Zachary NemirovskyCuriosity Project12/20/17DeltaWe all know, and love a good online game. Whether it’s a complicated multiplayer game, or a simple arcade one like Candy Crush. The addictive nature of it, combined with the rewarding sound effects and sweet visuals, is what makes the Apple App Store over 100 billion dollars a year. But what about these games gets us so addicted to them, and in some cases spending hundreds of dollars on in-app purchases? In this research paper, I will be breaking down the little-known world of “Freemium” games, and how they are meticulously designed to get people hooked on them. In 2012 the mobile gaming industry took in 7.8 billion dollars, and 12.6 billion dollars in 2016. There are over 950 million mobile gamers in the world, and only 0.15% of them bring in 50% of the gaming markets revenue. Hardcore players of mobile games are spending the most money to buy in-app purchases. The majority of mobile gamers are casual players who spend a lot less time inside of the game. The top grossing iOS gaming apps in 2016 we’re Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, Clash Royale, and Pokemon Go. Candy Crush Saga was reportedly bringing in-approximately 1 million dollars a day in 2016. Let’s take a look at what makes this game so addictive. On average, 93 million people Candy Crush everyday. What makes this game so addictive is a number of things. 1) You have to wait, it’s like being in timeout waiting for your lives to refill, and the longer you have to wait the more your craving builds. 2) We love positive reinforcement, we feel a sense of accomplishment when we hear the rewarding sound effects after you clear candy. 3) It’s a one handed game, it’s not a console game that requires all of your attention, it’s easy to hold your phone in one hand and do something with the other. 4) It never ends, the games developers are always making new levels, so you’ll never actually beat the game and always come back for more. 5) It’s technically free but paying for add-ons is easy, just a few clicks and you get an extra life. 6) Kids love candy, the bright colors and cute design makes the game so satisfying for young children. 7) It’s social, people feel a sense of pride when they finish a hard level, the game allows you to immediately share that with your friends via social media. A mobile gaming habit isn’t as physically dangerous as an addiction to heroin or meth, but your brain acts much the same way when it goes without it. Addictions target the brain’s reward system and flood it with dopamine. When we play, we feel happy. Since playing is now associated with reward, our brains remember this action as something necessary to repeat in the future. Over time, the person can produce less and less dopamine with the activity, so the brain craves more time spent with the game to achieve the same level of pleasure. Because of the low dopamine levels when not playing, withdrawal symptoms set in, including depression, restlessness, difficulty focusing, mood swings, and nausea.On the topic phone separation anxiety, the technical term for it is “nomophobia” an abbreviation of “no-more-phone-phobia”. And one teen set out to discover how anxious teens become when they’re separated from their cell phones, and whether the anxiety affects their attention span. Kashifa Rahman, a high school student from South Dakota found that teens are vulnerable to stress and anxiety when separated from their smartphones. For her study, she surveyed 54 teenagers about their cell phone usage and tested their stress levels. The survey found that 92% of the teens kept their phones on all the time and 73% said they become anxious when their phone had no charge. On average, the teens checked their phones every 23 minutes, and 37% said they use their phones while driving. Without their phones, the teens had higher blood pressure and heart rates. Which led her to conclude that not having a smartphone around is stressful. As another part of the study, she had the teens do several tasks, including a driving-simulator computer game, to test skills such as memory, attention, response time, and impulsivity. The teens’ skills were worse when they were away from their phone. Kashifa’s study wont third place and $1,000 in the National Institute of Drug Addiction Science Award competition.Others are not so fortunate though, like a 13 year old boy in China who reportedly jumped off of a building thinking he could fly like one of the characters in a game he plays. The boy broke both of his legs.In 2008 China became the first country worldwide to declare gaming addiction a “clinical disorder,” with parents sending their kids to military-style boot camps to undergo therapy and training for a cure. In 2010, China’s Ministry of Culture introduced the country’s first anti-addiction law. In the following year, eight government departments led by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, and Film Television required all companies to carry out real-name registration for there games.Along with all of these new laws, a mobile gaming giant “Tencent” has introduced a series of measure to limit the game time of young users by automatically logging off players under the age of 12 after they play for one hour. Future measures could also include a monitoring system where parents can log their children off games. Authorities may even ask companies to limit the amount of in-game purchases made by elementary school players. In South Korea, teenagers under the age of 16 are automatically logged off online games after midnight. In 2013, the country even considered a bill to regulate video games the same was as gambling and drugs. The proposal ignited a huge debate into the pros and cons of video games. It wasn’t implemented.In the West, there are no such restriction, however in 2009 a study in the US found that one out of ten children who play video games are addicted. According to the APA (American Psychiatric Association), more clinical research is needed before placing internet gaming disorder in its own category of formal disorders.After pokemon go was released in the US it took less than a day for it to make more money than every app in the google and apple app stores. But users didn’t have to pay anything to download the app, all the money came from optional purchases. This is known as freemium games. A business model that in the past few years has wiped out the market for paid games. Now game designers have to monetize the game, and one way of doing that is by applying the fundamentals of human psychology to it. The first thing they do is setup a virtual currency so it doesn’t feel like you’re spending real money even if you are. Then the make the exchange rate something weird, so if you want a lollipop booster you pay for it with a gold bar and you get a gold bar with real money. Also apple and google have programmed it in such a way that paying for this is really simple and doesn’t require much effort so you don’t have time to think over what you’re doing and if it’s a good idea Most people who own a phone at some point download a game and play it. This is the biggest category of apps on the app store. They take up 20% of all the apps on the app store, but account for 57% of all downloaded apps. And 92% of Apple’s revenue from the App Store comes from in-app purchases not from paid apps. Game developers have been using new ways to get money from the users. They do this by using “freemium apps”. Apps that are free to download but include an option to pay to unlock different feature, get rid of ads, or level up. The idea behind it is simple. If they lower the price of app to nothing, more people will be inclined to buy it, and therefore get hooked on the game itself.What is dopamine? Dopamine is one of the chemical signals that passes information from one neuron to another one. When it is released in floats into the space between two neurons and and it bumps against receptors for it on the side of them that then send a signal down the receiving down the receiving neuron. It sounds simple but it’s not. The effects of dopamine release depend on what it is the person is doing to create it. All overused drugs, from alcohol to cocaine to heroin, increase dopamine in one way or another. People who are addicted to these drugs describe the feeling as “motivation” or “pleasure”. But scientifically it’s not that. Really what’s happening is dopamine is signaling feedback for rewards. For example if you have learned to associate a lighter with cigarettes, the dopamine increases and responds to the sight of the lighter, because it’s predicting that the person will smoke. This applies to phone games, because obviously one will associate their phone with the game they are addicted to. And that’s why people are non-stop on their phones and get so much pleasure by being on them.I have personally been addicted to a game. Most recently, it was a game called C.A.T.S. in which you build a car thing with weapons and fight against other players. If you win you get a box with better parts, but you have to wait to open them. Surprisingly, this game was not heavily reliant on money. It was very fair and the developers did a good job keeping it good.I have been really addicted to a couple of games, Hay Day, Tsum Tsums, and Clash Royale. All of which I have deleted and redownloaded numerous times. While I’m not proud looking back on how much time I spent playing these games, I am proud of the fact I was able to control myself enough to get rid of them and quit playing them. Using the internet, I searched for nonprofit organizations using the search terms computer gaming addiction help. The search resulted in 928,000 hits and I chose the third outcome. I narrowed the search to computer based addictions which was the third item on the search result. This led me to the non profit organization called Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous (CGAA).The history of CGAA goes back several years. The earliest members met through online forums. While the non profit organization has grown quite considerably since its beginning, it has also shrunk at time. The website for CGAA states that they have “repeatedly experienced firsthand the controversy and problems that plagued other recovery fellowships like AA in their early days” These fellowships had to learn that they must have a single purpose, which is to carry the message of recovery to others. With no affiliation to other organizations, no opinions on outside issues, and anonymity in the press.In 2014 CGAA decided to adopt the Twelve Traditions, seeing the success in AA’s usage of them. They have found that this helped increase new members and less current members have left the CGAA program than before. Those who join and work with the CGAA may find freedom from the addictive tendencies, but they first go through a period of withdrawal. In an article written on the CGAA site, it stated, “We gaming addicts who have abstained completely, suffered some withdrawal symptoms.” The symptoms are different for people, but many of them have found that they have many symptoms in common with each other. They mention that for most people there is a “detox” period of 3-4 where the symptoms are most severe for the individual. They have found that these are the most common symptoms; depression, lack of motivation, loneliness. In years since many members in CGAA have succeeded in shaking their gaming habits. Some of them have even abstained from gaming for years. As a result, many people can think and function better after being off games for some months. The bottom line here is that it takes time for the brain to recover from what excessive game play does to it.The organization meets in many different ways. They have a couple in person meetings where members are encouraged to show up and share stories. They also have a 24/7 hotline number which anyone can use to have a conference call with one of the CGAA associates, which I called but the representative was hesitant to.After some research I have discovered that alcohol addiction is actually quite similar to gaming addiction. The big similarity is that in both cases the addict will use alcohol/video games as their coping mechanism if they’re stressed or just need to relax, they turn to that.Among this the withdrawal symptoms are quite similar to alcohol abuse, nausea, depression, lack of motivation, etc. The reasons for abuse are quite similar to, the addict abuses gaming or alcohol as a means of escape. They don’t want to be in the world right now and the chosen substance releases dopamine and takes them away from earth and into their happy place. The behavioral symptoms between the two are also similar. The Mayo Clinic states that the behavioral symptoms of Alcohol abuse are; aggression, agitation, compulsive behavior, self-destructive behavior, or lack of restraint. While the behavioral symptoms of gaming addiction are as follows; agitation, compulsive behavior, mood swings, tendency to talk about the game, and self-destructive behavior. As you can see these two have a lot in common, but the debate of if Video Game Addiction (VGA) should actually be classified as a mental disorder.The argument is that if the disorder is caused by the game activity itself, or whether it’s to an extent a mixture of other disorders in the user causing VGA. There also hasn’t been sufficient enough research to positively classify it has a mental disorder. Some studies have linked violent video games with increased aggressive behavior, while other research has failed to find evidence backing this up.Yet in May 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) proposed criteria for video game addiction in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Stating that there was insufficient evidence to include it as an official mental disorder. However “Internet Gaming Disorder” was included under a section called “Conditions for Further Study” and there was proposed criteria for it.The APA has written and proposed nine criteria for characterizing VGA, although the APA hasn’t written about the best course of action to take while treating VGA. Support groups have popped up such as CGAA.Currently six countries (China, the Netherlands, South Korea, Canada, the United States, and Australia) have responded to the perceived threat of Online Gaming Addiction. But the treatment options widely vary from country to country.In China the government owns and operates several clinics to treat those suffering from overuse of online games, chatting, and web surfing. Most of the patients in these clinics have been forced to attend by parents or government officials, treatment for them can include various forms of pain and shock therapy. Allegedly in 2009, Deng Sanshan was beaten to death in a correctional facility for video game addiction.While the Netherlands, South Korea, Canada, the United States, and Australia have all taken the same approach of setting up Computer Addiction Services/Clinics complete with therapists and counselors to help the affected shake their gaming addictions.Death by video game addiction is not uncommon, most notably in the US was Ohio teenager Daniel Petric who shot and killed his parents after taking away his copy of Halo 3 in October of 2007. In 2009 he was sentenced to 23 years to life in prison after being found guilty of aggravated murder “I firmly believe that Daniela Petric had no idea at the time he hatched this plot that if he killed his parents they would be dead forever.” basically saying he believes Daniel acted on pure emotion without thinking of the consequences. And may have believed that his parents would respawn again when killed, similar to the characters in Halo 3.Mobile games, they are fun, addictive, entertaining, encapsulating, the list goes on. But this are the silent killers. We need to watch ourselves around these little devils, and use/play them in moderation. The consequences can quite literally be deadly if you don’t. While there is help out there for the few who get too enthralled in this twisted world, quitting does not come easily. “I resented things that happened in the past, people who had done them, myself. I didn’t want to be on this planet anymore, and gaming was the only way I could not be here.” says one former gaming addict from CGAA (Computer Gaming Addiction Anonymous).The toll it leaves on us can be irreversible. Just think, you won’t get this time back later on in life. Spending hours a day leveling up some character won’t matter. Gaming gets in the way of life and can ruin your future. “I wanted to hide the fact that I couldn’t control things, there was little to no control, I played and played and played. Looking back I noticed I gradually lost interest in everything else. I stopped cooking, I completely stopped reading. And for me, that’s crazy as it’s been a part of my life forever.” says the same addict from CGAAImagine yourself 20 years from now, think you will make it big time and be one of the most successful people in the world? Think again, wasting your time now playing some worthless game, instead of focusing on your academics won’t get you very far. No matter how harsh and blunt this sounds, it’s the truth. You can look at any mainstream celebrity, and I guarantee you that when they were your age, they were actively trying to open doors and earn themselves their current/dream job If you were one of those people who thought of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs who are college dropouts, know that they didn’t dropout of college because it was hard. They dropped out because they saw their opportunity coming and they took it. They did not waste their time playing pong, they studied, got good grades, and perserveried until they got what they wanted.Waiting around eating flaming hot cheetos while sitting on the couch playing NBA 2K WILL NOT get you anywhere in life, except on a Weight Watchers subscription. It’s time to turn your life around and start making career options for yourself, and being a professional gamer does not count. What happens when no one likes watching that game you devoted your life to anymore, or you’re not good enough. Opportunities for you don’t show up out of thin air, you make them. I don’t care how cheesy this sounds and how much it sounds like a seminar. But I can’t stress this enough. Life is not like GTA, you can’t simply run from your problems and shoot people you have issues with. It does not work like that. 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