This article is a brief overview of three possible mechanisms of the much disputed game addiction, and particularly how they apply to MMORPGs. While these elements may be present in games, you will notice that none of them are exclusive to games. Videogames work off existing mechanisms of addiction as they are purposefully designed to appeal to the natural patterns of our behavior.
Andrenaline Junkies - Pass the Code Red Please
The effects of the fast-paced competition offered by first-person shooters is well documented. It can spike adrenaline and increase testosterone levels. In this way it is not dissimilar to engaging in extreme sports.
There's a certain drive, stronger in some than others, that compels us to seek out these danger and competition. Gaming provides a safer alternative, at least physically, to intense sports like football or extreme activities like sky-diving. Cautious thrill seekers, which despite the apparent paradox seem to exist in abundance, will find the synthetic tension and danger present in many games absolutely intoxicating. While those who crave the rush provided by fierce competition will find it in abundance in the videogame aisle.
Escapists - Anywhere but Here
What fan of fantasy hasn't occasionally entertained the dream of visiting the world Tolkien created in the Lord of the Rings? But aside from throwing on your mother's bathrobes and running around passing gibberish off as Elvish with like-minded friends, there was little more you could do than read the books again or watch the movie. It's this form of desire that partially drives reenactments, renaissance fairs, and Star Trek conventions. What card holding member of the Trekkie legion wouldn't give up his or her mundane life for a chance to travel the stars on the Enterprise?
Now you can actually enter the world of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings Online. Thankfully, with technology limited as it is, LotRO may provide an experience that is even more limited than the one you get by donning bathrobes and wrapping foam around PVC piping. May God have mercy on our meek and yearning souls when this is not the case.
Another aspect that makes MMOs dangerous to escapists is that often time what drives us from reality is precisely what calls us back: loneliness. Yet the cyber-worlds of MMOs are filled with other real human beings, who can often prove more interesting than those around you in reality. In my experiences, I've met people from all corners of the globe, from Canada and Brazil, to Australia and Russia. I've grouped with students, CEOs, engineers, scientists, lawyers, doctors, and slackers. Perhaps I was escaping the heterogenic society in which I lived, but I was arguably only trading one social circle for another -- one that exists on a medium to which we are not yet fully accustom and therefore move to discredit.
Escapists who are seeking to avoid human interaction altogether will also find the world of MMOs appealing, despite the fact that they are "Massively Multiplayer." Most modern games are design to welcome solo play. Some have even gone as far as to call them Massively Single-player -- and there may be some truth to that.
Whether you're looking to meet new people or simply avoid human contact, MMORPGs have got you covered.
Achievers - Workaholics Beware
Workaholism is not a technically accepted psychological affliction, but you don't need to be a shrink to spot it.
What drives a workaholic's obsession for work? Certainly, a degree of escapism is present. What better way to avoid the rigors of social life in a socially acceptable way than to let oneself be absorbed by work? But there's more to workaholism than that.
The workaholic could choose to hide in their basement rather than the office, so what separates them from the shut in? Most workaholics cannot stand leisurely inactivity. They are wracked by the sensation that they "should be doing something." Temporary relief comes only from the satisfaction of accomplishment.
The mechanisms of achievement and accomplishment can be quite potent. There are many who derive their sense of worth from work. Achievement can give us a sense of purpose -- a reason to rise in the morning.
Reward systems in MMORPGs take this fact into account. The successes of today will yield benefits tomorrow. This relationship can help occlude lackluster gameplay. As soon as a player tires of a game without continuity and permanency of gains, there may be no reason for them to continue. With entertainment removed, games can be reduced to nothing more than wastes of time. Yet the persistent world of the MMORPG might coerce players, and often does, to slog through the mire of mid-levels to reach the promised land of the endgame.
The rate at which these relationships occurs is of great importance, a topic I brushed in a previous article. Gains in MMORPGs occur faster than in reality, making them more effective at reinforcing certain behaviors from the player.
Workaholics beware of the MMORPG. As soon as the veil of triviality is drawn back, and gains within the game become important, you will find it difficult to hoist yourself from your chair.