back to article Who pressured WHO to put gaming on a par with drug addiction to help silence political dissent? Oh hi there, China

At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, representatives of the International Game Developer Association (IGDA) warned that the World Health Organization (WHO) decision to treat computer gaming as a disorder on par with gambling and drug addiction represents a threat to free speech protections. Daniel …

  1. whitepines Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Hate to say it, as I used to enjoy casual gaming before everything went into the cloud, but the WHO is right here. Modern games are pay to play with a rental license, microtransactions, loot boxes, DRM, basically there isn't much difference between paying a drug dealer and paying one of these modern game companies. As far as I'm concerned, the same thing exists with Hollywood and streaming-only videos.

    When you actually own a copy of the game/movie, it is actually possible to tire of playing it / watching it, or you're using it as a social activity with friends (which lessens the addictive properties quite a bit). When you're limited in gameplay or views by money, it does increase the addictiveness factor a tremendous amount. Why do you think the arcades in the '80s made so much money with "insert quarter to continue" type stuff, or why video gambling is so popular? It's exploiting a relatively serious bug in the human psyche*, and that's why addictive products are regulated and/or outright banned in many countries.

    The game studios (and Hollywood, when their turn comes) have no one to blame but themselves. Make your business model most closely resemble a drug dealer or casino, and you will be regulated as such.

    * The bug is multifaceted, but for a real eye opener look up the "Rat Park" drug experiment. Isolating the rats made them use more drugs to compensate -- what is modern media doing? Isolating each individual viewer / user with pay per play and pay per view on individual accounts, thus taking them away from the group that would otherwise moderate the behaviour. It's a simple exploit, but quite powerful.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Agree with you. Most of the stuff in games with micro transactions are gambling, which is addictive.

      The game play itself can also be, any game if left unchecked, especially with children (but then can almost everything).

      Its about the right balance, especially if parents don't do anything to control their children. Even though this isn't limited to children, it also occurs with adults.

      But with the following :

      "In 2011, he explained, the US Supreme Court upheld an appellate court ruling striking down a California law that banned the sale of some violent video games to children without parental consent because it violated the right to free speech."

      So are they saying, ratings do no matter? So a child is able to walk into a store and buy hardcore porn, due to free speech? If not, it should apply to games also. Just because its violence and not sex doesn't make it any different even though violence is more acceptable for some reason.

      1. ArrZarr Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Please forgive me if I'm misunderstanding, but both of you are directly referring to the gambling part of these modern games - gambling in the form of loot boxes especially. In those situations, does it not follow that gambling is still addictive while the game part of the game is merely compelling?

        I definitely agree that a balance must be struck and the onus lies on parents but I'm less sure of where my opinion on when a govt should get involved stands.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Amusingly, a lot of people playing Apex Legends are now telling Origin that they're in Belgium specifically to turn off loot boxes.

          If you do this then you can buy crafting materials instead of random items and it becomes easier (read: cheaper) to get what you actually want.

          Citation

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Please forgive me if I'm misunderstanding, but both of you are directly referring to the gambling part of these modern games - gambling in the form of loot boxes especially. In those situations, does it not follow that gambling is still addictive while the game part of the game is merely compelling?

          I think that you are misunderstanding a bit.

          In ye old days of lore that most of us here know and loved you paid your cash for the game up front, then took it home and played it to death. Creating something that was fun was important to the company, as you'd enjoy it, buy their products again and recommend them to your friends.

          Nowadays, the game is often given away for free. The game is designed to be addictive in that it gives you some feeling that you are progressing and improving by leveling up and getting better equipment or abilities than lower level players to keep you hooked. However you can get premium items to make you progress that much faster or give you extra and more powerful equipment that the opposition won't have (unless they've paid for it) to give you an advantage.

          The game now needs to be addictive and entrap you into playing it for as long as possible in order to sell you the microtransactions that you "need" for your extras, as if you don't play it then you don't "need" to spend cash on the extras. The game being addictive is a problem, as people do end up playing the game much more than they would otherwise, and neglecting the offline world aka IRL.

          The number of people who are literally inseparable from their mobiles/games devices and always online is to be frank getting a bit worrying, and to be frank it's not just games. Facebook et al are all just as bad. It's a problem when electronic devices have sucked so much of peoples time that people addicted to them are literally incapable of interacting with a person sat next to them IRL and have no possible life beyond their little electronic bubble because they have little comprehension of the possibility of people existing with different opinions to them.

          This is a problem because it leads to an increasingly fragmented nation incapable of understanding other peoples point of view as well as a nation of exploited addicts.

          And this is written by a 1980's kid who probably played computer games a bit much growing up, but also had friends (IRL) and can deal with communicating with people IRL, including people who don't agree with me.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "including people who don't agree with me"

            I thought anyone who didn't agree with "us" was a "hater", "something-phobic" or a troll. In fact anything which prevents us having to think or have a rational conversation about our beliefs.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              My congratulations of your succinct summary of the problem.

      2. Cuddles Silver badge

        "So are they saying, ratings do no matter? So a child is able to walk into a store and buy hardcore porn, due to free speech? If not, it should apply to games also. Just because its violence and not sex doesn't make it any different even though violence is more acceptable for some reason."

        Legally, they are very different things. Video game (and film, music, etc.) ratings in the US (and the UK for that matter) have no legal standing. The industry didn't want the government to actually regulate things, so they came up with a self-regulation that is effectively based on the honour system - publishers agree to put an age sticker on a game, shops agree not to sell to people below that age, and as long as everyone more or less sticks to that no actual laws will be made.

        A child can't buy hardcore porn because that is illegal. A child can buy an 18 rated game, it's just that most shops will refuse to sell it to them. Both shops and publishers are very eager to keep it that way, to avoid ending up in a situation where a child is not legally allowed to give them money - as long as it looks as though self-regulation works, children buying things they shouldn't is just an occasional "unfortunate" slip-up and not a criminal offence.

      3. Carpet Deal 'em Bronze badge
        Boffin

        Part of the reason the Californian bill was struck down was that Cali failed to demonstrate that it actually served the claimed interest of protecting the developing minds of children or that it was the least restrictive means of doing so; surviving the challenge would have required both. There was also a bit requiring labeling, but that was struck down as well as what constitutes a "violent" game is far too subjective for the label to be factual.

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      Stop

      I have to say I disagree with your statements (and those of the Commentards repsonding to you) . Almost all of the bad behaviour you talk about is based on a specific aspect "that a product is desirable and is therefore addictive", which is nonsense.

      Your first paragraph seems to resent that fact that we have to pay for games. Somehow paying for a game is something evil to you? Do you feel this way about books or music? Spotify is a streaming service with a paid for licence, and drm, and microtransactions. Is it something that should be listed as an "addiction"? Obviously No. Same with movie streaming services. Just because that is the way people buy a product now, does not make it in anyway bad or an enabler of addiction.

      Your second paragraph is basically saying because we dont have a physical copy of a game that causes people to become addicted to it. Which is frankly a non-sensical argument. Were people addicted to hiring movies at Blockbuster? They couldnt own the movies, they only had them for a limited time, and if they wanted to have them for longer they had to pay more. Did it increase addiction on movies? I doubt it. Likewise your 80's acarde example. People (ok lets be honest here Kids) might have wasted there pocket money on arcade games (you could argue thats the point of pocket money), but would you really consider it an addiction - were kids suddenly selling there possessions or getting involved in other crimes in order to feed there arcade habit? No. It might have been seductive marketing to have kids spend there money (note THERE money), but it does not count as an addictive product. If you think it does, go and talk to someone with a heroin addiction or an alcohol problem and you will see there's a VERY big difference.

      Your third paragraph compares games companies and hollywood to drug dealers and casinos. If you mean in that they offer a desirable product then yeah sure. But trying to compare this to proper addictions especially based off your previous paragraphs is just bollocks.

      Your final paragraph, well I frankly dont understand your point. You talk about people being isolated, and yet the most popular games are a) massively multiplayer, so plenty of other people around which you interact with, b) most are free to play or a single one off fee (so not pay per play), and c) things like microtransactions are in most modern games to do with cosmetics (dressing up). They are entirely optional and not pay to win. Online behaviour can be toxic and the group environment can prevent moderation of that, but again thats not whats under discussion here. So it basically is irrelevant.

      Frankly, your premise seems to be that because games are now offered as a service, with regular updates and cosmetic accessories, they are now an addictive substance. That is just a ridiculous statement. Just becuase something is desirable doesnt make it addictive (otherwise Apple would have been declared a Class A substance years ago).

      1. whitepines Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Your first paragraph seems to resent that fact that we have to pay for games.

        No, not at all. I resent the fact that I have to pay over and over and over and over for continued access to or progress in the same game.

        I shelled out full MSRP (quite pricey for the time actually) for some of the great titles in the mid 2000s and earlier. The kind that came on a disk with a license key and didn't need online activation. Most even had a trial available so I could see if I would like the full game, thus causing a purchase instead of a pass on the title. And after liking the game(s) even bought more copies for relatives so we could all play together. Those purchases I don't regret one bit, I could have resold the disks (after deleting the game) if I got bored of it but the reality is I hung onto the titles because they're fun and playable even now, in some cases long after the vendor has ceased to operate.

        No, the "purchases" I regret most are the ephemeral leases on Steam, for games that have so radically changed that I no longer play them because they are no longer fun. Instead I comment to friends that "didn't <X> used to be a great game, wish we could play it again" and they nod, all of us fully understanding it is literally impossible to do so.

        It's the latter leased, controlled, DRMed, microtransacted, epehemeral aspect that has much in common with drugs. The original, one time purchase model was closer to collecting art or music and in many ways self limiting as I described above.

        Just because you think that a.) you would just steal things or b.) you're one of those copyright hoarders that think you can rent-seek for eternity in ways beyond the right of first sale originally granted to you by society via copyright, just because of your "precious contribution" to the sum of human art, doesn't mean I would do or be either one of those. And if you're in camp "b", know that in 50 years your locked, DRMed "art" will, with virtual certainty, be lost forever, while my contributions to the sum of human knowledge will still be around!

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      "Modern games are pay to play with a rental license, microtransactions, loot boxes, DRM"

      Some modern games, but by no means all. Fortnite, yeah, that's got microtransactions and all sorts (but no price tag), on the other hand you have a game like Kerbal Space Program, or Subnautica which have a single price, and no microtransactions or anything.

      There is a massive range of computer games, and you're using an overly-broad brush to tar all of them.

      "basically there isn't much difference between paying a drug dealer and paying one of these modern game companies."

      That's not true! I know some perfectly respectable drug dealers... ;)

      1. Long John Brass Silver badge
        Alien

        Kerbal Space Program

        To be fair; KSP is a horrifically addictive "game". I easily lost 6 months to it and still loose a day or two every time I pick it up again.

        5 stars; Would recommend!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I don't think the argument is that all modern games are addictive but that some are and their business model is designed around them being so, while also making you pay for that addiction.

        Mine sweeper was addictive for some but you didn't need to fork out cash every time you played it :-)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Many Video Games are on a par with Social Media

    in that they are deliberately designed to be addictive. Facebook is quite open about how they design their [redacted], [redacted] things to keep people scrolling and present on their sites. Time is money to them. Time spent checking facebook is time NOT doing something productive.

    Games have followed suit. The more time spent playing, the more money spent on 'extras'. Time is money to gaming companies.

    I won't play any game unless I can do so totally disconnected from the internet and I don't use any Social Media platform. I was once pretty well hooked on a video game but a spell in Hospital after a car accident without a computer made me realise just how hooked I was to the whole thing. No more.

    For onceI do find myself agreeing with the Chinese on this. As a nation, they will bet on anything that moves (And even does not move) so additction to gaming is probably a huge problem there but there are many in the west just as addicted.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Look at the nice wooden horsey.

    Whilst it's true that a relatively small percentage of people are liable to ruinous addiction to mico-payment crap, the majority aren't. The same goes for alcohol. Gambling and drinks industry profits come disproportionately from the hopelessly addictive minority. An unfortunate minority of "gamers" will manage to game to the point that it's messing up their lives, but most won't, at worst becoming a bit boring and cliquey.

    So why has the WHO decided to treat computer gaming as a disorder on par with gambling and drug addiction ? It almost sounds ludicrous to imagine that China might be up to something Machiavellian here, but not quite. Remember, China is a country where the face of mass murderer Mao is still displayed ubiquitously, along with that of the current leader, a man whose forces wage war on Winnie the Pooh of all things.

    Given that, I find it hard to imagine that the Chinese government WOULDN'T find plenty to object to in video games, where people usually "fight" as individuals, on their own initiative - the communist party's ultimate nightmare.

  4. Mongrel

    Games have followed suit. The more time spent playing, the more money spent on 'extras'. Time is money to gaming companies.

    The Triple A studios have moved to, or are moving to "Games as a Service" rather than and entire game in one package, Jim Sterling has been talking about the degradation of the Triple A products for years, starting with microtransactions and release day DLC to the ongoing Loot boxes saga and useless Battle\Season Passes.

  5. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Meanwhile ...

    "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant..." -John Stuart Mill

    Preventing you from having access to <whatever> to protect <other> is how governments keep you in your place.

  6. Christoph Silver badge
    Big Brother

    "trying to extend their power so you guys don't have the vocabulary either."

    "The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever."

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Angel

      I feel this comment is doubleplus good.

  7. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Do we want to go after excessive TV-viewing as an addiction?

    I'm fine with people saying that video game addiction can be a medical condition of some sort, but let's not forget addiction to the boob tube.

    1. stiine Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Do we want to go after excessive TV-viewing as an addiction?

      I love watching boobtube.

  8. BigSLitleP Silver badge

    Gaming does not equal gambling

    So this is ridiculous. We need to split this in to two seperate things.

    Games with loot boxes / pay to win mechanics / microtransactions - these are the things that need to be regulated, just like Belgium have recently done. These are the things that cause mental health problems and addiction related illnesses.

    How about Doom? God of War? Horizon: Zero Dawn? Minecraft? Battlefleet Gothic? Civilization? X-Com? Resident Evil? I could easily list 100 good games that do not have any of the above components. They have been proven time and time again by actualy research to be shown not to cause problems. So why lump them in with the bad?

    As usual, poeple need to actually stop with the knee-jerking and take a measured approach, rather than takng the American way - shooting lead in all directions with the hope of hitting something

    1. Is It Me Bronze badge

      Re: Gaming does not equal gambling

      I found Doom and Civilization a lot more addictive then anything I have played in the last decade or so.

      Especially the first few versions of Civ, I would start playing and then find several hours had gone.

      1. BigSLitleP Silver badge

        Re: Gaming does not equal gambling

        Cool. Did you miss work from it? Spend money on it day after day? Were you unable to pay your bills? Did you lose your house? Not quite the same thing then.

        Someone gave me a thumbs down and i would love to hear why!

  9. Bongwater

    Ummm

    What about phone addiction? I have saved a few lives in my time when I stop people before they got hit by a car because they literally were stuck staring at their phone with no regards to their surroundings.

    People are WAY more addicting to their phones than games, I see ALL ages staring at their phone in a crowded venue or on a street for almost 10 minutes a clip.

    Go do some people watching next time you are out and tell me how many people were not glued to their phone. (Could just be a NE USA thing I supposed as well.)

    TL;DR

    Phones are much more of a problem than video games if we want to use China's logic.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ummm

      The phone isn't the problem, what they are looking at is. For example, YouTube, Facebook, or a game.

      Did you see people waking around hours a day looking at their phone before the were 'smart'? Yep, but no where near what they do now. They were txt additics. Others playing java me games.

  10. martinusher Silver badge

    Isn't it dopamine addiction?

    The internal stimulus / reward mechanism associated with any kind of addiction is based around dopamine. You can get the effect from anything that gives you pleasure and while "a little bit of what you fancy does you good" a whole lot 24/7 is likely to turn you into an unproductive loser. While there's really nothing wrong with being an unproductive loser if you've got the time and resources to waste on this in real life most people have to contribute to society in some way, even if its just to provide for their basic needs.

    I figure that the WHO is right to regard gaming as potentially addictive because its possible to design games that are addictive. I don't see much difference between many games and the video gambling terminals found in casinos and bookmakers. Trying to inject a statutory "two minutes hate" element in this by insinuating that its really an underhand Chinese attempt at social control is just muddying the waters.

  11. Nupurvaidya

    A time will come where WHO will declare walking as a addiction and people will agree with it. I play online games all the time and I have a full time 9 hour job, still I make some time out of my day to play. I have never been aggressive(Leaving small mood swings which everyone experience) instead I become happy as I get new people to interact with. WHO is stating that the in-game purchase is like gambling but to be completely honest, I have not been gambling once(referring to in-game purchases) since I started playing games. I just play for the fun factor of it, not for having all the items in my collection which other guys don't have. Kids should not be allowed on the first hand to play such games. They should be given access to such games after they become 18. We are losing freedom day by day.

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