I find myself playing the game less and less these days, but it has taken me years to get to this point. One thing that brought some understanding was to know the psychology of addiction and the mechanics of how the game takes its hold over me. An article on http://www.cracked.com helped to open my eyes and I want to help others bring that balance to he lives of others too, but first allow me to explain that psychology of addiction.
Here’s the simple truth about WoW: It’s absolutely designed to get you hooked. The entire business model revolves around you paying a monthly fee, and you wouldn’t keep paying if there wasn’t something that kept you coming back.
Don’t believe the developers of WoW have used psychology to get under your skin and keep you forking over your money?
Take a look at these three methods of behavioral reinforcement that you’ll encounter in game each and every day:
In the real world, our actions don’t always pay off as quickly as we’d like. There’s often a huge delay between when we put in the work and when we actually receive the reward.
Addictions often trigger because of a reward response, and few rewards are easier to grow accustomed to than the instantly gratifying. This is why prescription drug addicts may start by taking pills orally, but will eventually progress to the quick release of shooting up their drug of choice. WoW has capitalized on this aspect by making rewards occur quickly, especially when you first start the game.
Your first questgiver is right by your spawn point. Your first objectives are steps away. It takes just a few kills before you hit level 2, and you can instantly hearth back and collect all of your rewards at once if you don’t feel like waiting a whole two minutes to travel.
You’re far more likely to keep doing any activity in game because you know it will have a quick payoff.
Psychologist B. F. Skinner is famous for an aspect of behaviorism called Operant Conditioning. Skinner placed rats inside boxes and attempted to condition them to press a lever. At first, food was released every time the switch was pressed, but Skinner found that while this method reinforced the behavior initially, when the rats were full they no longer pushed the lever, knowing that when they got hungry again, they could have food.
Skinner found that when the lever triggered a food release only at random intervals, the rats would press it all the time. Between the fear of not getting the food when they needed it and the satisfaction of having the food eventually, he could keep them pressing the lever indefinitely.
While some things in WoW aren’t random, like the amount of XP you need to level or how many skill points you need to craft something you want, many of the truly addicting aspects are.
You may kill the same bosses each and every week when you raid, but there’s no guarantee they’ll drop that last piece you need, so you keep killing them. And while you can generally tell the caliber of your team when queuing into a battleground, you never know just how much honor you’ll end up with, and if you’ll get enough for your next piece.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It’s the win that keeps you glued to the stool in the BG casino. (Some nights, however, I couldn’t get a win to save my life. You know those nights where Horde just isn’t with it? Some nights all I do is get raped by rogues. Do I like getting raped on the battlefield by rogues? Of course not. But it’s the @400 honor points I’m after).
Great Rewards, Little Risk.
Abraham Maslow was the first psychologist to plot out basic human needs in order of importance. Designing the hierarchy in a pyramid, he placed physiological needs like food and water at the bottom, safety above that, love and belonging next, then esteem, and finally self-actualization.
Maslow went on to suggest that if the first four tiers of the pyramid aren’t met, the top of the pyramid can never be realized. Or in layman’s terms, if you’re feeling hungry, tired, unsafe, unloved, and insecure you’ll have a very difficult time actually achieving anything.
That’s absolutely not the case in WoW. You can kill a dragon on an empty stomach. You can PVP on a flickering WIFI connection in the middle of a train station. You can be a complete dick and still get to 85. And because everything is completely anonymous, whatever problems you have with yourself just slip away.
It’s great reinforcement, because you’re getting a massive reward with very little effort on your part. But just like an addiction to alcohol or heroin or anything else, it gives you a false sense of accomplishment. Who cares if the house is clean or the kids are fed or the bills are paid – you feel fantastic!
Now of course Blizzard isn’t designing their game with malicious intent. But it’s important to realize that there is real science behind most of the game’s mechanisms. And when you educate yourself about why you’re getting addicted, you’re better able to do something about it. And hopefully you can have better control over the amount of time you play and achieve that balance between WoW and family life.
Do you ever feel like you’re sitting in front of a slot machine while playing WoW? Have you found that life balance? If so, do you have any tips for people who haven’t quite gotten there yet?