To many, gaming is a past time that has become synonymous with addiction. Whether its your partner rolling their eyes at your Titanfall all nighters, or your parents irrationally equating the medium to some kind of deranged cult, video games certainly have a reputation as an all consuming hobby. Yet while a huge amount of gamers will happily sink thirty hours into GTA or play thousands of matches of FIFA and COD, these engulfing titles are nothing compared to the games that truly inspire obsession.
In January this year, Activision Blizzard announced that World Of Warcraft had a staggering 100 million individual user accounts – meaning that the land of Azeroth is home to almost double the population of England. If that wasn’t shocking enough, this multitude of players had somehow managed to amass 5.93 million years worth of game time by 2011. To put that in perspective – that means that in just seven years, WOW players had spent enough hours in Azeroth to match the entirety of human existence.
Maybe your parents were right.
So what is it about massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) that cause players to invest such a staggering amount of time in their virtual worlds? The answer is simple – they make you work. While games are almost unanimously associated with play, the ironic reality is that MMOs actually have far more in common with the real life workplace that we all dread.
But what is it about this virtual work that makes it so addictive? Well to put it simply, your favourite MMO offers an (almost) never ending amount of tasks that yield immediate and visible results. Humans need productive and challenging work, tasks set for them which they can complete and progress through with clear results and context– and games like WOW are ripe with every type of work that we unknowingly crave. People love to feel like they have achieved things, and the constant stream of quests waiting to be ticked off your list is an intoxicating proposition that few can resist.
In fact, completing these tasks often feels so satisfying, that before you know it, playing that Dark Elf in WOW has become a second job. After a long day at the office, you ‘ll find yourself donning that cape and wizard hat time and time again. Soon you’re raiding and grinding until the early hours of the morning, deliriously chasing the high of increasingly appealing virtual rewards like the MMO junkie you are. Why? Because the sad truth is that MMOs will likely give you work more satisfying and challenging than anything your day job can offer.
The reason MMOs are so perfectly addictive is because people are paid a lot of money to determine what will motivate you the most. To many, the idea of people making games often conjures up images of tech and coding, but its easy to forget how intertwined psychology is in every facet of a game’s design. In the early days of gaming the psychological role of the medium was fairly simple – make the game engaging enough to keep players pumping coins into the arcade. While that mentality is still very much alive in free to play titles, creating an online world consistently engaging enough for players to inhabit for years is another matter entirely.
This is what makes World Of Warcraft such an impressive achievment: The game designers behind WOW haven’t just created an amazingly perfect game, they have also arguably laid the blueprint for the world’s most productive workplace. Before you roll your eyes and accuse us of being overdramatic, think about it for a second. This team of people have managed to create a world so compelling, that Azeroth’s inhabitants have equaled the lifespan of the human race in just seven years. Now all of the virtual world’s inhabitants are hopelessly addicted to its constant source of busywork and productivity – how many companies can honestly say that about the work they give to their employees?
We are always told that video games hinder productivity, but the reality is that within their designs is the secret to making people truly engage with their work. American physics teacher Shawn Young has recognised this value in games, and decided to turn his classes into a massively multiplayer role playing game. His creation is called ‘Classcraft’, a piece of software that turns any subject into a role-playing game with minimal distruption to the syllabus. Classcraft lets students create a virtual avatar and divide into teams, and during each lesson they earn XP for good behaviour, earning them real life perks like the ability ‘hunting’- which lets them eat in class.
Negative behaviour could earn them less time in exams or even detention. The point is, students have to work together as a team, and now that they are given clear and immediate visual rewards and action, Classcraft participating schools have seen student engagement and productivity rise dramatically.
While it is unrealistic to expect workplaces to adopt a Classcraft equivalent en-mass, even slight gamification of work related activities and assignments would have a huge effect on people’s workplace productivity. Take Twitter for example, Twitter is a cleverly disguised massively multiplayer online game where you play a character that is loosely based upon yourself. You push this persona to gain more followers – and are greeted with numerical rewards based on your tweet’s wit, timing or poignancy – and it seems like people are pretty into Twitter.
Gaming is the only entertainment medium around that requires direct feedback and input from the user, and in turn the only medium that truly relies on getting inside the user’s head. Many game designers may be unnamed and unappreciated now, but as time goes on, you can bet that these creators will be using their knowledge of human psychology to help shape the structure of our society.
People are addicted to WOW because it functions how an ideal workplace should be, but there really isn’t any reason why office work can’t be presented in an equally appealing manor. If enough people learn from what gaming tells us about the human brain, maybe one day our society will get to a place where people enjoy their work as much as they enjoy their games.