These Songs Be Stolen

I do so love music. In highschool, me and this guy messed around making wonderfully exotic electronic music. I did toy with the idea of linking the ancient website that still somehow has our music posted, but as it involves me rapping that shall never happen. The world is better without it.

My tastes have always been eclectic. Never good, for Chrissakes I started off with Mix Alot and MC Hammer. I actually wore hammer pants in the 90s. No joke. So not good, just eclectic. And I did enjoy the occasional 'phat beat,' so electro was never much a stretch.

But I've only just now been able to re-open my many treasure troves of ill-begot pirate booty. That is to say, my own respective gigabytes. Pining and heartbreak made me allergic. Awe. While I was away from my normal genres, I plugged away at the roots of rock 'n' roll, old soul music, a lot of 80's synthpop, David Bowie, that sort of thing. I made some interesting discoveries. Ok, maybe just interesting to me, because (in no small part thanks to Sex Dwarf) I'm a pretty big fan of Soft Cell.

The first of these 1960's crash and carries was from Diana Ross. Having only heard the Soft Cell version of "Where Did Our Love Go," it was pretty damned neat to see a B&W version broadcast on PBS. The actual youtube is fantastic.

I would later find that wasn't the only black soul singer Soft Cell had covered. Of all things, the very risque 'Tainted Love,' which I felt epitomized the leather-clad icons of novel debauched imagery, was a 1964 original by Gloria Jones.

I have yet to find a 1960's soul singer do an original for 'Sex Dwarf,' though it would be a bit ironic to see it covered by a modern-day black soul singer. I have absolutely, positively, no idea how you'd arrange something like that. And I mean musical arrangement, not emailing Aretha Franklin.

What ultimately spurred a post was realizing that one of my favorite rare Wailers tracks (~1964), which shares a name with my favorite Hawaiian ska band, "Go Jimmy Go," was actually a cover from a 1959 white teen pop star. Having heard the Wailers version...

I'm actually quite partial to the Jimmy Clanton original.


Kids and Gaming Article Live

This morning the Escapist published issue 230, which included a piece I've been working on for them on Kids and Gaming. When I'm not swimming in a sea of deadlines I'd like to say more, and include some notes on my interviews that couldn't make it into the half-dozen drafts I went through to pound that much information into that tight a piece (I've got to thank Jordan Deam at the Escapist for his keen editing).

Particularly, interviews with the ESA's Rich Taylor and my local dungeonmaster both yielded some great quotes, and there were certain issues that wouldn't fit, but the piece seems to do what it should.



Just took my dog out into the year's best windstorm yet. Now he's curled on on the bed next to me, all semi-toweled and smelly. Rudy's his name, and he may well be the greatest canine in existence.

I've been meaning to blog it up on a couple counts. Writing has been interesting. I've gone few three casual drafts of this kids-and-gaming piece, doing what I can to add to the conversation while keeping my sanity. To that end I've interviewed a couple folks on opposite ends, the ESA and a games clinician, and have more to work with than I've got room for.

Grandma's getting better at the games. Still beating me at Smash, and still the handicap rating between her and I shrinks. We played a little guitar hero one, and with a little teamwork managed to get her through a song! It might have been "I wanna be sedated," though don't hold me to that. Katamari is what I'm most excited to show 'er, now that I've unlocked the no-time-limits. I also showed her Resident Evil 4, which was a uniquely interesting experience.

Grandma watches TV, so she's seen gore before. Now bear with me, because it's one thing to say that. It's entirely something else to hold the controller and converse with her as Salazar proclaims the might of his "insect friends." I jump my character into the sewer, while bemoaning the writing in games made four years ago. Grandma's hand goes up to her chest as she gasps -- there's the sound of some insect running right up to my character. It has become our character. Calmly, I explain that for close-quarters combat, I may want to equip my shotgun. She watches intently, and jumps when the insects finally strike from on high. Handily, I dispatch them, with excellent banter all along the way. Then I explain some videogame concepts to her.

She's curious to see how this story begins. We restart it, and the intro to the game gives me more opportunities to verbally cringe at the quality of the writing. I offer to show her a little bit of the beginning of the game. Leon, my character in the world, comes across a man speaking in some foreign language. He picks up an axe, then swings, giving me a decision. Do I shoot this man in front of her?

Yes, just not in the head.

Of course, I explain to her later that to do so would have conserved ammo.

Me and my dog say hello to you, whoever you are. For the night is young, and I must now venture forth into the most miserable weather of the year.


Starring my grandma, as Jigglypuff

So tonight, in between a little wheel and antiques roadshow, my grandma beat the crap out of me in smash. She beat me to an exact 2:1 ratio - her 36 wins to my 18.

Now that Grandma's got the skills, we just need to work on her banter...


24-Hour Comic Day, Live MST3K

This last Saturday was 24-hour comic day. It's a neat sort of event where local cartoonists pile into comic shops, trying to compile a full comic over the course of a full day. Below a few members from the Cartoonist's League of Absurd Washingtonians (or CLAW) prepare for battle.

But they weren't the only stalwart artists there. The claw picture and the next are via John Munn, who owns Comic Book Ink (the setting for the thing.)

While there, my pal Al introduced me to Keith Badgley, an artist who attended but didn't want to compete. Instead, he generously gave of his time and talents to draw up some of the D&D characters from a campaign I'm in. Here's his interpretations of Sandy McShamus, my drunkard cleric/ex-paladin. As you can see, Keith expertly captured Sandy's neverending cask of ale, stylized plate armor and battle mullet. To those who have ever wondered, this is what 18 charisma gets you.

Alex was also kind enough to get me a ticket to the re-showing of the MST3K live riffing of Plan 9, Thursday. The satellite got chunky, then cut out almost completely, just as the show was starting. The following resetting of the satellite, with musical accompaniment by some of the most fabulously terrible elevator/porno jazz artists, left we the crowd between 30 and 50 minutes of amateur riffing. Some of it was ok. Some of it was facepalm. All of it was wondrous.

Oh, and I'm also prepping for two Spring courses at DigiPen, while working on an article for the Escapist.


Big Trouble in Little Articles: Ten Game Addiction Fallacies

First off, I’m giving a talk on Game Addiction next week. It’s at my hometown library, the Gig Harbor/Peninsula Pierce County Library, Oct. 6th at 7p.m. The address is 4424 Point Fosdick Drive N.W. It’s more or less an hour drive away if you live in the Seattle area.


Big Trouble in Little Articles
Ten Game Addiction Fallacies

Today (ok, so admittedly it's three days ago now) I caught an article on game addictions, via Game Politics. Reading GP’s introduction, then the article itself, I had my first honest motivation to blog in a few months. At first it was just a comment here and there. At some point during this blog post’s growing hugeness I decided to shelve some other writing for a couple of days. My goal for the following is to use Nicole Tanner’s article as a springboard, primarily to address how quotes are treated by online journalists, but also to discuss select ongoing issues brought up by her brief quotes.

Her article, like many, languishes in a mantra of uncertainty: ‘Maybe we’ll understand game addiction in a couple of years. But for now, this is the best we can do.’ That was a fine thing to say, or maybe even allude to in 2002 (Ernest Adams), in 2006 (myself), 2006 (Aaron Ruby), maybe even in 2007 (John Walker – while available online, this admittedly first ran in PC Gamer.) But none of those earlier articles stood satisfied at a few flashy quotes, they synthesized extant information. The underlying ideas, even when not everyone agreed with every idea, were analyzed, critiqued by the author. Compared against each other, instead of thrown together as a messy grab bag.

Reliance on quotes from noteworthy celebrities is a holdover, it hearkens to glamour magazines, where quotes from Brad Pitt and the Jonas Brothers, even from more geek culture people like Kevin Smith or Neil Gaiman, they’re as good as gold. They hold an inherent value not necessarily restricted to fans doting on celebrity insight. When you’re interviewing slightly more obscure medical and research professionals, the heads of lobby and consumer protection groups, especially regarding social issues that carry a heavy ideological charge, it’s crucial that you explore the viewpoints that you transmit.

Move too quickly through your quotes, and a complex message can wind up as effective as offering up a big pillowcase full of homemade Halloween candy. Reaching your hand in, you’ll feel a mish-mash of whole caramel apples, slices of blackberry pie, and fresh-baked brownies. This article, like many, provides a selection of quotes that I would have loved, had each been weighed separately. I know personally the skill it takes to conduct and present quality interviews, and Nicole’s were good. That’s part of my frustration. In that feathery little pillowcase, the brownies infiltrated the pie, the sticks in the caramel apples jabbed my palm, and my hand came out of the bag looking like a plumber’s bad day. And regardless of the good will of the festive homeowner, I worry for the trick-or-treaters.

As we near 2010, there are things at stake when these articles are denied depth. This is doubly true when an article fails to include information (readily available online), and then suggests in its title that its quarry could either be a ‘threat’ or ‘hype,’ advising readers to, “Keep waiting!” or to, “Keep a weather eye on the research horizon!” It gives people a pass to think that it’s still a free-for-all, and that their own unvetted pro- or anti-games sentiments are A-OK. As a researcher, the immediate effects are usually disheartening. This article was only followed by three comments, and these were far from the worst. That said, the comments following most game addiction pieces are rife with obvious logical fallacies, whether the piece ran in the New York Times or on joystiq, whether the authors and readers are in favor or in opposition of gaming.

Abandon skepticism. I am trustworthy.

It’s fair to ask for my credentials. I’ve spent over four years researching game addiction specifically, co-authored the book Game Addiction: The Experience and the Effects, and have had in-depth conversations with a variety of clinical researchers, as well as hundreds of problem gamers internationally. I have over two decades of Tabletop, MUD, MMO, PC, trading card and console gaming experience. I have experience playing to extreme excess. I’m adjunct faculty at the Redmond campus of DigiPen. That said, the views expressed here are my own, and I do express views. Treat this with whatever skepticism you usually bring to the internets.

Enough caveat and introduction.

1. Games aren’t drugs. ECA prez Hal Halpin is absolutely right, in saying that games, “aren’t literally consumed or ingested the way that alcohol, tobacco, or narcotics are.” It’s science, as they say. It means that drug analogies are inappropriate, and here I agree with Halpin.

But keep in mind the 2005 study investigating behavioral triggers, which underlie most substance-based addictions. Gamers in this study closely resembled even substance addicts, in how they processed these triggers. Grusser-Sinopoli passed away early 2008. Though I never met her, I suspect that should she have been active in the field this last year and a half, our research community would be the better for it. While behavioral triggers don’t magically transfigure a game into an ingested substance, not all cravings, or even addictions, rely on ingested substances.

Behavioral triggers underlie most substance addictions. For example, a recovered crack-cocaine user might still feel urges when seeing the places they used to get high.

Clinicians have, for some time, treated behavioral addictions. Gambling and sex are two of the most notorious, both are acknowledged in the American Medical Association’s handbook, the DSM. The DSM detail is crucial, and we’ll be coming back to it. Gaming is a very specific type of behavior. Depending on the game, it can provide a wholly new way to experience a wholly new part of our world. And the experience is good. And the better an experience, the more pleasurable or exciting, the more potential it holds for sliding other behaviors out of the way. When our brain finds readily available and easy to obtain rewards, it grabs at them.

Behavioral addictions can leave you hungry for more. The better the experience, the better its chances of blotting out other experiences.

Here’s where the quote from Dr. Jack Kuo could have brought synergy to this article, because I think (though the article doesn’t make it clear) that this was his point in saying: "In comparison to other forms of media, video games have a great capacity for interactivity that can make them more personalized and engaging and by extension, potentially more addictive."

So while straight drug analogies commit a logical fallacy, so also do presumptions that since games aren’t drugs, they cannot be the basis of an addiction.

2. Comorbidity: The Chicken and the Egg. Bravo. The article throws in the following succinct little quote by Doug Gentile:

"There is still much we do not know…We don’t know who’s most at risk, or whether this is part of a pattern of disorders. That’s important because many disorders are comorbid with others. It may be a symptom of depression, for example. And so we would want to understand that pattern of comorbidity because that would help us know how to treat it."

He’s right, but we should bear in mind some recent history. Earlier this year Dr. Gentile was hammered by the press for a message that was (due to a necessary oversimplification) largely taken to be contrary to the above. Specifically, his study garnered headlines stating that 8.5% of children were addicted. And finally, as if to underscore my diatribe about depth, the over-simplicity of the headlines used for Gentile’s study led its coverage to be very publicly challenged by other media outlets. More on that after our discussion of comorbidity.

In studies of problematic gaming from South Korea, therapists have found an astonishing comorbidity rate, Over 80%. Most gamers take the stance that, obviously, the other disorder came first. It makes sense to think that a troubled person will game more. A game has a lot to offer. What’s easy to miss is that the opposite is just as possible, and qualitative clinical research suggests that sometimes games can lead to self-perpetuating problems, at the very least they can lead to a deepening of problems. If we’re being completely objective, both sides will realize that comorbidity is a two-way street. Yes, anti-media people do have a long history of blaming just the “games” or the “comics,” (though usually only for content.) There is an unfortunate tendency for pro-games people to vehemently deny that gaming problems could ever influence a “stable” person, only the “weak-minded” or “whining” gamers. They ruin it for everyone else, obviously! One well-known gamer personality went so far as to call game addicts “inconsiderate jerks.” How do we wrap our minds around comments like that? Outspoken anti-games folks have long shouted “chicken! CHICKEN!” Maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising when a gamer shouts “EGG!” Please try not to. At the very least, don’t insist that it can only ever be the chicken, or the egg. Reactionary statements from either side simply act to polarize, which does not serve an objective conversation.

Even one of the most impressive studies to date (conducted by gamers Yee, Williams and Caplan), when comparing problematic internet use to gaming (among 4000 gamers), said the following: “Without a control group and without accounting for the impact of time, we cannot say whether players with problematic tendencies come to MMOs, or whether MMOs create problematic tendencies.”

Which came first? Did we game until problems showed up, or did we game because problems were already there? Current research does not yet rule out either possibility.

That said, anti-games misoneism continues to be a major problem. If you haven’t yet seen it, please watch Henry Jenkins’s recent interview with Frontline, and his comments on values statements about the legitimacy of gaming. As Jenkins goes on to say (and this is supported by qualitative clinical research) games can have a major soothing effect for pathology. Removing them forcibly can be an ill-informed and deleterious move. Speaking on the problems, he says, “we should never reduce it to the game.”

All I’d add to this is that we should never dismiss the game out of hand. They have powerful draws, precisely because of the legitimate benefits they offer. Remember back to Kuo’s quote, that by engaging players with more personalized draws, games provide more of the stimulations that can lead to a problem.

3. Verbiage. Before researchers can address “addiction,” they need to address one of a few elephants lounging in this room.

For that we’ll return to Doug Gentile, and how his study came under fire after the results ran in the mainstream press. USA Today’s Mike Snider reported Gentile’s results, that 8.5% of kids playing games were addicted. There were a number of challenges and rebuttals, but one most relevant to our purposes here. Pro-games researcher Cheryl Olson contacted gamepolitics.com to say, in an official statement, “The author is repurposing questions used to assess problem gambling in adults; lying to your spouse about blowing the rent money on gambling is a very different matter from fibbing to your mom about whether you played video games instead of starting your homework.” I love one half of this quote, the half about gambling and adults. The other half, in my view, dismisses more than is warranted.

Olson is right to call out criteria in Gentile’s study - criteria measuring whether a kid avoids chores - but the language of her statement sidesteps a major conjoined issue. Gentile also measured behaviors like using games “as a way of escaping from problems or bad feelings,” lying “to family or friends about how much” they play, letting grades suffer because of gaming, or becoming preoccupied with spending “much more time” playing games. These items are meant to measure behavioral addiction. Significant numbers of kids responded to these items. If we imagined for a moment that the polling and sampling weren’t so problematic, do you suppose your average parent might want better research, or at least a little explanation, as to why these factors were so prevalent? Some parents might not care, some might be furious, but on average I suspect they’d be curious.

It’s through these researched and agreed-upon questions that many therapists diagnose problems like addiction. My worry, when here Olson picks the easiest target among Gentile’s questions, is that her statement could feasibly encourage parents to ignore too much. She says that “the concern here is labeling normal childhood behaviors as “pathological” and “addicted.” But not every item measured by Gentile was a ‘normal childhood behavior.’ In this study, statistically significant numbers of boys and girls answered in the affirmative to questions meant to measure both pathology and addiction. Qualitatively, we are seeing kids with serious problems, especially overseas. And as Henry Jenkins says to Frontline, games are new enough that parents don’t always have a script. There’s no “eat your vegetables,” or “brush your teeth!” With parents as confused as they are, I’m left feeling that Olson’s statement dismisses too much.

At times I feel that Olson and Lawrence Kutner, her husband, co-author, and fellow Harvard researcher, are incorrectly labeled by the press as neutral. In his review of their book, Dr. Jerald Block, M.D. seems to reflect this sentiment. Because of the pair’s ongoing involvement and visibility in games studies generally, I would highly recommend picking up their book, but also keeping in mind their decidedly pro-games stance. Specifically, Block noted the following.

“Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do is a controversial, opinionated book...[Authors Cheryl Olson and Lawrence Kutner] believe that exposing children to violent games is not as risky as the public has been told. Moreover, they argue that much of society’s concern about children’s computer use has resulted from junk science, hypocritical pundits, and politicians who waste millions of dollars legislating a nonissue.” Block goes on to say that their arguments are unconvincing, especially given the book's problems of ethics, reasoning and, “…the authors’ own study of 1254 seventh and eighth graders in Pennsylvania and South Carolina schools. Their study found that children who were exposed to violent computer games became substantially more violent. Among other things, children who used violent computer games were “much more likely to get into physical fights, to hit or beat up someone, to damage property for fun, or to steal something from a store.” The relationship was even stronger for girls. This seems, most directly, to contradict the thrust of the book’s argument.”

But this hearkens back to the chicken and the egg. So we’ll move on.

One of the bigger elephants in the ‘game addiction’ room might be the questions that researchers ask. Let’s come back to a crucial point that Olson mentioned briefly – that game addiction criteria, before being repurposed, were intended for (A) gambling issues (B) among adults. This is a great criticism. It was the thrust of my conversation with Mike Snider at USA Today, some of which he included in his Game Hunters blog. In short, Gentile follows a long tradition of adapting DSM-IV Gambling Addiction criteria to videogame pathologies. Though some elements of pathology are going to be the same or similar, because they deal with psychology (escape from problems, lying to oneself and to others, life problems manifesting, or preoccupation, from the Gentile study), they are likely to manifest themselves in distinctly new ways when applied to such a new behavior.

Are 8.5% "addicted," per se? It would be more correct to say that those 8.5% met a very specific criteria. Some criteria don't have much to do with games, others don't have much to do with addiction. To accurately weigh "game addiction," the criteria would need to measure addictions manifesting through games.

So, many authors are dismissive of any study based on IAD, because the first incarnation of IAD poorly represented actual gaming problems, and because it was based on a playful hoax (see previous links.) The fallacy here occurs when one dismisses, or suggests that we dismiss, the possibility of pathological gaming outright, because one given criteria was only partially applicable. In all honesty, even when researchers draw up, then finally agree on a game addiction criteria based on games (which will require a great deal of time, research and bureaucracy), to the lay observer it may well look very similar to this IAD or gambling addiction criteria. Maybe. Don’t get me wrong, I do disagree with many of Gentile’s criteria. But I do also acknowledge that some of them measure troubling trends. When we acknowledge polling and sampling problems, this study didn’t show us much (if anything.) But one fizzled study doesn’t mean that we trash the field and chide every researcher. Or even Gentile, who I’m told is a decent guy, and a gamer to boot. Mistakes are often the best opportunities for learning. What is research, then, if not learning? Normally, this long rant would end here, with us saying “Hay guys! Challenge ideas, but not the legitimacy of the research!”

Except at stake is problem gaming’s inclusion in the 2012 DSM-V. Right now the American Medical Association is debating whether it wants to include something like “game addiction,” or IAD, alongside other behavioral addictions in the upcoming DSM-V. This would pave the way to insurance companies covering for treatment (which I have no stance on), more importantly it would legitimize the research funding required for clinically-based longitudinal studies. So think about this. The AMA has stated that before it could consider the inclusion of such a disorder (opening the door to good research), it needs to see good research. It’s a catch-22. If there’s too much political heat, it’s highly likely that the AMA will leave this topic, and further research funding, alone. Great for laypeople content to wallow in fear-inspired backwards thinking. Not so great if you, your kids, or somebody you know has problems controlling your computer use, and you actually want to understand why.

One of Mike’s other interviews gives example of a hasty reading of the AMA’s report. This misinterpretation has a startling footing among lay observers, and has been represented in many news outlets.

“This is a report more in search of media headlines than scientific truth and facts. In an interview, though not in the report itself, Dr. Gentile said, ‘It’s not that games are bad. It’s not that games are addictive.’ Medical experts, including the American Medical Association, have already rejected the fallacy of video game ‘addiction,’ and we completely agree," said Rich Taylor, senior vice president, communications & Industry affairs for the ESA.

The exact quote from the AMA’s report is: “Although there are some indications of a connection between the content of video games and aggressive and addictive behaviors, more research is needed in this area.” (A) The AMA mentions ‘indications of a connection.’ (B) The AMA wants more research. They did not call the link a 'fallacy.’ Speaking of addiction only (this report also dealt with violence) the AMA recommended for children, “1 to 2 hours of total daily screen time, and that the total time allotted to playing video games should be included in that 1 to 2 hour allotment.”

"Dogs is ok, see?" If you're so emphatically pro-games that you're misreading and misquoting research, you can makes gamers and game developers look bad.

So now I’ll break my own rules and ask you a question without answering it: As long as we’re going to pass steep judgment on addiction numbers, would it be fair turnabout to ask the ESA their numbers on how many parents successfully stick to the AMA’s 1-2 hour recommendation?

4. Go see a shrink. This article ended by saying, “If you’re worried you or someone you love truly is addicted to games, have that person evaluated by a mental health professional.” I was very happy to see this line in a piece aimed at gamers. No fallacy here. We’ll count the AMA stuff above as fallacy number four. People presenting with serious problems often need sober encouragement to seek help. Especially if comorbidity seems a factor, professional help is a good option even where professionals may not have games-specific experience. If you have the resources for, and the need of this option, then pursue it.

Afterwards, the article says: “As for the rest of us, let’s all use common sense in our gaming. Take breaks, don’t skip meals, and don’t call off work to level up your character in WOW.”

I disagree with how this second piece of advice is presented to the reader, and I’ll tell you why.

5. Good luck and have fun! ‘gl and hf’ is one of my favorite ways to say (or type) farewell to in-game friends. The article we’re discussing finishes off by saying, ‘Use common sense in your gaming.’ Sounds good so far. ‘Take breaks, don’t skip meals, and don’t call off work to level up your character in WOW.’ This sounds just as reasonable. And maybe, truth be told, this is the best thing to tell some gamers. So why take issue?

The word “common sense” is subjective. Gamers with serious, substantive problems often minimize or outright deny them. Though many more in-depth advice pieces are a simple link away (Nick Yee’s interview with my co-author Shavaun is gamer-conducted, gamer/therapist-answered), they weren’t provided. A gamer who plays eleven hours a day might say, “Why yes! I do indeed take breaks! Two of them, don’t you know. One while I run to the kitchen for my hot pockets, and one while I bio as fast as possible between raid wipes!” So here they might also check off eating, and also pat themselves on the back for maintaining a job on 2 hours of sleep a night.

Gamers with problems often also have many legitimate reasons for their play. Journalists giving "common sense" guidelines for balance can sometimes also give them a pass on destructive behavior.

Maybe that’s just a life choice, and hey. I’m in no place to judge. But if this same person has a wife and kids, dogs and responsibilities, it’s my feeling that a gentle tip of the hat is not the best thing for them. It may cause harm. And the audience of green pixels, the site publishing this piece, is most likely gamers. Sure, I’ve just made a straw man, but there are a wide range of play habits out there. We don’t have too specific of guidelines for what to consider problematic or pathological, since the research is still moving so very slowly. Still, if any article’s tip of the hat encourages a dangerous situation for one person, it will have done harm.

All this being said, I’ve had the pleasure of this conversation, on personal choice, freedom and fun, with some very clever gamers and game developers. Players certainly have a long history of being judged for their pastime, and there are two oft-competing notions that can be difficult to suss out. It comes back to that values judgment. Does a high level of play signify my membership in a group, as a part of the games culture? Yeah, it absolutely can. Just like doing a lot of cheerleading or bicycling signifies your membership in another group. Does a high level of play signify a deeper problem? Well of course not, I play that much because that’s who I am.

This deserves some attention. There are great, legitimate elements to gaming. I truly believe in their ability to transmit ideas. They’re a form of expression combining elements from every, or near every other form of media to date. But sometimes, speaking from both personal and research experience, gamers are blindsided. Even the most committed gamers, the best-known proponents of this community, even they are sometimes blindsided. Even they stop, address their console, and say, “whoa man, what was that all about?” But gamers, by and large, do not understand why it is that some of those elements keep them playing too long, in ways even they may find invasive. The point of my research and writing to date has been outlining those elements, legitimate or not, so that gamers can understand what they’re doing. In identifying these, we can better understand our actions.

6. Something to talk about. Sensationalism. I’ve been asked more than once why I named my book “Game Addiction,” when the book concludes that the term “addiction” isn’t generally appropriate. You can find my answer to that somewhere else on the internet. The point is that it can be tempting to dismiss sensational phraseology as media hype. Sometimes studies really do seem to be, “more in search of media headlines than scientific truth and facts.”

Thing is, how old is World of Warcraft? The World Wide Web? Modern game design? What’s happening is new, in many of these cases. It requires our attention, not our dismissal.

Understanding the keys to why this experience is new and what it tangibly gives players above and beyond reality is (admittedly, in my humble opinion) one major step to (A) appreciating this burgeoning form of art and (B) truly grasping, as a gamer, what draws us to play more than we should.

And it’s A-OK that most articles never explore this stuff. We’re going to.

7. So talk about it. Cop-out time. In giving this set of guidelines the attention I felt they deserved, they’ve grown larger than any online or long-lead magazine piece I’ve yet written. I’m really starting to dread the editing process (and I was right to.) So rather than explore, we will skim.

The simplest way to categorize a game’s draws, that I’ve seen, is immersion. You’ve got physical immersion, how your body takes in the game experience, and you’ve got psychological immersion, which groups together a lot of the draws that designers and psychologists like to argue about.

With physical immersion, what we’re talking about is how our eyes, ears, and thinking brain enters the experience. When you crack open the research on this, you find that much of the extreme time loss characteristic to gaming can be explained by extant research on vision and cognitive processing. Our physical bodies often take in a game experience as they do reality, for many different reasons. The end result is an effective tuning out. Of course, it’s much, much more complicated than that.

Equally complicated and interrelated are the various factors to psychological immersion into games. Many researchers suggest (or outright say) that they hold the master theory of psychological enjoyment of games. Or at least, one that should be the master theory. What makes the exclusivists among them them wrong, is that the right theory would be inclusive. There are many, many ways that individual gamers "get into" their individualized games. Nobody has the one true psychological concept, because we're still working to understand things like learning theories, agency theories, player archetypes, cultural differences and so on. All of these factors can exert influence. And these influences vary, depending on who is being influenced. Yes, some forms of psychological immersion might be more powerful than others, but the key here is to explore them inclusively, as an interrelated organism.

The fallacy is one that we touched on earlier. It seems a common complaint among gamers that because they offer these legitimate draws, because they are fun, that it’s wrong-headed to consider them an addiction. I can sympathize, but it’s more complicated than that. It’s precisely because games provide so much, that they’re in such a good position to climb our to-do list. It’s a big reason they’re able to butt out other things on that list.

8. Great question, but… It merits more discussion. About halfway through her piece, Nicole’s asked: “But is it easier to get addicted to video games than TV or the Internet?

Let’s build on what we just discussed. Because a game could feasibly combine every other draw found in every other medium to date, it seems a possibility. It would really depend on the game, and how it was being used. Reading text, writing text, navigating cinematic and camera angles, manipulating those for machinima and creating cinema, navigating tangible space, social interactivity, all that you could do in a game like WoW. What are the limits to a MUD? Or to a game like Myst? The first Resident Evil game? Resident Evil 5? There’s a great deal of variation even within the genre of gaming. While it’s common to hear people bemoan “addiction,” and how complex a word it is, it’s only half of the phrase ‘game addiction.’

A range of gamers enter games for a range of reasons.

The problem here is common in the popular press, not so much the gaming press – games can vary dramatically. How two people play the same game can vary dramatically.

9. Danger? This piece has said it a few times already, games have long had a target painted on their back. In the article, Halpin says: "There’s certainly a fair amount of media hype when it comes to gamers and gaming, which isn’t helped by random legislators who fan the flames around election time. But again, games have come so far -- as an art form and as a medium -- that the experience is worth investing the time."

I like a lot of what Hal Halpin has said in the past, he seems like a guy I’d love to have a beer with one of these GDCs. And like a lot of the quotes in this piece, there’s a lot of richness to his words that just doesn’t get explored. Thrown together, they’re like that pillowcase filled with candied apples, brownies and candybars. Great if you can take them out and savor the flavor. Near inedible if you mix them too liberally.

For instance, this article was released during banned books week, see the ALA’s site. Given this celebration of maligned media, of content or formats that may disagree with us, it seems an auspicious link to make with Halpin’s insight. The American first amendment carries a certain weight, no matter where in the world you’re reading this. It’s interesting to think that classics from authors like Twain, Orwell, and Anjelou can still rouse people. It’s interesting to think that not too long ago even JK Rowling’s books (which at one point revitalized the book industry near-singlehandedly), though now commonplace, came under hellish scrutiny from religious groups. But would it be disingenuous of me to start up a conversation on literary merit in the middle of a conversation on psychology and pathology?


Lately I’ve been teaching my 93-year-old grandma how to manipulate characters within a 3-D space. This alone presents her with a wholly new way of experiencing her world. In much the same way that you can get caught up in Faulkner’s stream-of-consciousness, or Stephen King’s graphic imagery, you can forge for yourself unique experiences in refined game systems. Through the texture of those experiences, a person can see their world through reinvigorated eyes. Those experiences have meaning. For my grandma, it’s taking on the unique abilities of Jigglypuff, and delighting in her ability to throw my Pikachu straight off a game map.

One fallacy is the belief that games are never art.

Ok, ok. You're right. Games have absolutely zero influence on society.

10. Danger. Please don’t take me for nitpicking Halpin specifically, though I do want to grab the last part of his last quote as something worth exploring.

When he says that “the [game] experience is worth investing the time,” I wonder how much time he's talking about, and for whom. While planning my first battery of research, living in Hawaii, I came across a 17-year-old Australian man playing 20+ hours of WoW a day. After grouping with him to ‘farm Timbermaw rep,’ that is, to acquire nominal points in the game, he discussed making fundamental changes to his living arrangements so that finishing highschool was no longer necessary, and so that he and his housemates could have more or less uninterrupted play. At the time, I was shocked to the point that all I could really do was spend an hour or so listening to his descriptions of his life.

At the end of a long article, the brain sometimes just wants to shut down. It’s like watching the clock during the last half-hour of a school day. You’re watching the little scroll bar, wondering when this guy might deign to stop using cute analogies, and will instead just finish his damned article. The point that I want to remain, is that people’s lives have been changed by this media. Whether it’s for good or for ill, media has an effect. As a society, we desperately need to understand media’s effect on communities, families, and individuals. Individually, we can choose to inform ourselves, or choose not to. But I’d warn that ignorance invites hazard.

Which makes me want to learn more about this cortisol thing. I heard about it a few months ago, from coverage of Clive Chandler’s GDC Canada presentation, and now from Chris Rowan, consulting with Microsoft’s Natal. What’s Rowan doing about it? How does cortisol relate to Microsoft’s hopes for Natal? I guess that’s left for another article.

Whether from cortisol, addiction, or violence, maybe I do see a certain level of hype. Or at least, that the media hypes the wrong things. Lofty buzzwords aren't the right place for our attentions. The issue is control. Our facebooks, our World of Warcrafts, even our inboxes, do they serve us, or is it the other way around?

The step after answering that, is to provide people with tools that help them to get the most out of life. And it's my firm belief that the widest-reaching, most cost-effective tool here will be understanding new media technologies correctly.

Logical fallacies reject understanding in lieu of comfort. And yes, since this is a blog, that will absolutely serve as my concluding sentence. Love it.


This is a very large piece of writing. It was not done for profit, nor gone over by any professional editor. I expect people to point out both errors and legitimate critiques. I’ll respond to those as best I can. If your ideas are mentioned in this article specifically, and you’d like me to post your response on my blog, then email me. I offer to post your comments in their entirety, as a separate post or below my own.

I did catch one error while putting together a piece for the Escapist. Somehow, Rich Taylor's statement to USA Today got cut short in my notes. I made a mistake, and I apologize. Ironic since I'm discussing getting quotes right, and a good reminder that these things certainly happen in the heat of composition. While the corrected and full quote can be found in the text, I originally wrote: “It’s not that games are addictive. Medical experts, including the American Medical Association, have already rejected the fallacy of video game ‘addiction,’ and we completely agree," said Rich Taylor, senior vice president, communications & Industry affairs for the ESA.

This article is copyright 2009 by Neils Clark. Except the images. I like collecting funny images from sites that aggregate them. So if I stolez ur foto and u wants credits or removals, just pop me an email. Thanks for reading.



The first videogame for my 93-year-old grandma? Lego Star Wars.


Pomeranians are Now Officially Cool

I've had an aversion to fluffy dogs, most especially little fluffy dogs, most my life.

But I also love exceptionally happy dogs. They remind me of the crown jewel of comically ecstatic dogs, my very own black flat-coated retriever Rudy. Someone once said that dogs have about 10 times as much of that chemical - the one that makes you sad when someone's gone and excited to see them again. Rudy has about 10 times as much of that chemical as other dogs. But we're not strictly talking about Rudy. I was saying something about Pomeranians.

Enter Hermione, perhaps one of the happiest, most excited-for-life dogs in existence.


Just sharing.


Bring on the Depression!

First off, I'm ridiculously sick and drugged. That's not an apology, but rather a cautionary warning that the following grammar or language conventions may deviate somewhat from established norms.

I just wanted to tip my hat to two articles from last month, one on 'seeking' from Slate, the other on depression from SciAm. I got both of these via Hilarie Cash.

In the depression article, they more or less say that depression could be an evolutionary benefit. When we slow down and ruminate during depressive states, we're able to pick apart events, situations, and so forth that might be causing us ongoing problems. That it's a completely natural reaction, one valuable enough to have stuck around for God knows how long.

The Slate article mostly features an interview with Jaak Panksepp, and his notion that dopamine wasn't stimulating pleasure centers, as is often assumed. It stimulates curiosity, interest, foraging, anticipation, craving, expectancy - what he settled on calling "seeking."

This notion could loom large for game studies theorists, especially those exploring education, and the role of learning as a stimuli for encouraging play. No doubt, both of these articles have major implications for clinical researchers engaged in both theory building and quantitative analysis for pathological Internet use. In many places, Game Addiction points to dopamine as a pleasure stimulator, but in my view Dr. Panksepp's work would have made more sense in various parts of the book.

I also had fun connecting these two articles. If depressive rumination is about slowing things down so as to break apart problems, in some ways we're seeking. If a videogame is an entire system patterned to reward for seeking... It's interesting to ruminate on, at any rate.

Things have been fun for me on a personal level. I've started dogsitting here locally, this last weekend I babysat a couple real cute dachshund puppies. They had a lot of personality, and their interactions were super adorable. I've got a couple magazine pitches that I'm shopping, in relation to Game Addiction. I'll be sure to post if I get some hits on that. I've also been checking out D&D 4th edition. I like it. I'm playing a perpetually drunken cleric named Shanty McShamus, who sports a cap of disguise, wallwalkers, a bag of holding that is in fact a wine cellar, and a flask of fire breathing. Pub scenes are a blast (yes, literally), and occasionally he finds it useful to use his combat rounds casting turn undead (when there are clearly no undead within range).

I've also been hanging out with my ole pal Al, whose name we spell Elmeacq. We're a bit excited about something we're calling an interactive choose-your-own-adventure project. So far we're still in the 'taking stock of resources' phase, but so far we've done some good concepting and writing (during times normally allotted to Rifftrax, stand up and videogames). I don't want to give too many details, but it could be a novel take on storytelling and sketch comedy.

And that's about it. Mixing this Echinacea with this generic NyQuil stuff does a good job of knocking me right out.


Nothing Cures a Gaming Addiction Like...

A good old-fashioned beatdown.

Apparently drill instructors at a Chinese Internet Addiction camp beat to death a sixteen-year-old, Deng Senshan, for running too slow. For godssakes the boy was running! I've been working out daily for two months, but I still have to stop after about a mile and a half (Admittedly I'd gotten pretty bad). Would they not-so-surgically remove my spleen?

This is after news that treatment centers recently ended the use of electroshock therapy for the treatment of game addicts. This reminded me of a really cool photo I saw in a Nat Geo on China, featuring an actual treatment center for Internet Addicts. This isn't a hoax, it's the actual picture:

I say... escape on horseback.

Thanks to Melvin at DigiPen and Hilarie Cash for forwarding the news on China. Dr. Cash is an author and clinician who recently opened a 45-day, outdoors inpatient treatment program in the Redmond area. I was really interested in seeing the open house for it, to get a feel for what's what, but ironically I'll be camping.


Weekday Update

I think I've gotten too comfortable writing about feelings and events from the perspective of fictitious characters. At a certain point of blasting out kooky characters and odd science fiction, it feels more strange to take all of those details for yourself, distilling them into a representative and satisfying blog post. At least, that's how I feel right now. For the past month or so I've been writing a few thousand words of novel every day. And some of my characters are pretty fucked up. I won't lie to you, what they have to say is a lot more interesting than what I have to say. So usually I just help them to say what they have to say, and stay away from straying into saying things about play. Or my day.

So I've also been reacquainting my body to the mysterious forces known as gravity and motion. Funny how those make your brain work better. They've yet to sculpt my stomach into anything other than the usual curvaceous one-pack, but that's alright. I'm trying my best not to scrutinize too hastily.

What I'm really trying to say here is that by some wacky stream of events, my book received a beyond thoughtful review from Jim Rossignol at Rock, Paper, Shotgun (the second link is the review itself). I got introduced to John Walker at RPS a couple of years ago, when he and I talked about addiction for his PC Gamer feature (linked in the book review, but here also for gigs).

And now Raph Koster, who I quote and reference way more than once in Game Addiction, has posted a blog about the review before I'd even gotten around to posting it here. This is a sign. It reads: "Neils. Your blogging punctuality is questionable at best. At worst, it should be strung..." And the rest of the sign is illegible. At least that's my official line, and since I'm writing to tell you about the sign you're going to have to take my word for it.

Truth be told, I've spent the last few months taking a cautious sampling of all the things normal for a strapping lad in his mid-twenties. Dating a girl way out of my league, and failing terribly. Taking jobs way out of my league, and by odd coincidence doing quite well. Weeping.

And sailing

past this buoy

and this buoy

and this boat

and seattle

with my darling sister.

And that's the weekday update.



When my grandma Cora died, I distinctly remember somebody telling me that she wasn't dead.

“She's living on in you,” they said. I have no memory who. “As long as you remember her and keep her in your heart, she's never really dead.”

I was twelve. I'll never know if that was just one of those comments meant to stop a crying child. I don't even remember if it made me feel better. What I do remember is hearing from another family member, “She was a cowgirl.” Since then I've learned that we're all inalienably entitled to picture death in whatever form or fashion we so choose. “She's a cowgirl” always summed it up for me. It was bad, a feeling of loss, but there was always something about that statement that overcame the bad. Right then it was exactly what I needed to hear.

When a friend Jeff died seven years later, I didn't go to the poetry slam dedicated to his earthy and bourgeois impact, didn't join the group driving to the services and couldn't bring myself to meet his mother. Besides my own private and solitary tribute, what I did do was pull up his website from time to time. In looking at that page, in just taking in the experience he had himself laid out, designed, in a way painted, it almost felt like a part of him was alive. It felt like maybe his faded spectral form was sitting just behind me, arms crossed in a silent approval. Looking at the site brought on a clouded feeling, but other feelings came too. These were the feelings that I needed.

The site lasted a few years before vanishing. Maybe deleted, maybe buried in the explosion of voices. Whatever it might have been, the website never outright said that he was a cowboy, or an elitist, or a guy that I wish I'd know better. But it did talk. In his own way, he was telling me what I needed to hear.

“Are these our dead friends, or the gramophone?”
-George Seferis

Oh, Theodore

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."


Read My Book!!

The book, my friends, is ready for public consumption! Well, at least, in one sense of the word. Finding the thing has its own lovable quirks. The first problem you’ll have is with typing my name into any kind of search feature. It has a high probability of taking you to, among other things, the charming e-harmony guy Neil Clark Warren. Maybe my next book should be about identifying the love of your life – in two games of Tetris Attack or less. Using the full title, Game Addiction: The Experience and the Effects seems to work the best. The other problem is that nobody seems to have prepared for the possibility people might buy my book. It appears to be sold out on Amazon here in its first week of release (it must be the 38 cent discount.) My sincere apologies on that score.

Here’s the part where I should up and sing the book’s praises, and in a week or three I may indeed post press release info to help out any interested journos (though those are going first to journos I’m already in contact with.)

That said, why should you trust me to sing my book’s praises? Of course I love it – it’s my damned book!

So instead, I wanted to point out some of the areas where I screwed up. With a project like this, hindsight always burns the retinas in one or two places.

The editing and proofing, in my view, was not one of these areas. I exclaimed this before, to the point where people around me got annoyed, but my editors at McFarland humbled me with their abilities. There are probably one or two little editorial blips with the book as it stands – but that happens.

I commit this first foul several times; it really cracked me up when I first realized the following example in proofing. In the intro I let the reader know I’ll be talking about “the woman I married,” in videogames. I never do. And my World of Warcraft pirate wedding is probably one of my better stories.

Promises, promises. This is the problem, in my estimation: there are too many places in the book where I promise to talk about something – and then get distracted by shiny objects.

To more of a substantial issue: Chapter 3, ‘Why they Play.’ In retrospect, too much of Ch. 3’s smoothing got cut, while too much back-end research was left unadorned. As a result, some of my more important points on psychological immersion go un-made, leaving one or two parts feeling disjointed. Brilliant colleagues pointed out this problem in very early drafts, making me feel all the sillier for not minding it consistently. On the flip side, I felt that in the Soul Kerfuffle narrative, Andy and Dave bailed me out, explaining a lot of these problems in ways that were far more clear and straightforward. And also, Chapter 3 did not include this hamster. Unforgivable.

What might surprise some, given how outspoken I’ve been in blog posts and interviews, is that you won’t find Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) in Game Addiction. While the early drafts started and ended with refutations of IAD, as this book grew to include subtle topics like brain plasticity, functioning, cultural reasons for play, psychological reasons for play and physical immersion, an eight-item checklist for addiction really didn’t seem to be worth mentioning. This is a problem that a lot of people have with DSM-style criteria – the issues that they explain are too complicated to be captured in an antiseptic little jar. In retrospect, that wouldn’t have been hard to say.

What makes this omission worse, the APA makes a final decision on whether to include gaming problems in the DSM within the next two years. If researchers come up with legitimate, clinically-verified criteria for pathology before then, and that's included in the new DSM, then there might actually be enough funding for researchers to make textured and productive headway. Catch-22, right? Oh, right, and a fully new DSM only comes out once every couple of decades.

Finally, the last issue is one that I started noticing when doing early planning for my media and ethics course at DigiPen. In the book I point out two major technological advancements (as opposed to the socially-embedded media, or how those technologies are adopted and adapted by people [to use Neil Postman’s distinction]) that games have – above and beyond other mass-market entertainment: the designed experience and the social connectivity. In my lectures, I decided to rank user-generated content on equal footing. Were I starting the book anew, I'd have included it from the beginning. The argument could be made that user-generated content is a product of the two other technologies, and that this is truly only an issue of how they’re used. Nonetheless, pointing it out would have made understanding virtual worlds easier for the unindoctrinated. And that's what this book was about - bringing together fields of inquiry that don't talk - then explaining things so that everyone can understand.

So, depending on how busy I get in the coming months, I might set aside time to supplement the book with updates on IAD, e-wedding and e-divorce, player motivations and the technologies of gaming – among many, many other things that I’m interested in talking about. I’m also keen to talk about the major next step for this line of inquiry.

Enough said – read my book!!


My very favorite cup has a clever new hat

Dust and Kitten Sneezes: A Treatise

Oh gosh. Oh jeez. How long ‘as it been since I posted here? I’m picturing a search engine startup that ranks sites on the dust they’ve collected. Maybe driving the point home with a rating system based on Hello-Kitty-style, sneezing kittens. Maybe pictures of actual sneezing kittens, we’ll send it to focus testing. The point is: the less activity, the higher the allergic reaction. We’d call it sneezekitten.com.


Censorship of Rock: Frank Zappa (1986)

I really enjoyed this 1986 episode of Crossfire, featuring Frank Zappa defending against the moral panic aimed at rock music.


Sweet Ass Picture

This weekend I helped my dad to clean up an article on his campaign to sail for the USA in the 1976 Olympics. My mom helped, too. In going through some old pictures, she found this picture of me, conjuring some of my earliest prose.

Media Effects Curriculum

I want to bounce ideas off of teachers who've worked teaching media effects, most especially game effects.

We're running into the last month before finals at DigiPen, and I'm curious. Obviously there were major themes that I could pull from the book, communication classes and my own coursework. Most influential there was probably Aaron Delwiche's courses, the ones that first got me interested in media effects. In covering a lot of the ethical issues in media, especially propaganda, privacy, piracy, addiction and so on, I don't know. It was one of the first classes that I really cared about. Bad to say since I'd taken so many before, right?

But obviously most every journalism program has a media and ethics course. But I wasn't teaching media and ethics to the purported defenders of information. Or to communications students. The audience was 35 highly-talented artists, most Seniors, and most of whom are already gainfully employed making media. There were things that seemed to work extremely well in teaching not just the standard stuff: philosophy of ethics and issues of media ownership, privacy, piracy and so on. Adding in real, physical effects seems to make a lot of sense. Some of what we've discussed involves immersion, the mind and brain, violence, addiction, child development, literacy and learning, media legitimacy and so forth. Some of the guest speakers were accomplished clinical psychotherapists. I'm not certain what the final verdict would be, but it seems that we're having a lot of fun.

My question is whether there's enough information to warrant education on media effects generally. What, of the information, do we use? My hope is that over the next few years we can begin building better curricula - not just for media creators or for college students.

Healthy or unhealthy media use affects nutrition, happiness (or depression), and a range of other quality of life factors. There are thousands of books out there on good eating and exercise - or what happens when you miss out on that. Hardly anyone is talking about good media use. And there doesn't seem to be much organization or formal agreement on what, if anything, we should be talking about.

What should we be talking about?


I just picked up my editor's proofs, for Game Addiction, Thursday night. I was frankly a little worried. I've never gone through an editor's comments for a book, and I'd heard horror stories. Reading these proofs was a pleasant, pleasant surprise. The edited copy flows, matching my style extremely well.

More than that, I was worried that my writing, especially when critiquing the ideas of other researchers, could have come off as overly acerbic. I can be a dick sometimes. And its bad, because in a venue where neutrality and respect of ideas is prized, I can be most critical of videogame research that doesn't make sense. See [example] of terrible ideas that [influence millions]. My editor did an amazing job of smoothing me out. It was something that took me by surprise; it was humbling to see the typesetting and overall texture of the book. Having it there in front of me.

While the editor also took out small bits of my wacky flair, the important pieces stayed. As did the important jokes, interviews, points and criticisms.


Also, from what I hear from the publisher, this means that an actual publish date is not too far away.



New Gamasutra Article on Videogame Regulation

I've been busy. A bit too busy to post.

I wanted to mention a couple of updates that I can't put off any longer.

First off, I've got a new article up - on Gamasutra again. It's an inclusive piece on Videogame Regulation. As usual it was an interesting topic - with interesting interviewees and twists. Get at it [here].

Second off, I've started a lecturing position at the DigiPen Institute of Technology, a four year college that specializes in the instruction of game designers. It's been fun. The course is Media and Ethics. There's necessarily a lot of ground to cover, and the first few days of ethics have been fast, though the students are good -- and I think they'll like where the course is headed.

That's it for now, it's been another long day.