Monthly Archives: March 2012

LFG HMs, or, how a product is designed specifically to make sure you keep using it forever and are physically incapable of stopping

Alright! It’s been something like two weeks (probably more) since my last post.

The main reason is that I started working again. That part’s fine, although writing never got off the ground until I was unemployed. Due to a serious common sense deficiency I also started back at uni at the same time.

I’m studying Writing, Editing and Publishing for a Master of Arts, and because it’s coursework and (I assume) designed to fit around professionals with careers, all the contact time is after 5. So, I thought, I can do both! I really can have it all.

We’ll see how it goes. Long days, and although this is something I really love studying, I also have no willpower, and a bigger problem: Star Wars.

I started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic a while back, near when it was first launched (six weeks ago? seven) and it basically ate my life. WoW was a big problem a while back, but I’ve been happily clean for years now. Until SW:TOR came along and extended its sinuous tentacles straight into my nucleus accumbens.

For those of you with either a serious head injury or a social life, both WoW and SW:TOR are MMOs. These are basically shining machines which give you tiny incremental rewards, forever. Also, you can play them with your friends. You character has statistics and equipment. As these improve, more areas and missions are open to you, which in turn allow you to improve your stats and equipment further. It literally never ends.

Oh yeah! And I’m paying for it. That part’s easy enough to forget, though, so we’ll leave that there.

So, this is all pretty well known – an infinite quantity of tiny activities, each of which gives you a new hat or +3 Cunning, and the associated little burst of pleasure.

The problem with this (for me anyway) is that playing SW:TOR becomes my baseline activity. Because there’s that constant flow of reward, it’s easy to justify the massive quantity of time spent. From the outside, it’s like, yeah I just spent four hours doing missions to get a new set of armoured pants. On the inside though, there’s that unceasing parade of little rewards – money, new materials to use in crafting, quest rewards, etc etc – which is basically just like the Skinner box rats. With electrodes inserted into their prefrontal cortex (a part of the brain associated with pleasure and reward) and given food, water, and a switch attached to those electrodes, what do rats do? They press the button without stopping, ignoring everything else, eventually dying of starvation and exhaustion.

Luckily we humans have an ability to reason which is a little more advanced that that of our friend the rat. When we become hungry after eleven hours of grinding PvP warzones, we get up and eat a bag of pretzels.

Oh, right. A baseline activity. Because nothing provides such consistent reward for so little effort, playing an MMO becomes your brain’s best option. Especially at the end of a long day at work/university, when your willpower is low already. I’m glad to say that many (most?) players don’t become attuned this way. I hope. But I’m definitely one of them.

And that’s why I haven’t written anything for two weeks.

I don’t even like Star Wars that much.

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Filed under psychology, Video Games