To kick off 2012, I spoke to Stephanie Kramer of The Urban Times at some length about the perils, delights and potentials of games. I’ve pasted my answer to one question, on dopamine and addiction, below. Simply click through to read the whole thing for free on their site.
Urban Times: Increased levels of dopamine have been found in people who are playing video games and the effects are similar to the increased levels of dopamine in drug addicts. Some researchers have thus hypothesized that higher levels of dopamine can produce a dangerous cycle leading to addiction of video games. Do you have concerns regarding excessive reliance on video games?
Tom Chatfield: The research here is young and uncertain, and far more work needs to be done, but I think it’s undoubtedly true that some digital games – with an emphasis on “some” – are extremely compelling, and this is something that can combine in a pathological way with some personality types.
There are two key points to bear in mind here. First, there is no such thing as a game with which everyone has a pathological relationship – it’s never as simple as saying “this game causes addiction”, full stop. And second, it is meaningless to lump either games or all people together into undifferentiated groups.
It does seem to me that one of the great challenges of a digital age is learning how to manage time and attention, given how much is competing to delight and distract us – and how powerful many of these things, games included, are.
I’d certainly like to see the games industry being more honest and proactive in dealing with those who do have problematic relationships with games. But a productive debate isn’t going to take place in a climate of vague fear and blame.
We have to be cautious we’re not simply treating people as the passive victims of “bad” media – as much as anything because this lets them off the hook. As adults, we should be taking responsibility for our own usage of media. As a society, we should aim to protect the vulnerable – and to identify those trapped in pathological patterns of use – without slinging into unhelpful notions of an “addiction” analogous to drug use. It’s snappier than talking about complex societal and behavioral problems, but does little good in helping us address them.