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Very good arcicle: Understanding the Psychology of WoW Addiction

07FEB 2012

Balancing WoW and Real Life: Understanding the Psychology of Addiction

ByLilpeanutIm on a quest for balance. Specifically: Balancing WoW and family life. I dont spit out words that my actions cant cash. So if I say that my family and my kids are important to me, then I damn well better make them a priority over my games. I lost my baby girl to a rare disease and if theres one lesson Ive learned, it is to make each moment count.

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 onhttp://www.cracked.comhelped 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.

Heres the simple truth about WoW: Its absolutely designed to get you hooked. The entire business model revolves around you paying a monthly fee, and you wouldnt keep paying if there wasnt something that kept you coming back.

Dont 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 youll encounter in game each and every day:

Instant Gratification.
In the real world, our actions dont always pay off as quickly as wed like. Theres 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 dont feel like waiting a whole two minutes to travel.

Youre far more likely to keep doing any activity in game because you know it will have a quick payoff.

Random Rewards.
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 arent 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 theres no guarantee theyll 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 youll end up with, and if youll get enough for your next piece.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Its the win that keeps you glued to the stool in the BG casino. (Some nights, however, I couldnt get a win to save my life. You know those nights where Horde just isnt 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 its the @400 honor points Im 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 arent met, the top of the pyramid can never be realized. Or in laymans terms, if youre feeling hungry, tired, unsafe, unloved, and insecure youll have a very difficult time actually achieving anything.

Thats 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.

Its great reinforcement, because youre 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 isnt designing their game with malicious intent. But its important to realize that there is real science behind most of the games mechanisms. And when you educate yourself about why youre getting addicted, youre 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 youre 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 havent quite gotten there yet?