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BBC games report questions compulsive play 'tricks'

Tonight's Panorama highlights "dangerous" games including CoD, WoW

More information has been released about tonight's controversial BBC documentary on the possible negative side-effects of intensive gaming.

A Panorama investigation entitled ' Addicted to games?' tackles that question by speaking to a number of players, relatives and experts.

Extracts from the programme, released to the Press Association, reveal that it will depict a Nottingham teenager claiming of Call of Duty that "I wouldn't move from my bed. My controller would be at my side table, I would turn it on, play, and then I would realise it was about three o'clock in the afternoon."

Adrian Hon, COO of SixToStart, argues in the show that game designers should be more cautious around the inclusion of compulsive mechanics. "I think people don't necessarily understand how powerful some game mechanics can be.

"It's one thing to think 'okay, I'm playing too much,' but it's another to just stop playing, because some games are designed in a manner that you just don't want to leave."

Hon references 1950s experiments on rodents and operant conditioning, claiming that some games leverage this by offering many and varied rewards to players. "I think the industry needs to be thinking about this a lot more. Because games are becoming so much more widespread and because they're becoming so much more powerful."

Hon expounds his theory further, and offers more qualification, in this Telegraph piece.

Also contributing is Nottingham Trent University's Professor Mark Griffiths, who argues for more research in order to better ascertain whether addictive behaviour stems from the games themselves or only from certain players.

"It's a neat little psychological trick and for most people this will not be something that's bad, but if you've got... that vulnerability or susceptibility to addiction that will keep you in the game probably far in excess of what the normal person would do."

"The good news is that for the vast majority of people videogames is something that is very positive in their lives. But we have to take on board that there is a growing literature that suggests that for a small but significant minority, things like gaming can be potentially problematic."

Being denied access to World of Warcraft turned a 19-year-old violent, claims Panorama.

Last week, UKIE offered a pre-emptive denouncement of feared claims that games are broadly addictive. UKIE boss Michael Rawlinson is also due to appear in the Panorama investigation.

TIGA has offered comment too, although admits to not yet seeing the show. Offered boss Richard Wilson, "There is a world of difference between people who claim, in the colloquial non medical sense, that they are addicted to games, music, football or a TV programme and people who are clinically addicted, in scientific parlance, to drugs or alcohol."

"TIGA would welcome additional independent research in to this topic and takes this issue very seriously. As with all hobbies we advocate that video games are played in moderation, with gamers taking regular breaks. Parents and retailers should also ensure that children only play games that are age appropriate.

'Addicted to games?' happens to coincide with the launch of the latest World of Warcraft expansion - a game which is featured in the investigation.

In a clip released from the show, 19-year-old Chris Dando claims that "It brought you into another world. You'd be what you wanted to be. It was like 'no, I've got to stay at home, I've got to do this."

At one point, his mother cut off his internet connection due to fears that he was playing World of Warcraft for, the documentary claims, up to 20 hours a day. "The response was just an outpouring of violence. He just went beserk.

"That was the point where we really started to understand, from a parental point of view, 'gosh, this is dangerous, this is a dangerous tool in our house.'"

Adds the teenager, "I put on a boot and I kicked a hole in my sister's door. I smashed anything I could see." The clip does not question whether forcibly interrupting a teenage boy from other leisure pursuits might inspire a similar reaction. has seen an advance copy of the documentary and questioned its producer on issues of balance. A full report is available here.

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Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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