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The science of addiction: Do you always like the things you want? (bbc.com)
200 points by CapitalistCartr 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 144 comments



Of the thousands of hours I spent playing single player videogames in my youth, a surprisingly small amount was spent having fun or doing anything interesting or challenging. It was mostly just tedious grinding on my overpowered Pokemon (and other rpg equivalents) against helpless enemies so that I could be even more overpowered against them.

I luckily grew out of it, but being absorbed by the pursuit of easy, digital approximations of real accomplishments, to the point where it impedes more difficult pursuits of the real thing in the real world, is a serious issue for many millennial men I know.


I love this comment and I think it touches on something that is really controversial and difficult to discuss on internet forums.

It has become clear to me that for young men of my generation that this type of video-gaming is very much the equivalent of 'doomscrolling' as mentioned in other comments, and is generally pretty harmful. I have so many friends that have improved their lives by following the much-mocked advise 'turn off the game and do something else'. Are games the culture-killing brain-rotting rotten life harbinger that our parents made them out to be? Of course not. Are they the epitome of entertainment and growth that places like reddit make them out to be? No, not really.

Like always. The truth is in the nuance.


I wonder if my desire to grind and or min/max in video games during my teenage years was a proxy for honing skills. Perhaps it's a developmental stage where you actually enjoy the repetition because you're supposed to be developing a skills and trade-craft. But now that I'm older I have little to no interest in such pursuits.


Surely the point is that this developmental ability to persist is wasted on FPS? You could have learnt a musical instrument or developed some other accomplishment that lasts a lifetime. I.e. the real problem is the opportunity cost


> You could have learnt a musical instrument or developed some other accomplishment that lasts a lifetime.

These "classical" hobbies are vastly over-valued in my opinion. I spent almost a decade learning to play violin, and while the appreciation for music has been valuable, the actual skill of being able to play the violin has been largely useless. I also quit when I was no longer forced to play for school, and probably can't even read the sheet music anymore. It's by no means a life long skill like riding a bike.

Phrased another way, I don't see much that validates being able to play a musical instrument as more valuable than being good at a particular genre of video games. Music has existed for far longer, so it has a certain level of prestige as a long-standing part of our culture. Music can be shared with others, although Twitch seems to imply there are a substantial number of people interested in watching other people play video games.

There are various studies about the tangential benefits of music, there are likewise for video games. I don't know that one comes out clearly ahead.

Video games are more likely to give you real world skills. As more and more of the world moves online, skills that you pick up trying to get games to work or trying to make them run faster can be valuable. Online etiquette is another thing you tend to learn (hopefully, instead of just being toxic).

Learning an instrument is also not without pain. When I played, probably 75% of the time I was playing I wasn't actually doing anything enjoyable, I was working on committing a piece to memory, or practicing a piece, or doing exercises to work on my finger strength or flexibility. I don't feel like learning an instrument is less "grindy".


As a counterdote, I both played video games and played music (band, church groups, self-studying) for significant amounts of time in my youth. I still play music today and my only regret is not spending more time on it earlier, whereas I regret spending so much time on video games. The collaboration and shareability of music is unparalleled; I can connect with people and actually create something that is an expression of myself and my collaborators, and even people who've never picked up an instrument can appreciate pleasant-sounding music. With video games, you really need to know the mechanics of a specific game to appreciate someone else's performance, and very rarely do the results of a video game manifest itself in the real world apart from the consequential skills you may pick up.

The problem of quitting music once it's no longer compulsory is endemic and I think more rooted with pedagogy than music itself as a medium. I staved it off because I was largely self-taught for theory and the instruments I currently play (piano, guitar), whereas people who were forced into lessons or only did it to fill an elective slot in school quit once they were able to. I've gone months-long stints without dedicated practice, but to me it's closer to an unforgettable skill than riding a bike is (because I don't know how to ride a bike).


> the collaboration and shareability of music is unparalleled;

Music has been around since the dawn of mankind. Video games has been around 20-30 years?

I will not be surprised when 100 years from now, video games will be the acceptable hobby while playing instruments would be seem as quaint when one can just tweak some params in some AI models to generate good music.


*Video games /have/ been around

If anything, this statement is a testament to music's endurance as an expressive medium. As mentioned by others on this discussion, video games are largely consumable media with products that don't extend beyond the screen.

The whole AI-replacing-creativity debate is a large can of worms. Yes, there are already generative music models that can create pleasant-sounding music, but for many practitioners, the process is more important than the product. There's a reason people still perform live in front of audiences when it would be more reasonable and convenient to play lossless recordings at home.


> As mentioned by others on this discussion, video games are largely consumable media with products that don't extend beyond the screen.

And the same has been said about the TV. That it would never be mainstream.

My point is that video games is in its infancy. It has potential to be an art form, especially if VR/AR takes off once we get powerful enough hardware.

> There's a reason people still perform live in front of audiences when it would be more reasonable and convenient to play lossless recordings at home.

And there is a reason why people still enjoy playing video games even if people stigmatize it as a time sink. It's not about efficiency or productivity.


Why not extrapolate this argument to non-video games then? Why have card or board games not usurped music as a dominant hobby in the millennia that they've been around?

I won't debate that video games don't have merit as artistic media; some of my favorites from my adolescence have had positive effects on my world view and self in the same way works in television and film have, and I cut my teeth on advanced piano arrangements from video game music (specifically Kyle Landry's). I think that the problem lies in video games being a demanding medium that often rewards mindless grinding and non-transferrable skills. In McLuhan's terms, it's a hot (demanding) medium that only has the benefits of a cool (passively consumed) medium [1].

To say that music will somehow cede to video games eventually, when music has been around for literal eons, is flippant.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Understanding_Media#%22Hot%22_...


I grew up with the standard piano lessons as a kid, dabbled with guitar, but never really got competent at anything. Assumed I was not musical. Until picking up a banjo about 7 years ago.

Some music is about performance, but that requires a level of dedication I don't have. Bluegrass is music designed for a bunch of people to get together and have fun. Some friends of mine picked up guitar, upright bass, mandolin, washboard... and suddenly we were meeting a couple times a week just to play and have fun. It was never a grind.

Child, startup, moving away from my bandmates, and covid got in the way so I'm out of practice, but I'm really looking forward to getting back to it when life returns to "normal".

I guess what I'm saying is - maybe you were playing the wrong music? There are lots of music genres that seem to focus more on fun than grind. Classical violin probably isn't one of them. Old-time fiddle on the other hand...


> Video games are more likely to give you real world skills. As more and more of the world moves online, skills that you pick up trying to get games to work or trying to make them run faster can be valuable. Online etiquette is another thing you tend to learn (hopefully, instead of just being toxic).

This is begging the question more than a statement of real fact. What about magical combat against imaginary enemies, opening treasure chests, and completing collectibles is valuable in the real world? At least learning to play a musical instrument is actually doable in the real world.

One might argue that video games can teach someone to solve puzzles or to strategize towards an end when given a set of strengths and weaknesses, but if you really wanted usable critical thinking out of puzzles, you'd be better off grinding away at LeetCode and HackerRank. Strategizing towards any end requires the specificity of the context, too, and the world in video games is often very far from real.

And besides, if you really believe in video games--are you willing to raise a child to spend his youth and energy on video games instead of learning new skills?


> probably can't even read the sheet music anymore. It's by no means a life long skill like riding a bike.

You might be surprised. I went back to piano after 10 years, and got back up to close to my old skill level quite quickly


Surely the point is that this developmental ability to persist is wasted on FPS?

Who is to say? FPS games can teach you about your physical ability, practice and teamwork as much as playing football or playing in a band. The physical skills are different, sure, but the planning, teamwork and execution are all very similar (and similar to developing an app with a team). Any of these things could also, well, not teach you much of anything. But is that a function of the game or the player?

The article suggests maybe it's a function of genuinely liking what you're doing vs simply wanting to do it (maybe because of an addiction).

I.e. the real problem is the opportunity cost

The problem with viewing through the lens of the opportunity cost is that it requires some hindsight to be completely evaluated. I played competitive football for 8 years. I wanted to, but I never went pro. You can work hard, put in the effort and still have nothing good to show for it. Today, I feel like I could have better spent that time, because it ate up a lot of it.


Speak for yourself pal, I can still 1deag with the best of them.


Honestly, there is very little else as satisfying as a couple of Juan Deags in a crunch round of a CS match. I've spent time learning other, more respectable RL hobbies, but there's that deep sense of satisfaction they fail to capture.


Only things comperable is an orgasm to be honest. But the satisfaction of Juan deags persist for longer.


Playing video games makes for better surgeons. No joke, and the improvement is substantial.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-surgery-games-idUSN2J3039...


> Surely the point is that this developmental ability to persist is wasted on FPS?

It's anecdotal, of course, but I always notice vast diffference in spatial conceptualization between people who have played first-person videogames set in complex 3d environments and those who have not. Me and my gamer friends could easily draw you an aproximate map of a location after being there once, correctly oriented by cardinal directions.


Anecdote to support: With our first car that has sat nav, I instantly adjusted to it as a "minimap" in the peripheral vision.

Though of course, I wonder if I am more likely to have an accident because I glance at it without thinking.

Mind you, I may also have internalised the art of "knowing when to look at the minimap" IE when do I need to pay attention to what.


Are you sure that's the direction causality runs?


There is nothing inherently better between playing video games or a musical instrument in your free time if both helps you relax.

As usual, it's society that determines which one is a more "acceptable" hobby.


I'm not sure that getting really good at e.g. Counterstrike is somehow inherently "worse" than getting really good at e.g. playing the piano.


As someone who both plays videogames and tries to improve with a piano, think there's a key difference: piano exercises me mentally, I know when I get to a point where my head isn't going to get anything out of more practice for a while, and I want to do something else. I go to bed in a similar state like after going to the gym, that is, eager to sleep and rest.

With videogames, the experience usually is very different. I'll blink, and suddenly it's time to go to bed and my whole free time for the day is gone. I don't want to go to bed because my mind is telling me that there's still more day left, no way it's all done already; so I usually go to bed really late.

Days feel far longer when I'm not playing, in a good way. Gaming is like presing the fast forward button on your life.


I get this too. It's less pronounced if I commit to only playing 3 matches or so (doesn't always work) and check the time in between. But it still feels like autopilot.


Your ability to play the piano is more likely to be of use in social situations throughout your life as opposed to your Counter-Strike skills.

That isn’t to say that getting good at CS is inherently worse. But that as you age and your priorities shift I think piano is something you are more likely to value.


That has been true in the past. But, in the past, there were no computer-based games, nor a computer gaming culture.

Consider the analogy with big game hunting. The image I imagine of a British club includes the heads of a bunch of formerly live animals hanging on various walls. Within that subculture, hunting adventures and stories were very much social currency.

As gamers age, gaming clubs could form as a third place to hang out, and gaming stories would also be of great social value. May not be to your particular taste, but it is just a matter of taste.

Additionally, as knowledge of sporting teams and their performance during current season break down conversational barriers between people living in different parts of the US, knowledge of gaming, and the ability to play with others at any age, could do the same.

There isn’t as strong a general piano culture among a random set of people. Maybe music, but depends on the group. It brought Boomers together, but that essential core value of current music as a glue for a demographic isn’t there as much.

What music does do is directly feed the soul, and computer games aren’t at that level. Yet. Whether they ever can be is an open question. They aren’t an art form. Yet.


Your social situations obviously involve different people than mine.


Admittedly, 15 years ago my social circles would have been more impressed with CS skills.


One of them might get you laid, the other won't ?

Less flippantly, one of them requires consistent improvement or you'll quit - there's no zombie-state when learning piano where you'll be content with sitting at the same level for over a thousand hours. This zombie-like steady-state scenario is very easy with video games; relatively minor skill improvements over literally thousands of hours for the majority of people. No feedback to quit and try something else, unlike the piano where if you have no elegance after a few years you'll be very disillusioned. This disillusionment is a good thing, a necessary part of the learning process which indicates you either need to change your approach or find something else entirely. Video games, in my experience, break this feedback loop: they demand no fundamental progression.


> One of them might get you laid, the other won't ?

as a guitar player, I'm very sorry to inform you that this is not the case. you get a small bump in attractiveness once you master the chords to wonderwall, but after that you don't really make any progress unless your band becomes popular.

as a cs player, I can't say I agree with the rest of your comment either. counterstrike is a very harsh and unforgiving game. plateauing at the same skill level feels very bad. you will get rekt by twelve year olds and they will mock you mercilessly. I would also contest that musical instruments create any inherent drive for improvement. plenty of people just learn the basic barre chords and a couple major/minor scale shapes and go on to happily jam with friends for thousands of hours.


I suppose I should clarify, since you're right about reaching a certain level and being content with it (which is fine, naturally.)

What I mean is that 2000 hours of my life can simply vanish into a video game black hole, absent any other life events. Why? It's possible to play Counterstrike (or whatever) for 14 hours in the day. For a week. Or two. or 52. I've never in my life met a person who can enter that kind of state for 14 hours when playing an instrument, where the ease by which it consumes your life is just so breathtaking. The only two activities I've found which have this addictive ease are generic web browsing (e.g. reddit) and assorted video games - and my life has definitely been degraded as a result.


Learning to learn is a critical skill to hone in and of itself, regardless of if what you're learning is 'wasted'.


I mean, clearly FPS is a waste. Civilization and SFII is where it's at. SMB is ok too.

That said, learning a musical instrument does not last a lifetime if you don't keep playing it. The point of learning skills early in life is not necessarily that the skill is useful, it's that you've learned how to learn skills. Which hopefully will be used throughout your life.


If what you learn are songs you'll forget them without practice. But if you learn music theory, composition, improvisation, you'll never forget.

at least that's how I explain my own experience. I routinely go for years without playing most of the instruments I know. Give me a week and I'll be better at any one of them than I've ever been.


Ok GPT-3.


Grinding skills in games turned into running through shot simulations to get the best DPS in world of Warcraft, which turned into me learning to write code. The same obsession is there, just instead of being “the best on the server” I get a paycheck.


For better or worse, gaming cultural references are very common and a way to relate to colleagues of the same age. Many would say this is bad and pushes women, older folks and people with very different backgrounds away and creates an exclusive nerdy geeky club. I'm not here to argue that. But it is a useful thing for making friends in practice.

People also often get to know each other through gaming or it is their first interaction with technical things, setting up networking and firewalls for LAN parties, installing and creating mods etc.


Well if that's the best highlight of wasting one's life then its a poor one. In similar analogy you can maybe make some friends by getting addicted to heroin or becoming homeless too.

Just to be clear - I've wasted much of my youth with single player gaming. It was pretty addictive, no question about it. I'll do my best to get my kids have better life than that - no active screen around their young age, being very active in sports, nature, mountain activities, travel around the world backpacking etc. If they will choose to get hooked on games, so be it, but at least I've shown them many other, for me better options.


I remember playing a lot or Warcraft 2, Stunts, Dune 2 etc when I was young. However, what I "wasted" even more time on is writing cheats (Warcraft) and map editors (Stunts) for those games so...

On a side note I tend to think kids have a lot of self regulating abilities but that might not matter anymore since it seems that the brightest minds of this generation are focused on "increasing engagement" and fucking ads...


Basically, for many men, gaming is the only socialization they have. After a years, it may became only socialization for some.


Just moved to my wife's home country during COVID. I can attest to the fact that online gaming has one of my only ways to "socialise" since I can't go and make any new friends at the moment.


There's a much better way to relate to colleagues of your age, as well as people from a variety of age, ethnicity, and gender backgrounds: sports. Sports have the added benefit of getting you outside and moving when practiced. Women are also almost universally attracted to male athletes -- male gaming nerds, not so much.


> male gaming nerds, not so much

Dating someone who plays games is not issue. Most young people of both genders play games. Athletes play games too, there never was any dichotomy between sport and playing video games.

But, dating obsessed gamer is kind of like being alone, except you get yelled at more. If excessively competitive sport dude is asshole to his mates, you don't get to witness that every evening either.


Here in Australia it seems like a month can't go by without a high profile sports person being accused of abuse/drugs/alcohol or other.

Maybe it is something about the ultra-competitive streak - being "driven" - that makes it not nice to be around?

Personally, I gave up playing even the lowest grade of social hockey as people seemed to have forgotten the "game for fun" part and were "playing to win" - including hard shots at your legs, playing on no matter the breach of game rules unless the ref whistled etc.


I think that big stars are something else entirely. They are stars, so their excesses are enabled by everyone in their lives and they experience is "I can do crap and they can do nothing". They also live under high pressure, stress and physical pain.

I mean, people who do sport at amateur level drink a lot too. But, the high sport is not the same at all.


I think high profile sports people are an exception. For one, they're rich/famous/athletic and this leads to women being very forward with them. This run this lifestyle for long enough and they're bound to get into trouble. Add in that a lot of sporting clubs have heavy alcohol cultures and it's even more trouble.


> Dating someone who plays games is not issue. Most young people of both genders play games.

True. But following a sport and being able to hold forth on it competently will allow you to start conversations and engage in connections with a much broader social circle than demonstrating your knowledge of vidya memes.


> It has become clear to me that for young men of my generation that this type of video-gaming is very much the equivalent of 'doomscrolling' as mentioned in other comments, and is generally pretty harmful.

Eh? I mean maybe for the vast majority too much of one thing is bad. For me, personally, almost all of my friendships came from bonding experience over playing video games together (or board games, or card games) and other semi-intellectual hobbies.

Did any of those games or pursuits give me deep marketable skills? Not really. But the friendships gained were invaluable as far as diversity of thought, advice and help given in times of need. I don't regret any of that time spent.

But those were games of a bygone era. Later games (like WoW/Fortine and whatever garbage kids play these days) probably would not have had the same effect.

> The truth is in the nuance

Yep. Gaming is a pretty neutral activity. When done right (challenging games played with the right people) can be extremely rewarding. When overdone, probably worse than watching tons of TV/politics.


> It has become clear to me that for young men of my generation that this type of video-gaming is very much the equivalent of 'doomscrolling' as mentioned in other comments, and is generally pretty harmful.

I'm not sure I agree.

I have always enjoyed games where there is payoff for grinding. Usually, I enjoy the grind element as well. It isn't too far off of the sensation I get when working on a personal project or learning new tech. I used to "doom scroll," but have eliminated my FB and Twitter and harshly curated my Reddit due to the significant stress it was placing on my life. I never really enjoyed seeing what was going on with Twitter, I guess I felt obligated to keep up with things that ultimately didn't matter.


> I luckily grew out of it

There's always a lot of hand-wringing about what kids and teenagers spend their time doing, and I wonder if it's not just a natural process of your brain figuring out a system, going "oh I see" and moving on to the next thing. Like, in other words, it might not be luck, it might just be the learning / exploration process working normally.

That being said, there's definitely an aspect where video games are a super-stimulus. It's true that video game designers are creating explicit reward loops in a way that, let's say the writers of Gilligan's island were not (to compare hand-wringing about games to hand-wringing about television)


Counterpoint -- the min-maxing is often the interesting part, it's not the destination, it's the journey, or something like that.

By trying to get very good at a game, you learn how to solve problems, and, more importantly, how to learn how to solve problems. It's also often the case that by taking a game seriously, you engage with the community, making friends or at least getting to know people out of your circle.

I've put thousands of hours into several games, and I don't regret a second of that. I wouldn't say that behavior is unhealthy unless it brings you to downright ignore your job/school/responsibilities.


> I wouldn't say that behavior is unhealthy unless it brings you to downright ignore your job/school/responsibilities.

I have a much lower bar because I don't think all video game playing is equal.

My first Pokémon game was one of the more recent ones for the switch. I didn't quite understand how the breeding worked and I was trying to breed a particular Pokémon with high stats. I spent many hours figuring out how it works and writing scripts to figure out what I should breed to get what I want, then more hours actually doing the breeding. I was fully engaged and I would consider this video game playing healthy.

I've also spent many hours just vegging out. A little of that is fine; it's one way I do some thinking. But too much of it and the day is gone and when I stop I feel bad, like I've just come out of a stupor. This, to me, is not healthy, even if I otherwise took care of all my responsibilities.


"I wouldn't say that behavior is unhealthy unless it brings you to downright ignore your job/school/responsibilities."

What if you could have done something more productive or rewarding with your life instead, like developed new friendships or deepened existing ones, learned new skills, or read something that opened your eyes or changed your life?

I've probably gamed as much as anyone here, and I deeply regret wasting so much time on it. Though it wasn't a complete waste of time, as it did help me to learn to manage complex systems (I like complex games) and to anticipate and prepare (I like RPG's and chess), and it also helped me to destress, there was also a compulsive quality to my gaming where the ultimate payoff wasn't all that great compared to the many thousands of hours I put in to it.


> What if you could have done something more productive or rewarding with your life instead

That's a bit unfair, though. The same reasoning applies to everything in your life that isn't strictly work. Gaming did change my life, requiring everything to be the most efficient use of your time is simply unreasonable.


But there seems to be a pattern where many people just really regret the hours poured into gaming but don't regret hours poured into learning cooking or traveling or volunteering at a college student group (say taking photos of events) etc.

There are activities that produce long term satisfaction, while other produce long term regret. I don't regret having gone on a canoe trip but I do regret many hours of playing RTS games.

Maybe it's just me and my brain is prone to addiction to games, but it's a loop that's hard to escape. At first it's pleasurable, then I find myself playing through the night, just one more game again and again, I start to gain weight, sleep in, resent the whole thing but crave the fake-accomplishment and dream with the game. I might be an outlier. It hasn't ruined my life though because I always snapped out of it due to some external event that forced me to stop and then I normalize after some days or a week or two of not playing. But when living alone and nobody stopping me, I have definitely wasted months of my life on such things and have holes in my CV due to it.

Nowadays I just refuse to play games altogether. I miss out on some cultural references, but so be it. Same with TV series and binge watching. I miss out on them and become a more boring person but I just cannot do a little bit of these. If I start I'm useless for days or weeks.

It's easier to have willpower to just not start.


I think your argument is clear and justified. Our brains are not made for videogames - they are just too addicting for many people. I think our societies (as far as i see) haven't really coped enough with this addictive aspect of videogames - be it parents, teachers, politics or specific clinics (well, in some countries there are already clinics specialized for people who are addicted to video games). China is an interesting case study in that they heavily regulate what kind of games people are allowed to play and also how much and at which times. My personal pet peeve with casino [f2p] (including fifa cards) games is another aspect of gaming that has not been looked at nearly enough, so gaming - although doing more revenue than hollywood (might have something to do with addiction feeding...) - hasn't quite grown up.


I think, just like with other addictions, it matters whether everything else is in place in your life. If you have friends and stable relationships, it's less of a risk. The most difficult part for me was while studying in a foreign country, especially after many (temporary) friends left for their home countries and I didn't know many other people.


> What if you could have done something more productive or rewarding with your life instead, like developed new friendships or deepened existing ones, learned new skills, or read something that opened your eyes or changed your life

So the couple years I spent playing WoW back in university did these some of these things for me.

The friends that I played with are some of my best friends 15+ years later with the time we spent playing being a formative part of building those relationships and us still occasionally referencing stories from that time-period. Mind you real-world friends that I later did things like play D&D and other TTRPGs with so I'm not making the argument video games would have been enough on their own.

Getting bored of the time-sink in Wow lead to me investigating game hacking, lead to me learning memory modification and reverse engineering skills, and was my first try at process exploitation techniques all contributing to my eventual career in computer security. That said, I was already interested in the field and if I hadn't been I probably wouldn't have tried those things.

I don't play games very often nowadays but last year, while I was going through a divorce and dealing with depression and some amount of substance abuse in response, playing Disco Elysium was very relevant and contributed a ton to working through the thoughts and emotions around what I was going through. It helped me pull myself out of destructive patterns and I consider it one of the more important pieces of fiction I've experienced personally. That said, it is more or less a really complex illustrated choose your own adventure book so its not quite what most people think of when they think about "video games".

If my qualifications don't make it clear I don't think my anecdotes count as data nor am I discounting your personal experience, but I do feel the time I spent playing video games have been a net positive for my life.


I can certainly relate to this, my poison of choice was diablo 2. At first playing and discovering all the various items and stats was fun. Killing monsters and advancing was fun. At some point it just became a habit, then towards the end it became a chore. Yet I still spent endless hours doing it. For me at least it could probably been classified as an addiction.

There were some fond memories from it, and there were certainly many enjoyable moments. But it was certainly not done in moderation. I'm also glad I pulled out of it, and didn't get into a similar situation with a different game.


Diablo 2 is exactly the kind of game I felt like a pointless time sink. Your character gains new skills, but you? Not so much. At least playing a competitive FPS (or something like Starcraft) you're gaining skills.


Usually I'm mostly done after beating a Diablo game a couple of times at various difficulty levels, but I still find them fun to play periodically. I think the fact that they become tedious after a while is not a bad thing since otherwise you'd never stop playing! They are also fun and easy games to pick up and play with friends or family (especially D3 in couch co-op mode.)

Regarding game vs. IRL skills, I enjoy Guitar Hero quite a bit, but Rocksmith actually improves your ability to play a real guitar.

Rock Band drums are pretty close to electronic drums though, and vocals are actual vocals.

And as I've mentioned, Ring Fit Adventure (which I'm still playing) kind of levels you up. I found similar effects with Wii Fit, where years after stopping playing (and switching to non-balance based exercises) my sense of balance was surprisingly better than it had been before I started playing the game. I expect other physical games like Dance Dance Revolution are good for physical coordination, and I expect twitch games such as FPSs are good for eye-hand coordination and reaction time.


Looking back yes not much skills gained. At the time what kept me in there were a couple of things:

1) chasing the next thing. Next item, next perfect build, next stat.

2) the multi player aspect. Be it pvp or a coop game with some online “friends”

Both of these are good ways to keep people engaged / addicted I guess.


Yeah, I definitely felt the pull of the first thing, and after a while resented it, because I felt like I was being manipulated.

I definitely think there's value in the second thing, though. Basically, I used to tell people that I play video games "socially" -- until a few months ago (when I decided to actually skill up on Starcraft 2), I almost never played video games unless it was with a group of other people.


> It was mostly just tedious grinding

I haven't had a grindy experience in most single-player games, but MMOs have perfected the grind system to keep players in the game and spending money (particularly in a subscription MMO.)

Oddly enough, I tend to enjoy the repetitive activities of MMOs such as gathering, crafting, and simple quests; they put you in a sort of relaxed flow state and you get to see the game turn from day to night as other players and monsters wander by. You also end up exploring more of the game world in detail and noticing interesting details that you might miss otherwise. Daily quests are repetitive but they have a bit of variety because you have a different set of players every time.

I wonder whether MMO players might be good at real-life grinds that seem tedious but are actually worthwhile, such as exercise.

As a data point, I'm still grinding away at Ring Fit Adventure, which is fun and seems to be beneficial to fitness in terms of increased strength, balance, and energy after several months.

I haven't managed to enjoy grinding housecleaning yet but I might if I can figure out how to gamify it....


I got to this point with games a few years ago. My coworkers (all big gamers) were amazed that I would wait for games to be on steep sale or just play older titles. My first job out of high school was working in a game store where I fell into the rat race of having every shiny new thing I could afford and getting hyped up on the hyper competitive nature of everything.

Really, it was Destiny 1 and Halo MCC that broke me hard of this habit. Between the games being broken or lacking, and me not enjoying the PvP aspect of Destiny 1, I just stepped away from it all.

Now I am content to game for the sake of burning time. I don't like PUBG, but I have it to play with friends while we drink beers and shoot the bot infested unranked, the final moments are tense and fun and if we fail at least we had the fun of getting there.

I got XBOX game pass and just pop in games to try them out now, no worries or hassle of returning since it is Netflix style gaming.

Even on my phone I have loaded up old games where I turn on cheats for mad fun. I am currently playing Pokemon Sun and whenever the baddies start a match with "I am stealing your Pokemon" they face my 100% started with 100% critical chance and I just lob a Master Ball and steal their Pokemon. I enjoy walking through walls and just being ridiculous in it while still enjoying the story and atmosphere of the game. (all the fun, none of slowness inherent in those games).

But I do agree. I don't know how many times I would work my 9-5, try and game some, get upset at the losses, and just wallow out the rest of the night, skipping other stuff I wanted/needed to do. The highs certainly weren't worth the lows.

Part of why when folks say video games aren't addicting, I ask why CoD put in the prestige system. It keeps hitting you with that dopamine of 'yea, just unlocked something' which constantly throws you back into combat where something else gets unlocked.


> Part of why when folks say video games aren't addicting, I ask why CoD put in the prestige system. It keeps hitting you with that dopamine of 'yea, just unlocked something' which constantly throws you back into combat where something else gets unlocked.

It's also part of the competition. It's called "Prestige" because having a lot of those levels is meant to be prestigious. For me, it was closer to an MMR Ranking or KD Ratio. It's less about collecting the icons, and more about getting some form of external validation that you were a better player than other players. Of course, Prestige is a bad indicator that you are a better player than other players, but it allows people who aren't good but have a lot of time to compete on some level.

If this were really about "yea, just unlocked something" I would expect better rewards. I haven't played the new CoDs a lot, but from what I remember, the rewards for prestiging were largely meh, and you get most of them from low levels of prestige. If you hit prestige 99, you've done a lot of prestiges without any unlocks (other than the bars next to your username, which no one ever looks at).


Regarding your last point.

There is a psychology behind "obtaining bigger numbers" being a never ending goal. (Aside: I mean, why does Bezos even work anymore?)

And then you have Universal paperclips... a game largely designed around increasing a number - and that's it. No 3D graphics, some bits of text every now and again.

Full game on website:https://www.decisionproblem.com/paperclips/

...and yes. I played it through to the end on a car trip once.


> I luckily grew out of it, but being absorbed by the pursuit of easy, digital approximations of real accomplishments ...

The really harmful thing might be the artificial meaning this creates, which might be at the end more addictive than the fun.

I never really was addicted to games. The funny thing is, I could only play games that were really fun for me, because of the game mechanics or if they had some interesting new aspects. But this kind of fascination never hold that long and after that the game play just got repetitive and tedious, at which point I just stopped playing.

Therefore also most games that contain a lot of repetition feel just pointless to me.


Yeah - similar for me.

I think there's something interesting here with how different people respond to 'fake achievement'. For me FPS games were fun because it was a little competition between players (also I was often interrupted growing up and short rounds are better for this).

After trying WoW and having to walk 30min to pick up a feather and bring it back then do the same for an acorn I lost total interest in ever playing again. That might be all the time I had to play that day.

I suspect some people get more of a positive feedback response from seeing numbers go up than others. I think MMOGs can also have a social component that keeps people coming back to do shared events which is probably stickier than the fake achievement bits.

I'd be curious if people really vulnerable to fake achievement would also be successful if they could create a fast feedback environment for themselves with something other than the game as the goal (since they're clearly amenable to that kind of motivation).

For me, the difficulty is on the other side. Even outside of games it can be hard to find something that feels like it matters and is important (even if you can make money and be otherwise better off in your life by doing it). Curiosity can also pull you in a thousand different directions.

Figuring out what you want is hard, figuring out how to move in that direction is hard, then actually getting yourself to focus and do the work is hard.

When the search space of what's possible is so big, it can be difficult to coordinate. I think games reduce that to something extremely narrow. For some that's effective, for me the illusion is obvious and unfulfilling.

Today I tend to like one-off indie games driven by story (like Firewatch). I feel like I get more out of it.


> For me, the difficulty is on the other side. Even outside of games it can be hard to find something that feels like it matters and is important (even if you can make money and be otherwise better off in your life by doing it). Curiosity can also pull you in a thousand different directions.

Yes, pretty similar for me. Therefore I quite envy people that can get that much out of just games, and I'm even struggling to find something in the real world.

I think the modern kind of work can feel quite pointless, because being just a part of a complex machinery can make it hard to see what you're really provoking. And if you're a bit of a misfit for the modern culture, can't get meaning out of money, status and career, then also these game-like achievements aren't an option.

But life in general is just quite strange if you think long and deep enough about it. So it's pretty nice if you can loose yourself in such a simple thing as a game. I really think that being able to look at life as a kind of game makes it a lot easier, because taking it really seriously is just too painful.

Well, seems to be one of my more melancholic days. ;)


It may be trite, but it seems like strong social ties, community, and having a family are pretty key to filling that gap.

I suspect it’s a built in sense of purpose from millions of years of selective pressure.

Other things like novelty seeking, learning, getting better at crafts help - but looking at people that feel generally content, investing in a good partner and having kids seems like the surest way to fill that purpose.

Lots of ways that can go poorly (I think mostly people choosing their partner poorly or for stupid reasons), but if it goes well I think that’s probably a critical piece.


> It may be trite, but it seems like strong social ties, community, and having a family are pretty key to filling that gap.

That's certainly true, and without my partner life would be a lot more bleak.

I've a bit of a hard time with communities, because I would really like to be part of more, but have often issues with their narrow mindedness, which seems to be the needed bound of communities. Well, also being a bit of loner doesn't help connecting to a community. But nevertheless I've a strong emotional desire to be part of one.

It might be one of these mismatches, when your desire and the reality just aren't compatible.


It could also be that you just haven't found a community that you like yet.

I like HN (most of the time), Scott Alexander's blog, and LessWrong.

It's hard to find the same kind of thing in-person though, plus have to overcome the social anxiety/social skills bit of actually finding and going to a place with new people which is an entirely separate (though worthwhile) skill.

I haven't succeeded with this either (though I like the people I work with).


I remember playing games and basically doing:

creep, shoot, save, creep, solve puzzle, save, creep, die, restore, ...

And then there came along games that were more forgiving and you could just play and if you died, respawn.

but then other games replaced things with: fight, get loot, sort and rearrange inventory, possible weapon swap, go back to town and sell inventory, etc..

I guess it's better that the current crop of phone games with grind (shortcut available for purchase!) , grind (you really should buy this convenient feature), grind, ...

I did enjoy factorio. You have to periodically re-invent yourself. But then what do you do after launching a rocket?


Grinding exemplifies delayed gratification. You know that if you grind enough you'll get to something more interesting/fun.

People who are good at grinding would probably ace the so-called Marshmallow Test:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experimen...


Several years ago, there was a site called wowdetox.com, where addicts of World of Warcraft and also other gamers shared their stories.

One of the posts there contained a striking observation: The most tragic aspect of the game is that it hits the hardest workers the hardest.


I think people who have a healthy relationship with games agree with you, but for me, the obsessive grinding only made the games less challenging/fun, with no reward except larger numbers on the menus-- like if the reward for the Marshmallow test was just that you got to look at a bitmap of a pixelated marshmallow on tv.

Videogames are not all bad, and of course there are many healthy and successful people who enjoy them and appreciate them as works of art. But for me personally, I regret that I spent so much time doing busywork for an unpaid job that I didn't even enjoy.


The Marshmallow Test looks kind of classist, or even racist (not sure if "racist" is the right word for it, maybe "orientalist" would be better).

Yes, if you live in Stanford or in a country that has an institution like Stanford then most probably "passing" the marshmallow test means waiting for a longer period in order to get twice the reward, but I dare say not a lot of countries/societies afforded that luxury until not that long ago (many of them still don't), in their case waiting for longer in order to get twice the reward might mean that you'll be dead by then, or evicted, or you had to escape the communists/the criminal right-wingers/the islamist beheaders/what have you.


You definitely have a point. Though one thing I never understood was grindy type games. Growing up playing with my mates, Mario, Zelda , street fighter then Goldeneye, Tony hawk's. We just never came across them. Then final fantasy 7 came along, I remember my friend just left it back to the shop. Turn based combat and experience points made no sense to us at all. Few years later I tried playing Knights of the old Republic, it didn't feel like a game. It just felt really odd and awkward to me. Skip forward few years and this type game is huge. I don't get it and never will I guess! The bit I really don't get is you don't get better at the game by becoming more skillful but instead by spending time increasing xp on grindy tasks. One thing about games though, they can be sort of mindful: recently I went through a really hard month at work. I found playing old Ps1 racers helped me quickly unwind before bed. (Wipeout and gran turismo 1)


I'm exactly the opposite. I hated playing MarioKart, SuperSmash Bros, etc. because the game felt pointless and un-winnable. These games were based on acting fast and building up reflexes. Since I was only borrowing my friends' game consoles and they could practice whenever they wanted, there was no way I could ever catch up.

I loved planning the most efficient/comprehensive path to achieve a goal in World of Warcraft or Knights of the Old Republic and then executing on the plan. I could think about what I wanted to do when I didn't have access to the game. Playing the game was really only an afterthought to test out the plan I'd come up with.


I stopped playing Ultima Online (same led designer as Knights of the old Repbulic iirc) when I did the math and realized to become Master Alchemist, I would have to mix 3000 potions, always with the same repetitive clicks.


Every game can become grindy if you abuse them. I used to play counter strike and I would just grind grind grind. Playing deathmatch again and again, practicing your aim on specific maps (aim_usp, aim_aztec, etc.)


But this is a different definition of "grind". After spending an hour practicing your aim on a specific map, your aim will actually be better. That's not any different than spending an hour practicing shooting hoops from a specific angle / distance, or spending an hour practicing musical scales.

I think when most people talk about "grind" in games, they mean activities that are genuinely only time-wasters. You don't gain any skill (other than patience) from killing your hundredth goblin or clicking "harvest" on your hundredth field.


True, there's a skill grind, and a level/gear up grind


Another way to look at it , I tend to be very good at math. As a kid I could easily do somewhat complex equations in my head, to the frustration of my teachers.

Perhaps Pokemon was training for that.


One of the most plausible interpretations is that dopamine's primary role in cognition isn't to model reward, but to predict uncertainty.

This seems to be roughly in line with how subjects with excessively high or low dopamine behave. Those on heroic doses of amphetamines become convinced of the most harebrained ideas. ("I know the CIA is listening to me through the toaster, better take it apart.") Whereas schizophrenic catatonia, a lack of will to even move, is often caused by impaired dopamine receptors.

This clarifies why dopamine drives addiction and compulsion, without a corresponding reward in terms of actual satisfaction. The evolutionary environment heavily incentives risk aversion. The downsides of any major risk almost always outweigh the upsides. Keep pursuing a more nourishing but unpredictable food source and you'll eventually starve, regardless of how well fed you are in good times. Keep fighting opponents that are even matches, and eventually you'll get your head bashed in.

Our brains are heavily wired to seek out small but certain rewards to the exclusion of large but risky ones. This is confirmed in behavioral economics, where subjects will instinctually and irrationally prefer low-risk, low-reward bets even when the payoffs are measured in pennies.

If you feel shitty and depressed, then eating ice cream, banging heroin, or scrolling social media won't fix all your problems. But you know for sure it will make you feel a little better right away. In contrast taking positive steps to improve your life, like exercising, eating better, developing relationships, or mastering marketable skills are ultimately more rewarding but risky. You can put in a lot of effort for a long time and still have no guarantee of seeing any tangible payoff.


Heroin and ice cream work on opioid receptors too which is more directly linked to pleasure/happiness/reward than dopamine.


Which makes sense; both of them are pleasurable experiences unto themselves. However, pretty much anything addictive does something weird to dopamine in the brain, so it would seem to be the common factor.


This reminds me of a lecture I saw a while back from Robert Sapolsky:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GY1x8k79bZE&ab_channel=Chris...

TLDR[0]: dopamine is released during anticipation of reward, not when the reward is actually obtained, and the amount correlates with the uncertainty attached to the risk.

[0] It's been a while since I saw it and I don't have time to go through it again, so hopefully I'm summarizing accurately.


This is because dopamine measures prediction error, not uncertainty. Honestly did not want to read the lengthy grandparent comment that was probably wrong but here I can say confidently that these days it's pretty well known that the phenomena you mentioned is due to prediction error.

Weird thing though is that it seems to only be measuring positive prediction error, complicating our understanding of how our brains carry out temporal difference learning.


Especially with video games you can cause, say, opening chests to always have a small positive reward (1 rupee, etc) and sometimes contain giant rewards (1000 rupee + AwesomeSword), making it always a dopamine hit even with low-risk activities like opening a chest.


"I can quit whenever I want to" is often how people justify smoking early on. What they don't tell you, is that you are never going to want to. You may think it's a terrific idea and can see all the logical benefits of quitting smoking, but none of that changes what you want.


Years before I quit smoking, I was extremely conscious of how much I hated everything about the experience of smoking. Even the hit at the back of the throat and oral fixation (which is what I craved, not wanted).

I specifically wanted to stop for 5 years. I did not have the willpower to push through cravings. I wanted to stop smoking, I needed to have a smoke.

Addiction is not a matter of wants or desires, that's what gets you addicted. Addiction is a biological bug. A year later and I still have flashes in my subconscious of the sensation of drawing in a smoke.

This "want" nonsense trivializes what addicts go through and needs to stop, please.


definition of want: have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for. definition of crave: feel a powerful desire for (something).

These really aren't all that different of words.

Imho, you recognized how distasteful smoking was to yourself and others, you thought it would be a good idea to quite - but as you said, you "craved" or as I said "wanted", another smoke at all times. Need? Smoking was never needed, that's a complete misnomer.

I am 3 days clean from a 10 year habit, so I guess I could ask you not to trivialize my experience please.


No, its just that by the time you want to you are addicted. Had plenty of friends addicted to gaming and smoking, you can guess which group dropped the addiction in way higher numbers...


Or, that the concept of 'wanting' is an abstraction, and the implementation details become reallly important as nicotine reshapes the landscape of your brain.


It's almost like we're only half conscious.


The opposite is also interesting.

A surprisingly huge amount of things I don't want at first sight turn out to be quite pleasing. Like sport/fitness and learning/practice.


Every now and then I stumble onto a term that so perfectly describes an aspect of life that I don't know how I ever lived without it. In this case, it's "Type I fun" and "Type II fun":

https://www.rei.com/blog/climb/fun-scale

You're talking about Type II fun and I 100% agree.


Type II fun is more about being cold/tired/miserable for a relatively short amount of time; parent is talking more about return on investment for long-term commitment.


I don't think there's a real difference here. All of those long-term returns on investment are just the accumulation of short-term cold/tired/miserable experiences.

Getting in shape is just going outside in the cold/heat and running for a short while. You just have to do that over and over again.

Getting good at a musical instrument is simply the accumulation of many many boring practice sessions.


I see them as very different; in my personal experience, sailing offshore in a gale was type II fun, cycling an hour a day is just not the same.


There are the things you say you want, the things you think you want, the things you do, and the things that make you happy. It's rare for any two of them to be the same, let alone all four.


I keep wondering if there is a term for the act of telling yourself something and not truly believing it. Or the implications of constantly remembering about an idea but denying it as not a "true" want. This kind of behavior is of great interest for me. Because I thought that that was what I was doing when I said I didn't want to try art as a hobby, and actively disliked it whenever I chose to do it, but with a self-induced financial obligation it actually became bearable, although not yet pleasurable.


The First World has become an interesting ecosystem:

* all/most of our "needs" are met * marketers create "wants" * consumers fight hard to satisfy these "wants" at time at detriment to "needs"

You can observe a lot just by looking.


People are addicted to many things with very poor marketing. Take crack cocaine and black tar heroin as examples; their marketing sucks!

As an aside, your last sentence was superfluous and came off as a bit pompous (at least to me).

>"You can observe a lot just by looking."


Crack cocaine and similar have a great marketing and business model:

1. It's always free to try, no string attached

2. Recruiting people in resale/distribution is easy: lots of money with no education/experience and street creed; most of the foot solders in the "trade" barely qualify for minimum wage work.


>"You can observe a lot just by looking."

This is a paraphrase of a Yogi Berra quote. He's famous for saying silly things like this. I suspect the poster was intending this to humorous rather than pompous.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogi_Berra#%22Yogi-isms%22


> Take crack cocaine and black tar heroin as examples; their marketing sucks!

Is it? I thought their strategy is "the first hit is free."


I think addicting and what may seem productive such as checking the news feed is the most harmful. I have been affected by this, in which you can easily lie to yourself that what you are doing is useful when in reality it may be of little benefit at best.


This, in my opinion, overlays very well with doom scrolling partisan entertainment on facebook/instagram. No one enjoys it, but the intensity drives them back.


> This, in my opinion, overlays very well with doom scrolling partisan entertainment on facebook/instagram. No one enjoys it, but the intensity drives them back.

But enjoyment-seeking isn't the only thing that motivates people to do things. Fear and anxiety can too, and I think doomscrolling is more of an example of that. It's like vigilantly looking for lions on the savanna and rallying your tribe to react the ones you've spotted.


I estimate 98% of all cigarettes I smoked in my life I did not enjoy. I could never explain why I smoked the horrible things


I noticed this with smoking vs drinking. When I used to smoke I always felt like shit right after smoking a cigarette yet still craved one, in contrast to drinking a beer which I craved less but enjoyed more. Or meditation which is always very pleasant but isn't accompanied by a strong want or desire.


I've often wondered if the word "addiction" is formally defined enough to have discussions like this from some common ground.

Does anyone know? There seem to be many different definitions depending on where I google.

Reading this article, I find it hard not to focus solely on my own belief that all carbohydrates, and sucrose/fructose/glucose in particular are extremely addictive. This article even compares, using dopamine, smoking with "temptation for food." I'm fairly sure that anytime someone is "tempted for food", that there are carbohydrates involved, but obviously it's hard to know without that original formal definition.


The best formal description I've seen of addiction (from a therapy perspective) is: behavior that negatively impacts your life in a way that you can't control. Addiction is thus very specific to individuals, not to substances.

If it's a behavior that one can control (as in stop doing it) then it's a legitimate choice and not addiction. If someone walking by a plate of cookies can't avoid eating too many then it is clearly addiction for that person.

Refined sugars are highly addictive for a lot of people, even to the point of feeling withdrawals.

It's also possible to consume refined sugars in moderation for other people.


Ah ok, so from that perspective there _could_ be someone for which heroin is not addictive. That makes sense, although I don't think that this is the definition that most people use.


Heroin is likely not addictive for most people. The chance of prescription opioid addiction is about 25%, and I wouldn't expect heroin to be noticably more addictive as a chemical substance. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/opioids/prescribed.html

https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/file... is a very small survey of heroin users, some of whom report controlled or occasional use.

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/hero... shows that with 90K-170K new users per year from 2006 to 2016 resulted in 600K total dependent users in 2016 in the U.S., so not all first-time users become dependent and presumably the 2016 count includes people who tried heroin for the first time before 2006.

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/heroin.html confirms that the difference in new users and final dependent users wasn't all due to deaths, either.

There's still a possibility that only rehab keeps people from becoming dependent but the numbers are harder to find for that.


Anecdotally, I've known a few people who claimed to use cocaine and even heroin occasionally, and I don't have any reason to think they were addicts in the sense that they were compelled to use it. Indeed, at least for snorted cocaine, the most common reaction I've heard from first time users is basically "what's the big deal?" - aka the effects just weren't as intense as expected based on the reputation.

Meanwhile, I've only met one person who has been able to use cigarettes occasionally (a few times a year). Everyone else has been at at least a daily smoker, and while I know quite a few people who have successfully quit, it's almost always been a rough experience with multiple attempts required before succeeding.

If cocaine and heroin were legal and cheap, I'd probably be more concerned if a friend took up smoking than either of them. Conversely, if cigarettes were illegal, I'd be really concerned if a friend took up smoking.


> Meanwhile, I've only met one person who has been able to use cigarettes occasionally

Well, there is also selection bias: you assume people like this just don’t smoke. I enjoy smoking, but I don’t smoke, and there was no problem for me to stop. There was some research that some percentage of population genetically is not pre-disposed for smoking addiction.


I agree. Otherwise, we would have to accept that a lot of people are addicted to coffee.


The closest I know of for a formal definition of "addiction" is the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition's" criteria for substance use disorders. It lists 11 criteria. The more that match, the more severe the disorder. https://pastebin.com/HA9BipGn


DSM V also introduces "Gambling disorder" under the same category (Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders). The diagnostic criteria are:

* Preoccupation – Thinking a lot about gambling

* Increased Tolerance – Needs to gamble more than before

* Tried to stop – Cannot stop gambling

* Withdrawal – Irritable when not gambling

* Escape – Gambles to get away from it all

* Chasing – Often returns to try and win back losses

* Lying – Dishonest about amount & frequency gambling

* Loss of Control – Continues gambling despite consequences

* Receiving Bailouts – Borrows money to gamble or pay debt

Matching four or more indicate the subject has a gambling disorder. 4-5 indicates low severity, 6-7 moderate, 8-9 severe.

I scored 9. I've been in recovery (with GA) since 1998.

EDIT: formatting.


:-) wow this is awesome. I'm assuming this is a pastebin because the actual list is secret information?


No, it's just a book that costs money. Search "DSM 5" on Amazon.


A lot of /specific/ food cravings aren't actually carbohydrate-related but tend to be (more often) mineral or (less often) vitamin cravings. That said, women's cycles /do/ result in cravings for macronutrients, but those are definitely not something brought about by big sugar but rather an evolutionary byproduct.


Interesting! Obviously I don't have research for this in either direction. I know a lot of people that take daily multivitamins that would still consider themselves to have "cravings".


My parents tried to make me do treatment for video game addiction. I was appalled by the simplistic portrayal that the entire older generation had of my habits, because although they were unhealthy, they were a far cry from addiction. There are several very different categories of long-playtime games popular today and they are associated with very different motivation structures. To the layman league of legends is in the same category as skyrim, but one is a single player campaign that you'll eventually grow tired of, even if it takes a thousand hours, and the other is an eternal online competition in which you will be just as likely to hit 'play again' after your 500th hour as your 20,000th. There are 3 categories of game that can rack up truly problematic playtimes in the tens of thousands of hours and extract great opportunity costs on the players:

1) Grindfests - e.g. Old school runescape, black desert online, korean mmos, classic wow, destiny 2, warframe. Motivation is collection of perfect sets of equipment and special items that prove account status.

2) Social Simulators - World of Warcraft (shadowlands), most mmos,Eve Online, roblox, vrchat. Motivation is that "people are doing something and I want to be a part of it."

3) Competitive Loops - Pubg, Apex legends, fortnite, overwatch, Call of Duty, League of Legends, Starcraft 2 ladder, most shooters and arena games. Motivation is competitive instinct, satisfaction if you win/get kills, frustration if you don't and resolve to play another and turn it around.

(Disclaimer: there's a lot of overlap between groups, most mmos are both social simulators and grindfests, many arena competitive loops are social games sometimes. I tried to categorize by primary motivator.)

Grindfests and competitive loops are fundamentally wastes of time, but they will always give you what you're looking for. Bored on a Wednesday night? Might as queue up mid or farm zulrah. There is obvious gender disparity between each category and the general population, and disparity between categories as well- women play social simulators, but competitive loops are usually over 90% men. Often closer to 99%. Social Simulators are only usually wastes of time, because the expectation of anonymity on the internet means you'll usually never leverage those social networks you're building for real value. In the case of people still building social skills, or isolated and looking for camraderie, these games do add value.

This is all to say that problematic video games are successful because they scratch behavioral itches many people want scratched. In that way, I'm almost uncomfortable calling them problematic. Sure, a 22y/o would ideally be spending his evenings on side projects. What fraction of his spare time is that a realistic expectation if he could be doing virtual competitions with friends or strangers? I wouldn't begrudge a retiree to play a competitive loops 6 hours a day, I look forward to doing that myself in the old folks home, but I'm much more comfortable condemning someone in the prime of their life because of higher opp. cost. Bear in mind that HN is not a representative sample, and the majority of humans waste all their free time anyway, if 'waste' means 'suboptimal use carrying nonzero opportunity cost'. Is this different from any other generation's opiate of the masses? My friends don't watch football but they do talk about doublelift retiring.


I don’t really understand this article. It says that we can want things we don’t like. It implies there is a paradox, but I don’t think there is.

Wanting is in the future. Liking is in the present. Wanting is the belief that I will like something.

The question unanswered by the article is, if I want something that I later don’t like, what do I believe at the time of wanting? Do I believe I will like it? Might like it? Hope I will like it?

That’s what addiction is to me. It is the irrational hope that I will like what I want, even if I know in my heart that I won’t.


>If I want something that I later don't like, what do I believe at the time of wanting?

I believe that the wanting tells a silent story usually of the form "this experience will be worthwhile & net-positive." But that is of course just that, a story, and in reality things like smoking aren't worthwhile, and are net-negative.

In his book about quitting, Allen Carr posits something very similar -- those who fail to quit smoking implicitly believe there is /some/ value provided by the smoke, despite the health costs. For example, one might believe the story "this smoke is getting me through the day, although it's literally going to kill me."

Carr suggests once you truly accept smoking adds nothing to your life, and only takes away from your experience, only then does the motivation to quit rise high enough to boost your willpower to actually cease smoking. It's an interesting idea and something I've found to be true in my own life.


I think this is sort of an insufficient dichotomy for what happens in reality, although I think the article is informative on painting a better picture for us.

What about things you "want," but maybe don't like, but physiologically can't drive yourself to? This article only talks about the physiological want, and not the psychological want.

Obviously, it's not a writing goal of the article, but there's a lot more here than just "wanting" and "liking," and I think it's really interesting!


My summertime binge of a certain battle royale got so bad I intentionally bricked the Windows partition on my machine so I couldn't play anymore, or even redownload.


All the broken configuration I simply fixed a few hours later... Too easy :/


Curious on the technical details of how you did that?


Presumably by installing Linux?


Linux nowadays has better support for games so I don't think that is a solution :)


what an amazingly simple, but thought provoking insight and subsequent research. sometimes i see myself more rapidly opening tabs and looking for internet entertainment when i am hungry. its not fun, and i can say to myself "you arent enjoying this" but i still do it for a bit before i tell myself i need to eat. ive always though of this as a "seeking behavior" gone awry, that somehow my brain equates consuming content on the internet with consuming food, and tries to sate the need with the wrong thing. but i feel like the insight of this article might give me some more clarity- maybe i have a period where hunger influences my "wanting" region, which governs how much i want things in general. so my desire for food grows, but so do other things, like internet content. since im sitting at the computer already, my brain opts for the content first, and its only after a couple minutes of acting on the "want", but not getting the "like", does it realize that its gotta do something else- in my case, eat.


I drink black nitro cold brew every morning. I think it’s semi palatable. I don’t love the flavor but it’s not terrible. I also don’t feel awake until I drink one. I am definitely drinking something every morning that I don’t love. I would rather just be awake. I’ve quit caffeine before but it’s just too accessible to do for me long term.


Funnily I just read this related post on reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/funny/comments/kd0yiw/why_am_i_like...


I don't even know if I like factorio. All that matters is that the factory must grow.


If 'wanting' and 'liking' can be dissociated, what are the methods for changing the stimulus that results in the 'wanting'?


It's a very general question about a very complicated topic (human behaviour). But from my experience you can get over cravings by distracting yourself with new problems. Or for me by making music.


That was a pretty grim hook to an otherwise interesting article. Thanks BBC




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