Last night I watched a video linked by dear Jenny, The Bloggess, on the most powerful motivators for jobs that require cognitive abilities, rather than mechanical ones. Then tonight I was looking for a few laughs before bed and after perusing LOLCats it popped into my mind to visit Cracked.com, where I came across a piece entitled, “5 Creepy Ways that Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted,” and darned if the motivators there didn’t have a LOT in common with the ones in the video Jenny linked, which I have embedded for your convenience below.
Then I thought of a realization I had when I was a guest on Talk of the Nation on NPR almost 20 years ago when it was hosted by John Hockenberry. NPR had announced it was doing a show with Jack Kevorkian, the serial killer/euthanasia advocate, and they asked for people caring for people with chronic, progressive diseases to be interviewed before the panel spoke with Kevorkian. I was one of two persons selected — the other was a gay man from San Francisco caring for an acquaintance with AIDS, who spoke first. He was in favor of assisted suicide for his acquaintance because he was going to die of AIDS — but he also remarked his acquaintance had no friends or loved ones and was frustrated with how powerless he felt as he was dying.
In a flash, I realized that having AIDS, or even being close to the end of his life, were not the reasons this man wanted to die. He wanted to die because he had no one to live for — no one he loved, and who loved him in return. And he wanted to die because he had no power over his life, in the sense that other people were making all his choices for him. People want to live — and persevere through the worst adversity — when they love and feel loved, and have some autonomy. It’s not the illness that makes you want to die!
To address why we want to work, here’s the video on research showing the most powerful incentives for people to do work that requires cognitive skills are autonomy (to do what you want, when you want, as much as you want); mastery (challenge, mastery and making a contribution); and transcendent purpose:
In explaining what makes us play addictive video games — as opposed to games that teach a skill and provide real mastery — David Wong, an editor of Cracked.com invokes Malcolm Gladwell on the three elements that make a job satisfying — autonomy, complexity, and connection between effort and reward:
And that brings us to the one thing that makes gaming addiction — and addiction in general — so incredibly hard to beat.
As shocking as this sounds, a whole lot of the “guy who failed all of his classes because he was playing WoW all the time” horror stories are really just about a dude who simply didn’t like his classes very much. This was never some dystopian mind control scheme by Blizzard. The games just filled a void.
Why do so many of us have that void? Because according to everything expert Malcolm Gladwell, to be satisfied with your job you need three things, and I bet most of you don’t even have two of them:
Autonomy (that is, you have some say in what you do day to day);
Complexity (so it’s not mind-numbing repetition);
Connection Between Effort and Reward (i.e. you actually see the awesome results of your hard work).
Most people, particularly in the young gamer demographics, don’t have this in their jobs or in any aspect of their everyday lives. But the most addictive video games are specifically geared to give us all three… or at least the illusion of all three.
You pick your quests, or which Farmville crops to plant. Hell, you even pick your own body, species and talents.
Players will do monotonous grinding specifically because it doesn’t feel like grinding. Remember the complicated Tier Armor/Frost Emblem dance that kept our gamer clicking earlier.
Connection Between Effort and Reward:
This is the big one. When you level up in WoW a goddamned plume of golden light shoots out of your body.
This is what most of us don’t get in everyday life–quick, tangible rewards. It’s less about instant gratification and more about a freaking sense of accomplishment. How much harder would we work at the office if we got this, and could measure our progress toward it? And if the light shot from our crotch?
The danger lies in the fact that these games have become so incredibly efficient at delivering the sense of accomplishment that people used to get from their education or career.
I have to say I am a little huffy about the piece ending with the grandpa — Bejeweled — of the only computer game I play — Bejeweled Twist, which I bought after reading a magazine at my father’s cardiologist’s office that said it promoted synchrony in the functioning of the hemispheres of the brain so I get a tangible benefit from playing. However, I will admit that even though I play the “Zen” version, I see how certain changes and rewards pop up just about the time I’m ready to quit and I will play longer than I intended.
But I must be enjoying my work because the main reason I play is to stay awake when I’m very sleepy but Dad isn’t ready to go to bed yet, since I have to stay up to see him to bed, give him medicines, help him with his respirator mask, hold up his favorite cat so he can tell his grandpa that he loves him and receive his good-night petting, and get him settled under the covers. And, because of that interview almost 20 years ago, the last thing I always do is remind Dad of all the people and kitties that love him, of the accomplishments of which he is most proud, how much he is needed and how filled with purpose his life still is at 94.