Saturday, August 8, 2009

Encouraging Unhealthy Playstyles

I started to watch Second Skin on Hulu and found it depressing so far. It's a documentary which shows how online worlds such as MMOs have impacted the lives of various subjects. And it starts out with a bunch of people who apparently spend so much of their time they have no time for anything else. Even blogging, which is why I think I'll be ok posting negative things in public about the losers.

I intend to watch the rest of the movie later. Hopefully it shows a more balanced perspective than the almost scare-mongering it starts out with. And despite the snarky comment above, I'm sure the subjects have more redeeming traits than the movie portrays: there just isn't enough time to accurately portray the complexities of an individual, and it has to maintain its focus on the virtual worlds aspect of their lives.

But there does seem to be no shortage of people who are willing to simply live almost all their lives in game. It's sad, really. These games are fun, but it's like television: an empty diversion. I like it better because it's interactive and has a strategic element. There's not much strategy in watching Battlestar Galactica. We all have a need to be entertained. But it's not all I do.

I wouldn't normally place the blame on the game companies. They are providing a service and it's up to the consumer to use it responsibly. But then game companies come out and do things like leveling contests. These contests basically reward people who level up to a certain amount first. Since leveling is primarily based on time invested, that just encourages people to adopt unhealthy behavior: avoiding sleep, spending all their time in game, just to earn these "rewards."

I'm sure these same people would camp out for weeks to be first in line for Star Wars tickets if they could do so without missing a raid. But just as we would look down on someone for exploiting another's addiction problem were he an alcoholic or a drug user, should we discourage game companies from doing exploiting their more addicted fans?

Wouldn't a better contest be something like this: you have a month, and whoever earns a certain casually achievable level in the least amount of /played wins. Now the contest is who can get to X level smartest, not fastest. You have time to grab a pizza or take a shower or go to work (as long as you log off first :) ) because it won't impact your chance of winning. So you can still have the fun little marketing bonanza that comes with a contest without encouraging the kind of unhealthy playstyles that lead to becoming a subject in this film:

1 comment:

Tesh said...

Aye, some sort of "how far can you get in 20 hours" with a contest run of two months would be interesting. You're limited by how well you spend your time, rather than how much time you spend. It's a world of difference, and I'd love it if not only contests but also game design overall aimed in that direction.