Millennial Think Tank: Gaming – Theory & Addiction

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Last week we returned to Gaming to explore both the theory behind how these games work, and the addictive nature of gaming. On our panel this week we had:

  • Susan Silver, Social Media Business Analyst, spends 12 hours a week gaming
  • Barry Figgins, Entrepreneur, spends 5 – 10 hours per week gaming
  • Jacqui McKinney, self described web ninja, spends 3 – 8 hours per day gaming
  • Joe Cardillo, Project Manager/Content Strategist, spends a few hours a week gaming
  • Kelly Mosfigian, minimum wage slave, spends 40 – 50 hours per week gaming
  • Samantha Estoesta, a young Millennial working in Public Interest Research, games very little but used to spend 20 hours+

Watch or listen to the entire hangout below, or read on for our blog recap.

To frame the discussion I listed some basic facts:

  • 100% of GenZ boys game, 94% of GenZ girls game
  • GenX represents the largest population of gamers

I also found this information on a website called Think, Play, Feel.

There are 11 basic needs people fulfill from playing video games:

  • gaining knowledge
  • gaining and improving skills
  • feeling competent
  • persevering through hard times
  • creating tools, managing danger
  • regulating emotions
  • competing for rewards
  • cooperating for rewards
  • caring for loved ones
  • satisfying the senses with pleasant inputs (sights, smells, sounds, etc.).

Furthermore, the American Medical Association does NOT recognize video game addiction as a mental disorder.

What is an example of a good or bad reward in a game?

Barry jumped in saying that checklists are a huge reward for him; he runs his own business and some days it feels as if there is no progress. Having a checklist of things to do and then checking them off gives him a feeling of accomplishment. However, taken too far these sort of checklists can lose their shine and a game can feel feel more like work.

Samantha agreed and gave an example of  DLC (Downloadable content) for Skyroom where you get to build your own house. She started out with intense enthusiasm, but halfway through ran out of steam. The game needs to have a feeling of building something worthwhile.

For Joe gaming has always been an exercise in creative problem solving. Kelly only plays League of Legends and Civilization 5; League of Legends is rewarding because it’s like a sport – you have a team, and when you win a game you can celebrate that victory. Losing has also taught him about failure in real life.

What does it feel like when the game ends?

Samantha talked at length about a game named Mass Effect; she spent many, many hours on her characters. The ending was a total disappointment and she was incredibly frustrated. Jacqui was ok with that specific ending; she was not disappointed because her emotional attachment to her character was not as deep. Kelly was annoyed with all of the ending options to Mass Effect; no matter how you played it there were only  a few predestined endings… as if the game was rigged. All of the myriad choices you made really meant nothing.

I asked the panel if they ‘missed’ a game when it ended in the way I miss the characters in good books.  Samantha immediately said when Bio Shock and Infinite ended she was good – she was happy with the ending. Jacqui, who is also a huge reader, understands the feeling I described and got the same feeling with Fall Out 3.

Is there any marketing reward program you love at all?

Samantha told us of Sephora’s point system where you earn a point for every dollar spent. You start out as a Beauty Insider, then you become a Very Important Beauty Insider, and eventually you are a VIP Rouge – the pinnacle of the community. She told a story of a Marc Jacob reward that they knew was coming – as soon as it was online the Beauty Insiders swarmed the website. But the reward wasn’t the primary goal – it was their status that meant the most.

Other than that, our panel couldn’t name one marketing program that gave rewards as meaningful as their favorite games.

Is there a difference when you play against a bot vs. a real person?

Barry doesn’t like to play against human opponents because he doesn’t like being insulted; he likes to win. He doesn’t like the competitive nature of playing with humans; he’d rather be 4 humans against a computer because then all of the humans on his team can win.

Kelly talked about games where the long term players were SO much better than new people; developers needed to find a way to protect new players from having their experience destroyed by someone much more experienced. He also told of server wide, impromptu wars that erupts into a huge war…  and it’s an experience that the players involved don’t forget.

Coming back to the insults and bullying that can happen, Kelly thinks that games reflect real life and that you learn from these negative experiences. I put forth that this happens on the web and in social because anonymity breeds it.

Joe believes that the foundation of the community needs to be built carefully, incentivizing collaborative behavior and de-incentivizing bad behaviors. Where this is not done the community very much becomes similar to Lord of the Flies.

Gaming Addiction – what is it?

Samantha stated that we need to understand that the chemicals released in our bodies from gaming are the same ones that gambling elicits. In a conversation earlier last week Ryan Pannell told me that dopa-mine was the chemical that our body produced when we play video games. So, if you are winning in gaming, you are getting a physical, chemical reward.

Kelly, who plays much less than he used to, does indulge in binge gaming. He talked about buying every single expansion for a specific game despite the fact that he hates the game. He defined a gaming addict as someone who put gaming ahead of other things that they were supposed to be getting done.

Jacqui told a story of a South Korean couple who let their baby die of neglect because they were playing a multi-player game. Obviously that is an addiction taken to extremes; I asked the panel where is the softer line. Kelly determined that it was when gaming became a need rather than a want.

An honest story of addiction

I am grateful to Jacqui for telling us an honest story of a 2 year period in her life where she was addicted to gaming. She described her symptoms:

  • Every waking moment she thought about gaming.
  • Her skin started breaking out.
  • She altered her sleep schedule to accommodate gaming.

She described it as a ‘full blown’ addiction that she didn’t even recognize at the time, and she was getting mixed messages from friends. Some people were concerned, but many of her friends thought it ‘wasn’t anything.’

The game Jacqui played was a text Role Play game that she played with other people, which was part of the addiction. It was a role play game, and she described how she took on a persona that was

…way more confident, way more beautiful, way more professional than what I was in my current job.

She loved being looked up to as a mother and a wife, and the other people went to her for advice. She had a status in the game that she didn’t have in real life. Jacqui would have to leave the role play world to go back to a job that didn’t challenge her, and found her real life so unrewarding.

When I asked how she ended it, she said it ended itself. She was playing with another individual who dropped her, and she started to avoid that person online. She began to try to find other things in her life, first martial arts, and then running. Eventually, she wanted to disassociate from that game, and she wanted to be ‘in her life’ rather than in that game.

Addiction to Community

In a conversation with Ryan Pannell where I said I wasn’t an addictive person – I may play a game intensely for a few weeks, but I can’t stay in it, he said “you’re totally addicted to social media.” But for once, Ryan was wrong. I’m not addicted to social, I’m addicted to the community – to connecting with people.  It made me wonder if community gaming was far more addicting because you were engaging with other people.

Jacqui concurred, saying a big part of her addiction was in getting to know other people.

Are Marketers ignoring the non-standard gamer?

After a lengthy description of how she is ostracized at Comi-con and gamer conventions, Samantha expressed her frustration of being treated as if she didn’t belong because of how she looked. Samantha is an attractive female and doesn’t fit the stereotype that many gamers think she should.

Kelly thought that gaming marketers were totally off base in who they market to – because they don’t realize that Samantha is not that atypical.


  • The rewards that come from gaming are unique, and no marketing loyalty program appears to have tapped into the type or reward system that makes people want to play.
  • A big part of the reward that comes from gaming is participating in the community of other gamers.
  • Gaming addiction is real, whether the AMA recognizes it or not.

Next week we will explore Remote Work Forces.
Photo credit: Xbox 360 via photopin (license).

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