Having been a proponent of games and gaming for most of my life, I tend to focus on the more virtuous elements of the sport. Games have helped push processing technology forward via the popularity of video games on both consoles and PC. They have brought people together in comradery for years with simple rules and competition, à la billiards or poker. They have been used as teaching aids and regularly include cultural references which introduce players to myths and legends of various peoples and countries around the world. Some of the most popular subjects are the pantheons of Norse, Greek and Roman gods. Other favorites include Irish and Scottish folklore, mostly in the form of fairies or druids. Of course, Japanese history and martial arts often appear, represented by Samurai or Ninja. Games have a lot of potential redeeming value, provided that the player is mature enough to learn in addition to being entertained. However, it’s up to the player to be responsible, because gaming can be highly entertaining, highly educational, and highly addicting.
Sometimes gamers “go bad” and lose sight of the better aspects of gaming. They get caught up, using games either as an alternate second life of sorts or taking them far too seriously and make real world decisions based on in-game outcomes or consequences. Games of chance, like state lotteries, profit from creating wild fantasies of getting rich quickly, but most often leave the less prudent player broke. The promise of a large payoff from a relatively small investment can be hard to resist. Gambling debts tend to get the bulk of the attention when it comes to flitting money away on games. That brings up visions of people playing poker, blackjack, craps, or maybe roulette in a seedy casino or a back-room gambling hall. While those visuals are probably not that far off for guys with large, real world gambling debts, the more sinister development just may be the in-app purchase. In an age where anyone with even a modest income is able to afford smart-phones or tablets, the in-app purchase is always looming. Similar elements of gambling, especially prevalent in the free-to-play mobile games with in-app purchases, can become troublesome to those who do not have a good grasp on how real the money that they spend on those purchases is.
The modern marketing machine is to be respected for its efficiency. Collectively, companies have become eerily good at making people believe they need things and then selling those things to them. Typically, there is a time or effort buffer between the item or service being sold and the purchaser. Perhaps a commercial sells a pizza and the hungry person must check to see if they have the cash, then make a phone call, then either wait a half hour or go pick up said pizza to save time. All of this slows down the process of separating a man from his money. Those in-app purchases, though, have little devils always on your shoulder. Once a credit card is attached to an account, it is extremely easy to spend a dollar here and a dollar there. The ads usually offer in-game wealth or a way to purchase the biggest and the baddest experience the game has to offer. In-app purchases offer the player a fast way to be a winner. A quick couple of taps can suddenly make a gamer feel more in control of their environment. A quick power up here, a production boost there, a better chance at a super-powerful character, all are very good ways for developers to make some steady cash from an app. The transaction is instant and nearly invisible. Also, because only takes a matter of seconds to make, there is a high chance that the purchase will be forgotten faster. This potentially adds up to very little buyer’s remorse and an unintentionally large credit-card bill . All it takes is a few taps and the password. No alarms go off. No immediate notification is sent. The lights don’t flash and the police don’t come knocking at the door. It can be a very seductive feeling of power for the gamer with the wrong personality type or one who needs a jolt of extraordinary in her life.
There are reasons that gamers love games that mirror real world rewards. There is a sense of accomplishment when a particular boss is beaten, or a world has been explored, or the player’s in-game character levels up. When the world in a game becomes more compelling and the idea of being the avatar becomes more desirable than the real world situation in which the player finds himself, the game becomes his escape.
I remember many moons ago when EverQuest came out. It was an insanely successful, massively multiplayer online game (MMO). It was so well designed that some of my friends who played jokingly referred to it as EverCrack. I heard through various stories at bar room gatherings that some guys would go to work all day and then spend all night playing the game, sometimes for eight to ten hours at a time. Then they would go to bed reluctantly and repeat this cycle for weeks or, in some cases, months at a time. This isn’t the worst behavior from players, however. One poor couple was so into their game that they could or would not take care of their baby daughter. Also in Korea, this guy let his two year old son starve because he was too intent on gaming to feed him.
The real culprit is not the games, of course, but the person playing them. While it is always a good idea for parents to monitor their kids’ gaming habits, it is just as crucial that those kids are taught how to make adult decisions concerning gaming. Video games are great fun for kids, but most of them are adult pastimes and should be met with adult considerations. One of the things that my mother used to say all the time is, “All things in moderation.” She was using it in a religious light to help me understand when the fuzzy line between fun and sin was being crossed. As I have grown older, I am able to see how that simple phrase encompasses all aspects of life, including gaming. Although there are fantastic virtual worlds filled with larger than life characters that make a great escape from the real world, it is important to realize that escape is always temporary. It takes effort to learn how to enjoy a game and remember that there is a real world with real people outside of the game It’s not all bad news. There is definitely a dark side to gaming and because games as a whole aren’t taken seriously, the problems they can cause are also easily dismissed. However, with some vigilance and moderation, they will give the players a lifetime of fun and entertainment. Who knows? They might just learn something, too.