Jul 16, 2021 05:05 PM

Blog: When the Virtual World is Fairer: Why More Youths Are Addicted to Gaming

Many games have been moving toward an independent virtual world that runs parallel to the real physical world. Photo: VCG
Many games have been moving toward an independent virtual world that runs parallel to the real physical world. Photo: VCG

(ThinkChina) — Technology specialist Yin Ruizhi examines the psychology of getting into “the zone” when playing games and the comfort of being immersed in a more egalitarian world.

Gaming is addictive, and usually has a bad influence on people, especially those who are not yet adults. Many articles today highlight the serious negative effects of game addiction on society, but there is little discussion as to why gaming is addictive.

The addictiveness of games is based on two factors. One is related to human nature, or what is called “flow” or “the zone.” And the second is related to the issue of fairness in society.

Human behavior

The zone refers to a state of total concentration and focus when we block out everything while performing a task. When that happens, you feel that time does not exist. And when the task is complete, you feel energized and satisfied. Very often, when we are doing something challenging that we like and are good at, we easily get into the zone, like mountain climbing, swimming, ball games, gaming, reading, playing an instrument, and even working.

To get into the zone, the task in question must have the unique characteristic of being just at the right level for one’s ability. If it is too easy, there is no challenge and one would be bored; if it is too difficult, one would give up because there’s no hope. Games are an “arena” that is designed based on this principle. Games are adjusted to various difficulty levels, in order to match the difficulty with the player’s ability. At the same time, games have settings to collect various data to quantify and evaluate performance, so that the players have a clear reference for raising their abilities, which makes it easier for them to improve.

Such settings can keep people in the zone for extended periods, and players’ skills in the game naturally grow as they spend more time on it. So, players generally do not hold back on the amount of time they spend on gaming, which makes it look like an addiction.

Societal factors

The social factors behind game addiction is a byproduct of the zone. First of all, we need to understand what kind of society pushes young people to game addiction. The answer is: a society with a large income disparity and big rich-poor gap.

According to a Newzoo report, the estimated global revenue for gaming in 2020 was about $159.3 billion, a growth of 9.3% over the previous year. The gaming market in Europe was worth about $29.6 billion, accounting for about 19% of global revenue, behind North America ($40 billion) and the Asia-Pacific region ($78.4 billion). China’s gaming market was worth about $43 billion.

The population of North America is less than 600 million, while Europe has nearly 800 million people, and Europe’s high-income group is comparable to that of North America’s. So why is Europe’s gaming market far smaller than that of North America, or even China? The entire European gaming market is only about 70% of the market in China, which has a far smaller high-income group than Europe.

A fairer society in a world of make-believe

With technological improvements, the complexity and richness of today’s games have gone far beyond the era of blockish Tetris. Since the time of World of Warcraft, many games have been moving toward an independent virtual world that runs parallel to the real physical world. As problems such as high property prices, generational poverty due to high educational costs, and social stratification get worse in the real world, these virtual worlds where participants get to be on par with their peers become extremely attractive. This is also the fundamental reason for an easily overlooked but crucial change in the gaming industry that has been happening since 2015.

Right now, the most popular and profitable game on the planet got to be Honor of Kings, which was launched in 2015 by Tencent Games. Before this landmark game came on the scene, the general profit model for games was “pay to win,” where people paid the gaming platform to upgrade faster to higher, more difficult levels in the game. But after 2015, the most profitable games all worked on the premise of “paying for passion,” where users do not get stronger in the game just because they have money; players can only get stronger by continuing to invest time to hone their skills. Game profits come from everyday consumer items in the virtual world, such as outfits. The virtual world of gaming becomes a “fair” world, and people are willing to spend on ordinary items here because they love their character and the role they play in this virtual world.

In general, game addiction can cause serious social problems, but the complexity of addictiveness is often overlooked. Plain criticism of games and gaming addicts with no real understanding of the complex social reasons behind game addiction is meaningless and futile.

This story was first published in ThinkChina.

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