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Candid Observation: Online Multiplayer Might be Dangerously Addictive

If we're being brutally honest, we need to admit that online multiplayer gaming could indeed be extraordinarily addictive.
This article is over 10 years old and may contain outdated information

The knee-jerk reaction of all gamers to the addiction argument is the same: “Video games aren’t addictive.”

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I once sided with that blanket statement. It was about as addictive as peanut butter, as far as I was concerned. A major publication made the same statement about cocaine at one point, so we should never be too convinced.

Thing is, video games weren’t any more addictive than any other hobby or form of recreation. They just weren’t. I never heard of anyone quitting a job or refusing to leave their room because they were playing Super Mario Bros. day and night. They didn’t form a “Wives Against” group for Final Fantasy; they formed it for EverQuest. And there’s a reason why the latter franchise has been not-so-lovingly entitled “EverCrack.”

But things have changed, and we’re starting to see a change in gaming behavior, too.

There are legitimate cases of game addiction out there, and I’d wager that 99 percent of them involve ONLY online multiplayer

The biggest games in the world have embraced multiplayer. The franchises that have earned the most as of late, Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, rely almost exclusively on multiplayer involvement. Yes, CoD can be played offline but let’s face it, not a soul standing in line at a midnight launch is there for the campaign. Not one. CoD is a billion-dollar franchise because of the multiplayer, and we all know how popular WoW got.

When we hear stories about possible cases of gamers who just can’t stop, they often include games from one of these two franchises. Invariably, they include online multiplayer. That is my personal observation but think about it: When’s the last time you heard of a supposed case of game addiction that involved only single-player experiences? Seriously? Did anyone get hooked on The Last Of Us? Did the Uncharted or God of War franchises end marriages and ruin lives?

I’m betting not. And there are obvious reasons as to why.

Games that never end…gee, I distinctly recall the arcades flourishing because they operated on a similar principle

You couldn’t really finish an arcade game. I mean, you feasibly could, but it would take eons of practice and about a gajillion quarters. That was the point, of course: Keep you playing and keep taking your quarters. If you could finish the game with fifty or seventy-five cents, the arcade closes up, now doesn’t it? But wait: Add the multiplayer element; i.e., bring a few friends and throw down in a variety of arcade games, and suddenly, the arcades become super huge.

It’s not that much different with online multiplayer. You’ve got subscription fees (which of course would never work for single-player), microtransactions, and the ever-evolving persistent world. It’s basically a refined approach to the arcade business structure. The only difference now is that developers can continue to add on to these games, which you couldn’t do with the coin-op games of yesteryear. Hence, we get extremely long-running experiences that continue to drain wallets for years and years.

Translation: Want to make a billion dollars? Make an MMO.

There’s something about those virtual worlds, populated by virtual incarnations of humans, that is extremely addicting

Not for everyone, of course. You won’t find me getting hooked on an MMO, that’s for sure. And it’s ludicrous to assume that simply because something can be addictive it should be treated like an illegal drug such as heroin, which in intensely addictive 100 percent of the time. Most people will try MMOs and won’t become hopelessly addicted; those who use heroin just once or twice could end up in a dire situation.  Therefore, comparing video games to heroin is beyond stupid.

My point, however, is that we are hearing cases – especially in Asian countries, for some reason – of individuals who have become absolutely addicted to a video game, and 99 times out of 100 that game relies on online multiplayer. It’s either entirely online, like an MMO, or it relies almost exclusively on the multiplayer component, like CoD. We’re also starting to notice some seriously deviant behavior from the online multiplayer camps, like those CoD fans who “SWAT” other fans (as reported in the New York Post). Will we see this from the people playing chess together online? No.

Someone needs to start focusing on online-only games as a possible form of video game addiction, rather than making general comments about the industry as a whole. That’s my bottom line.

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A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.