See Timmy Run
by David Bennett
There have been a couple of newspaper articles recently about online games showing the addictive side of the game. Where people have been so caught up in the game they have forgotten about life and removed them selves from their previous social life. In some cases people have lost jobs, marriages and money to online games. The question is, does the administrator have an obligation to do anything about this.
Spot trying to hide.
Little Timmy the innocent minded young player is playing on your game and ignoring his homework. Does the administrator of the mud even know? Should they care? You could argue that the administrator has a right to make sure that the people playing their game do not destroy themselves. Since they created the game they have a right do something for the people that play the game in return. It is a service industry, you are giving the players a service and the providers of other services have a right to the right thing by the customer.
Games are designed to be played for large amounts of time and encourage this behavior. Current massively multi player online games are all based on how much time you spend in the game. If you want to achieve, you must play endlessly. Maybe Timmy doesn't really want to play the game for 80 hours per week. Maybe Timmy just wants to achieve. We help define achievement for Timmy by how we design the game. So the designed is partly responsible for how long people spend on the game.
How can you control the player? Do you have a right to interfere in their life and tell them to go and do homework? This seems just as interfering in the wrong direction as feeling that you have to do everything for the player to not impact their life. You still want your game to impact their life a little bit, or they would not be playing at all.
No one must spend time in the games that game designers create, it is their responsibility as to how much or how little they play the game. The game designer has no influence over someone else's addictions, should people who make TV programs be responsible for people who are addicted to TV? Should an author be responsible if someone stays up all night reading the latest million page epic so they don't work properly the next day?
All of these arguments have some element of truth in them. I think you need to find a medium between both points of view. The amount of time players spend in our games is of course ultimately determined by them. This is obvious. What is also obvious is that game designers are attempting to influence the amount of time they spend with their products. It is possible to provide in game methods of controlling playtime.
Some methods of in game playtime control could be suspending yourself for a while, or not forcing sessions to be as long. For example, you could make it so that all quests take less than a couple of hours to complete or that they can be taken up where you left off.
Ultima Online recently added a feature to try and reduce the time people spend online (after all the big goal of the massive multi player games is to get lots of subscriptions but the least amount of time killing their server). Ultima Online now has a feature called a burst hour. During the first hour of each real life day (the reset occurs at midnight, server local time), your skills advance at a faster (some might say normal) rate. After that time has passed, your advancement drops to a slower rate, in some cases, to the point where it stops.
There is a delicate balance between having a game that is too addictive and a game which is not addictive at all. You want you players to keep coming back week after week, but it would also be advantageous if they could play in small doses.
In conclusion I think game designers are partly responsible for the work they do. It is their vision and their code which is making people become addicted to the game, so they have at least a small amount of responsibility to their players to make them do the right thing.
June 2000 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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