Panorama claims games ‘trick’ players

BBC’s suspicion-raising Panorama documentary on games addiction doesn’t air until Monday night – but details of the broadcast are already leaking out.

Reports by the Press Association and the Scotsman today offer a preview of the documentary, and it seems the documentary will look closely at how games ‘trick’ players.

As MCV detailed last week, the BBC has spoken to an array of people in investigating the topic of games addiction, both those in the industry, academics and addiction experts.

By the sounds of it, some of the wording may cut close to the bone for some in the games industry – but a chunk of those quotes from the show which have been leaked out already seem balanced.

The report looks set to repeat the suggestion by games designer Adrian Hon, of SixToStart, that games use ‘operant conditioning’ – seen previously in 1950s studies of rats feeding themselves by pressing a lever – to goad gamers into repeat play and rewarding them.

"I think people don’t necessarily understand how powerful some game mechanics can be," Hon is quoted as saying in both the Scotsman and PA reports.

"It’s one thing to think ‘okay, I’m playing too much,’ but it’s another to just stop playing, because some games are designed in a manner that you just don’t want to leave.

"I think the industry need to be thinking about this a lot more. Because games are becoming so much more widespread and because they’re becoming so much more powerful."

The Scotsman also offers comments from Edinburgh-based Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood and 21st Century Boys: "Research has shown that if you reward someone for an action all the time they get bored or if you don’t reward them enough they become despondent. The trick gaming companies use is rewarding players intermittently – and it is this that becomes addictive. So you have people hooked on a game that gives them a chance to collect life-enhancing tokens, or virtual money to buy weapons."

But Palmer ends up pointing out that when it comes to children playing games then parents are the ones responsible and they should "limit their child’s time spent playing computer games and explain why they are not good for them".

Both reports also reiterate comments from Professor Mark Griffiths, from Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit: "It’s a neat little psychological trick, and for most people this will not be something that’s bad, but if you’ve got… that vulnerability or susceptibility to addiction that will keep you in the game probably far in excess of what the normal person would do."

Prof Griffiths said insufficient research has been done: "The good news is that for the vast majority of people video gaming is something that is very positive in their lives."

Scotsman also adds in a comment from UKIE that sounds caution on any claims games are ‘addictive’: "Looking at the evidence, there’s a very mixed picture and there’s not a clear view on whether the actual game itself is causing addiction or whether it is a problem around certain aggressive compulsive behaviours of individuals."

But the PA, chooses to conclude with a comment from a self-confessed Call of Duty addict. Teenager Joe Staley, from Nottingham, apparently told the programme he was hooked on the shooter: "I wouldn’t move from my bed. My controller would be at my side table, I would turn it on, play, and then I would realise it was about three o’clock in the afternoon."

Panorama: Addicted to Games, airs at 8.30pm GMT on Monday, December 6th on BBC1 in the UK.

It airs a week after the show also aired a documentary called ‘FIFA’s dirty secrets’ which the programme makers said was so sensational, it could jinx disrupt England’s eventually failed bid to host the World Cup in 2018.

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