Friday, June 29, 2012

You can't fight this feeling anymore

I had more of a plan for the flow of this website, but screw it, I feel like writing about this more than what I had planned for my second post.

Looking to see what territory's already been covered on this topic in the blogosphere, I came across a pretty neat blog with a very similar M.O. (but much more visibility) called The Psychology of Video Games.

Now, I'm not naming names, but I find that a lot of these sorts of blogs and sites launch into grand theorizing that weave these fun and amusing stories that overlook much more parsimonious and tenable explanations.  Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with that in the blogging world.  I used to love that stuff as an undergrad psych major.  It made me feel like I understood people more than anyone really does (or can).  But as a man of science these days, I find myself looking on like some kind of kung fu master who only notices the sloppy, extraneous movements in a martial arts exhibition rather than just enjoying the pageantry of the show.

Wow, reading that over, I just feel silly, but I'm a Scotch and a half into my Friday night with my wife out of town, and that kinda crap just sorta flows in these contexts.

My anticipated recollection of this evening

Anyway, I was checking this guy's blog out and came across this article on why we gamers just can't resist that "one more level" itch.  You can go ahead and read it for the full story, but I'll summarize it here.

Basically, he attributes it to the impaired decision making associated with a state of elevated arousal.  To me, that must've just been an excuse to bust out one of my favorite studies in behavioral science, Ariely & Lowenstein, 2006.  Sadly, the blogger at Psych of Games left out some of my favorite details. Allow me to fill them in:

They had dudes rate agreement with statements about risky sexual behaviors.  These included things like (and I'm paraphrasing here): "I would totally bang a grandma," "I guess I have a shoe fetish," and "Screw condoms, am I right?"

The control condition had men rate these statements in a state of cold, flaccid sobriety.  The experimental condition had them masturbate "to 75% arousal" (don't ask me how you'd operationalize that) while viewing pornographic images and periodically interrupted the wank session with one of those statement ratings.  Lo and behold, men's propensity for the sexual behaviors increased when their soldiers were at attention.  

(You will not believe how many euphemisms for erections I have competing for attention in my head right now.  So here are a few more: their firemen were bunkered up.  Their guns were locked and loaded.  Their rockets were go for launch.)

Anyway, our psychologist gamer friend theorizes that the desire to play "one more level" in the face of having to go to get up for work in five hours is the result of impaired decision making in a state of arousal.  I'm not going to make jokes about him getting turned on by video games.  I'm sure at least some people have in his comments.  Instead, I posit that the arousal experienced during video games is more akin to "wakefulness," and if anything, puts you in an optimal state of arousal for performance.  (But, to paraphrase Alton Brown, that's another post.)

No, I'm going to argue for what I think is a more parsimonious and tenable theory: video games are an addiction.

(Somewhere, a smirk of smug, victorious satisfaction curls over my mother's lips.)

The psychologists reading this know where this is going.  Time to invoke our old friend, B.F. Skinner.  Wait a minute, they wonder, is Richard a behaviorist?  To which I answer, yes, but only when it works.  Here's a picture of B.F. Skinner catastrophically failing to explain why you can't use the principles of behaviorism to reinforce your dog into having a conversation with you:

"But, Richard, a dog can't reliably execute the motor behaviors necessary for the scientific measurement of what would be considered evidence consistent with our definitions of capacity for human language.  And the inability to match the ostensible form and complexity of human language does not necessarily obviate the possibility of a capacity for some form of language."


Anyway, I won't belabor you with the details of how behaviorism explains how video games are an addiction.  Cracked did a surprisingly good job of that already.  I'm just here to invoke that explanation.

Any time you're playing a game and you say, "Just one more ___," you're describing a discrete, reinforcing event.  A reinforcing event that probably comes about from the repetition of some varying number of discrete actions.  Hey, wait a minute, that sounds a lot like my psych textbook's definition for a variable-ratio reinforcement schedule, which has been shown to lead to a prolonged persistence of the reinforced behavior - even in the absence of reinforcement - sometimes at the expense of basic needs like food and sleep!

Sweet tapdancing Christ, gamers are cousins to slot-jockey gambling addicts!

"I just need two more boar livers.  Maybe this next boar will have one."  We've all had at least some variant of that thought at some point.  You may not be proud of it, but goddammit, you can't get better until you admit you have a problem.

Anyway, my point is, that's why you find yourself saying, "One more level..."  

It's because you have a problem.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to play Diablo III for the next six hours.  You can find me on there as ChairmanYao.

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