy as teamwork is of great importance, which may also lead to more frustration for players as they are depending on each other.

Figure 2: 'League of Legends' Battle

Community in an Invented Parallel World

When compared to playing an offline game on your own, the social aspect of online gaming makes it more interactive, unexpected and exciting for the player. Online games enable you to keep levelling up by performing new tasks, forming groups, and having certain time slots in which you need to be online. Therefore it may seem like a parallel world in which you as a gamer are needed. In addition, technology has become portable, meaning you can take your laptop with you anytime, anywhere, which enables you to play whenever you wish, or are called upon by team members.

As Young (2009, p. 356) says: “by the 1990s, gaming evolved from single-player games to gaming experiences." Online games have evolved into more than games in the sense that they are living, three-dimensional societies. Each game has its own scenery, its own currency to buy goods and services, every detail of a game character can be decided upon by the gamer – think of the characters’ name, profession, or character traits, all the way to their eye colour. It is no wonder that people who are dealing with something in real life can get lost in a created online world. The degree of freedom in games is simply more limited than outside of the game, meaning that decision making is easier in-game than in the offline world.

Gaming can either be an escape from the offline world, much as other people escape by becoming addicted to other things, such as alcohol, drugs, and gambling. As said before, it can also be someone’s social life as all of their friends and acquaintances are also gamers. Often, it can be a combination of both the escape and the social life online which leads players to game more frequently.

It is no wonder that people who are dealing with something in real life get lost in a created online world

Yee suggests that hardcore gamers tend to be younger and often suffer from emotional problems or low self-esteem. Individuals who have more emotional problems are more at risk of developing an addiction to interactive gaming, as these interactive environments allow individuals to experiment with parts of their personalities. They can be more vocal, try out leadership roles or simply create new identities (Yee as cited by Young, 2009, p. 357). Young further suggests that it becomes a problem when younger players rely too much upon their new online identities and the distinction between what is real and what is fantasy becomes blurred.

Gamers are often people who have trouble with relationships and often feel lonely in real life, therefore quite frequently most of their friends are gamers as well. They can be either offline friends whom they meet up with online or friends they have made by playing the same online game. In this sense MMORPGs are good places to interact and socialize with friends. As David and Hastings (2005, p. 112) state, MMORPG users have a different perspective on social life, which some might find to be introverted, as such they choose to spend their social time in-game rather than socializing in the real world. It is exactly the socializing part of MMORPGs that makes it so addictive for hard-core gamers. This already sheds a different light on hard-core gaming compared to the common perception of gamers as lonely people with nothing better to do than get lost in a fake world.

David and Hastings are not the only researchers who have come to the conclusion that it is particularly the social part of gaming which makes it so addictive. For example Zhong (2011, p.2360) writes that for many people, MMORPGs are places for informal socializing but they are also places where in-game relationships may develop into online friendships. Such ties are based on collaboration and shared gaming experiences. With the change from offline co-op gaming to online multiplayer gaming, the social aspect of gaming has changed accordingly. As people can now game together online from wherever they find themselves, the need to come together in real-life decreases, which only stimulates their in-game social time.    

Figure 3: an example of a well-designed scenery from 'Lord of the Rings Online'

 

Community through Streaming Platforms

Another element of the online gaming community that makes these online worlds addictive are streaming platforms, meaning a type of platform in which video data  is continuously delivered via the internet to a remote user. One of the most famous streaming platforms is Twitch.

Twitch is a platform on which gamers can livestream while they’re gaming, which means that the audience can see what the gamer is doing in-game while at the same time they can often see the gamers face and hear their voice. Like Golumbia (2009, p.179) argues in his essay 'Games without Play', there is a lot more to gaming than merely the sense of 'playing'. It is actual work and to some it's their main source of income. There are various types of Twitch streamers varying from amateurs to professionals. Being able to watch other people game in order to learn from them or for entertainment purposes adds yet another piece to the puzzle of why the world of online gaming can become addictive to some.  

Figure 4: screenshot of streamer Imaqtpie while playing 'League of Legends'

First, there are people who stream solely out of their own interest and aren’t supported by any organisation. Their only way of making money is when other people subscribe to their channel, which currently costs $4.99 a month. A subscription is beneficial for the viewer because they can now, among other things, skip ads.

There is also the option for streamers to earn money through donations. When the streamer is just starting out, he or she gets half of the money and the other half goes to Twitch, which is how the platform itself earns money. However, the longer you stream, the higher the percentage will be of the share you get as a streamer.  Anyone can donate money to a streamer, often because they support them. Through donations a lot of money can be made. Additionally, sometimes gamers are approached by manufacturers of gaming accessories such as headsets. By using sponsored tech on-screen they can also get paid. 

The second type of streamer is the one who does work for an organisation. An example of such an organisation is TSM – 'Team SoloMid'. An organisation like this hires people and they livestream for a salary. Often such streamers do their best in making their streams as entertaining as possible in order to get more viewers. Some streamers are already famous by uploading streaming videos about other topics – they are so-called online celebrities, and can also be hired to livestream when gaming.

Finally, the real ‘professional gamers’, who also enter championships, can stream online. They often stream randomly and get large donations and many subscriptions which is how their fans show support. Besides these donations, the gamer also gets paid a salary by the organisation they work for. The amount of money can reach the millions.

Besides these donations, the gamer also gets paid a salary by the organisation they work for. The amount of money can reach the millions.

Big championships like League of Legends, Halo, Dota2 and Call of Duty are also streamed on Twitch. These championships are like sport championships hosted by different countries every year and held in large arenas. Last year the League of Legends World Championship was held in Beijing National Stadium with an audience of approximately 91.000 people (Cruz, 2017). Following championships like these can therefore be compared to watching a sport match and in some Asian countries these championships are broadcast on television as well.

Figure 5: wallpaper designed for the 'League of Legends' Championship in Bejing, China 2017

The advantages of a streaming platform such as Twitch are that it has entertainment purposes for game fans and opportunities to learn from other gamers. This enhances the social aspect of gaming because it can be a bonding factor when someone who plays a particular game sees someone else play and stream it.

The downside of such a platform is that it makes it easy to fill your life with even more gaming when you do not have the opportunity to actually game, thus it can be seen as an enabling element for someone’s gaming addiction. For example, if someone deliberately chooses to stop gaming or game less, being able to access and follow livestreams on Twitch is an unwise thing to do as it may tempt the person to start gaming again. In addition, it can also be a distraction as many tend to put on a livestream when they are doing homework or other work related activities. Yet, it should not only be looked at in a critical manner because it can also serve as simply a leisure activity. Whereas other people might turn on Netflix or listen to music, some might watch a livestream.

Investing in Co-op Gaming

As we have seen in the short history of gaming, gaming has evolved along with the rise of the internet. A distinction appeared between ‘old-school’ offline gaming and the modern online gaming. This new way of gaming came with strings attached, as games and platforms are purposefully made in ways that make it easy for gamers to become addicted. Some examples mentioned were that in MMORPGs the worlds are still there even if you log off, in order to level-up you need to be available at certain time-slots for certain quests, and in MOBAs the repercussions for dropping out during a battle and the ongoing competitive element makes it more addictive. Streaming platforms, indirectly, stimulate gaming as they are always accessible and thereby form another opportunity for gamers to dedicate more of their time to gaming.

It is important to understand how complex the world of gaming is as opposed to the simple idea many people have of ‘geeks who cannot go out into the real world’. As mentioned, often emotional and identity problems play a role when gaming becomes an addiction.

It is important to understand how complex the world of gaming is as opposed to the simple idea many people have of ‘geeks who cannot go out into the real world’.

What is more, as we have seen with the example of streaming platform Twitch, gaming is now a source of income for many. It is an actual profession, and if you are good there is a lot of money to be made.

Gaming used to be about adventures and friendly competitiveness in the home environment. This is why arcade-gaming became so popular, since you could play with friends. This idea of playing a game with people you know from your offline social circle is slowly vanishing, as the competitive element in gaming is only getting stronger. The option of playing with your friends online remains, however, the old-fashioned gathering with friends at home to game is slowly vanishing due to the fact that all games are now created to be played online. Rarely are games made with a co-op mode so you can play on the same screen. If gaming truly is popular due to this social aspect, as David & Hastings and Zhong argue, why not invest more money in games that you can play together when together in the real world?

If gaming truly is popular due to its social aspect, why not invest more money in games that you can play together when together in the real world?

What I am arguing for might be outdated, yet, many outdated trends and items tend to return after a couple of decades. What I would like to see are games that oppose what is mainstream in the world of gaming today. If more money is invested in creating offline co-op games as well-designed and entertaining as MMORPGs, this might be the spark for some individuals to increase the number of gaming evenings spent together with friends, as opposed to having gaming sessions by themselves or with their online friends. Not only would this create a sense of positive nostalgia, as this is how most people used to game in their childhoods, it might benefit the younger generation today as the real-life social aspect of gaming will be emphasized once again. On such evenings the pause-button can be hit in order to get some food, have a bathroom break and have an actual conversation.

It is good that the communicative aspect of online gaming is still a big reason why people choose to invest as much time as they do playing, but it would be better to adapt games to our offline world once again as people can have actual face-to-face communication which is important in a world that is increasingly virtual. Gaming should be an addition to a friendship, such as playing board games, doing sports together, or going out for lunch - it should be a fun activity. Call me old-fashioned, but I would join this trend right away.

References

Chikhani, R. 31.10.2015. The History of Gaming: An Evolving Community. TechCrunch. 

Cruz, M.D. 18.08.17. League of Legends 2017 Worlds Championships To Be Held At The Historic Beijing National Stadium. Esports Inguirer.net.

David ng, B. & Wiemer-Hastings, P. (2005). “Addiction to the Internet and Online Gaming”. CyberPsychology and Behavior, Volume 8, Number 2.

Golumbia, D. (2009). 'Games Without Play'. The John Hopkins University Press. New Literary History, Vol. 40. No.1 Play. Pp.179-204.

Johnson, K. Nacke, L & Wyeth, P. (2015). “All about that Base: Differing Player Experiences in Video Game Gebres and the Unique Case of MOBA Games”. Player Performance & Experience in Games – CHI 2015, Crossings, Seoul, Korea.

World Health Organization. 01.2018. 'Gaming Disorder'.

Young, K. (11.09.2009) “Understanding Online Gaming Addiction and Treatment Issues for Adolescents”. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 37:5, 355-372.

Zhong, Z. (15.08.2011) “The effects of collective MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) play on gamers’ online and offline social capital”. Computers in Human Behavior 27 (2011) 2352-2363.