Augmentology"...is a concise manual of reality for our digital age."

Mark Hancock,_Augmentology: Interfaccia Tra Due Mondi_

[Sponsored by The Ars Virtua Foundation/CADRE Laboratory for New Media]

Addiction [as defined psychologically] is diagnosed when displays of compulsive behaviours are observed in any given subject. These dependencies are widely perceived as detrimental. It is assumed that a deregulation of a person’s operational actions occurs when they are classified as dependent and manifesting traits that indicate an Addictive Personality Disorder. Addictive tendencies are viewed as maladaptive and indicate a subject’s inability to balance the majority of their everyday activities along a socioscientific axis. Is Addiction an inappropriate psychological construct to apply to the majority of Synthetics [individuals participating in synthetic environments] and their networked interactions?

Media channels have a tendency to label sustained engagement within synthetic environments in terms of this dependency paradigm. These reports also act to _monsterise_ Synthetics and their online participation via a condemnation of activity that results in parallel behavioural markers of Addiction. This type of _Gamer Danger_ response occurs when extreme cases of MMOE participation – and any negative consequences – are generalised as representational. These cases are often referred to as potential examples of prescriptive, as opposed to skewed, behaviour. This attempt to cast extreme synthetic interaction as the norm *encourages* the creation of fear-based assessments rather than alternative examinations.

A recent study conducted by Dr. John Charlton [University of Bolton, England] and Ian Danforth [Whitman College, Washington] allegedly concluded a correlation between MMORPG addiction and Asperger’s Syndrome. On further querying, it was found that the study *suggested* that MMO games may be addictive for gamers displaying high Aspergian traits. This fear-filtered media coverage may be driven by a need to confirm the importance of the biological-dictated, Darwin-centric “1st Life” as concretely preferential in an evolutionary sense. That is, that flesh-based/ego-mediated phenomenology is given preference over synthetic states in order to maintain acceptable definitions of _Reality_. These definitions are further ratified via media focus on this type of adverse addictive potentiality, rather than any positive characteristics enhanced by engagement within synthetic environs.



27 Comments to “_Gamer Danger_: Addiction vs Synthetic Function”

  1. rubaiyat says:

    I have a couple of quick thoughts with respect to the concept of addiction and MMO’s. The first relates to my opinion that the word is far too overused and tired, it is in effect becoming meaningless in any context. It appears that far too often the label is simply applied without any real thought. If you play you must be addicted, but not like you are addicted to driving (which is meaningless).

    The second thought is that by applying the label to MMO activity there seems to be an implicit value judgement. For example no one would complain about an addiction to learning or reading, and in fact the phrase is rarely if ever uttered.

    I wonder how one can be “addicted” to reality as well.

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  3. I’m gonna throw a curve ball here.

    Like so much else in the world, tech-mediated realities rely heavily on the current cheap-energy infrastructure, and specifically cheap oil. Try to imagine manufacturing/distributing computers in an era when the flow of oil can’t be counted on. Or there’s not any oil at all for that matter. It may not be so far into the future at this point.

    The underlying addiction is non-sustainable cheap energy. Synthetic worlds are just a particularly fascinating symptom of this fundamental disconnect from reality.

    I wonder how many years we have left before the virtualities of the tech era come crashing down around us.

    And if you think the addiction is bad, prepare for a gruesome withdrawal.

    Time to learn some farming. Or better yet, get working on your hunting and gathering skills.

  4. A somewhat related thought I’ll share. In my online travels reading up on “peak oil” I’ve come across some interesting folks. Here’s the blog of a UNIX admin who’s also a “homesteader”, or in his own words:

    “One benefit of having the persistent sense that my civilization was on the verge of collapse is that I know that my wife and I can feed, clothe and house our family if my insanely abstract and specialized job goes away.”

    http://refugiumcatholici.blogspot.com/

    [disclaimer: I'm an atheist, proceed with caution]

  5. Hey everyone.

    Hmmm..it is a good thing I am not addicted to reality ;-)

    The reason that MMOs are blamed as being addictive is it is associated with play and recreation. This is why video games and chat worlds are seen as addictive as food and drugs – since they both engage the capacity for pleasure and recreation.

    Driving can also be seen as an “addiction” and certainly the Ancient Greeks warned against those who would be addicted to reading.

    I am trying to recall the name of this Australian theorist I heard about yesterday who also addressed games and addiction..Mez, might you know who this is? First name begins with H…I wish I could recall it.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

  6. mez says:

    Rubaiyat: Agreed re the increasingly implicit meaningless of the _Addiction_ term. Would you recommend [or see as relevant] assessing a subject’s ability to integrate perceived detrimental behaviour into their overall life_pattern [ie holistically]? And great point re: value judgments and MMO behaviour/standards: if a geophysically defined [ie irl - in real life] sportsperson spends upwards of 100 hours a week training, do we accuse them of addiction or rather, label them as focused and displaying diligence>heightened attention?

    I’m incredibly curious to see if this orientation towards labelling MMOers as potential addicts [by both the mainstream media at large and health professionals] alters as gaming practices become further economically embedded? For instance when “Pro-Gamers” and the competition associated becomes increasingly socioeconomically-entrenched?

  7. mez says:

    Nino> *catches ur comment curve ball, scribbles a reply on it + lobs it back 2 u;)*…..

    That’s a really interesting point regarding tech-mediated _Realities_ being reliant on oil and their manifestation as symptomatic of a more fundamental unsustainable addiction.

    The [albeit questionable in some sectors] rise of the Green Energy Movement is also interesting. Have you seen green gadgetry?

    You also seem to be pointing towards concepts similar to Survivalism with your link to the _Refuge for Catholics_ site. Oddly enough, Survivalism as a concept has various similarities with the underpinnings of many Synthetic Environments, MMOGs in particular. Survivalist plans project a future hypothetical state that is largely dependent on each individuals ability to imagine this end-point of social catastrophe. These apocalyptic imaginings create a “synthetic survival space/place” that prompts concrete actions/goal-directed sets [preparing appropriate shelters, resources, etc] in the hope of achieving a preset conclusion [ie survival] with various progressive obstacles [puzzles?] that must be solved?

  8. Sal Randolph says:

    re: augmented realities – let’s definitely add books to the list. equally synthetic, equally immersive equally addictive.

    as for myself, all the farming I do is in wow (killing ethereals, say, for their zaxxis insignias, or morag tinkerers for their marks of sargeras), and when I see the word “civilization” I think fondly of my tiny screen armies – usually I’m catherine the great.

    and as jer suggested, most of us find rl pretty ‘addicting as well’

    choosing among my addictions would be like choosing among my children, though in fact I have none of the latter, and many of the former.

  9. This weblink is worth checking out as it measures the level of “Addiction” in Everquest:
    http://www.nickyee.com/eqt/addiction.html

    I am still trying to remember the name of the Australian theorist (lives in Sidney) who wrote about cyberaddiction within the framework of Sherry Turkle.

    My boss has the book in her office but she will be out of the office all the week and I do not have a key to open up her office and have a peak of the book’s title…sigh!

  10. Hopping in this time with a comment on terminology.

    “Synthetics” is an interesting word-choice to describe people participating in mediated realities. Maybe a more precise term though would be Syntheticists or Synthetologists or Synthaesthetes or something along those lines since the people themselves aren’t actually synthetic.

    Which spurs another thought.

    Synthetics are analogous to “derivatives”, in the finance-world sense, in that they are both divorced from real-world production (social production on the one hand, and economic production on the other). Abstract, hard for pay-persons to conceptualize, but, apparently, enriching while they last.

  11. [that last note should read "lay-persons" not "pay-persons" thought it's a good typodian slip]

  12. mez says:

    Hi Jer, Sal, Nino [+ all].

    Is Mark Toh the Oz Theorist you’re referencing Jer? His research covers gamer self-esteem as well as addiction.

    Sal, we can definitely add books to the addiction list. Jer’s point regarding being “real-life addicted” is one I’m going to take up in this friday’s entry with the construction of a _Reality Spectrum_ and discussing the _Geo-Specificity Complex_. Stay tuned.

    Nino I’m curious regarding your pinpointing a more inclusive term for synthetic environment participants. The term _Synthetics_ [or Synths for short] incorporates the projected consciousness-extension – experienced through avatar employment – that occurs in these environments, as well as the physical body of the gamer/interactor. The term isn’t fixed, however; Synthetologists has a nice ring to it.

    Typodian ftw!
    :)

  13. Hey Mez,
    I found the name and article…

    “Diagnosing the Computer User” by Norie Neumark: http://www.uq.edu.au/emsah/mia/issues/mia69.html

    She taught in Sydney at one point…you can get the book in print but I could not find the article online via a google search yet.

    Cheerz,
    Jer

  14. mez says:

    Ah righto Jer. I know Norie, she teaches at University of Technology Sydney now. She’s also a variety of Synth:

    Two events April 6 and 7: Maria, Norie and Malcolm (aka Misconstrue Masala, Misdemeanor Maximus and Rubix Tomorrow) collected breath on Second Life in April 2008. We were joined by Nonnatus Korhonen, Ashton Leisen, Pling and Plang and many others. Thank-you to all our contributors and participants, we definitely collected lots of breath.. see the mulitplying bottles of breath below. Bottles thanks to Rubix Tomorrow and different coloured breath thanks to Nonnatus Korhonen.”

  15. Ok, I figured you would know Norie.
    It is kewl that Norie is also in SL.
    You should invite Norie and palz to take part in Augmentology…Maybe Norie will comment on this article? The book “Art and Cyberculture” that her addiction article is in is worth getting. It sounds like this topic has been discussed since at least 1993 :-)

    Is that Pling and Plang from Turbulence mentioned above?

  16. mez says:

    Hey again Jer,

    Yup have already notified Norie. Hopefully she’ll come say hello:)

    + I’m not sure re: Pling & Plang. Perhaps others can answer that?

  17. Hey Mez,

    Pling Ping is Jo-Ann Greene’s (Turblence.org) avatar in SL.

    It will be interesting to read Norie’s commentary on your addiction article if she pops by.

    Maybe you can ask Sherry Turkle herself to take part? She is one of the original writers on the subject which could be called “Augmentology” now.

    Cheers,
    Jer

  18. Ashendar says:

    I agree with rubaiyat that “addiction” is an overused term. I suspect it is increasing used as a rhetorical device to criticise a particular activity or trend, generally driven by given values.

    If you follow the news for a period of time you are bound to come along articles claiming that society or a large demographic group is “addicted to debt”, “addicted to food”, “addicted to oil”, “addicted to technology”, “addicted to the pokies”, “addicted to smut”, and even polar bear Knut is “addicted to fame”. Unfortunately such sweeping generalisations obscure the real issues such of those minorities that suffer addiction and require help, and the complex interactions and factors that give rise to such addictions. For instance, are we really “addicted to oil”, or is it that demand has simply risen strongly with millions of people being lifted out of poverty in China and India (a good thing), and/or is it that oil is simply the cheapest form of energy at present, and we will simply shift to more expensive forms of transportation and energy (e.g. electric cars, nuclear, green energy) as oil prices rise?

    In respect of new media such as persistent online worlds and other digital entertainment, I feel that “addicted” is often used as a fallback criticism given a fear of new things and/or change. After all, in a defence of video games the Economist noted that rock and roll was initially described as “an evil influence on the youth of our country”, while “novels were once considered too low-brow for university literature courses”, and “waltz music and dancing were condemned in the 19th century; all that twirling was thought to be “intoxicating” and “depraved”.” Such general criticisms reflect generational divides which ultimately fade as the older generation passes on. It seems that some addictions (e.g. music, religion) are just more socially acceptable than others.

    That is not to say that there are people who have a genuine addiction to online worlds that may lead to harm to themselves (including, possibly, death, and family and friends. However, as the original post notes, there is research that suggests that inherent physical factors may explain propensity towards addiction, with addiction even possibly having genetic origins, meaning that the problem lies with the person rather than the technology or object. Having said that, it would be interesting to know if there are any possible physical links between elements of online worlds (i.e. visuals, sounds, rewards, social interaction) and addiction. For instance, there is some research that suggests that new forms of technology may be addictive, while the technological features of electronic gaming machines may contribute to gambling addiction, at least in some people.

  19. I’m not sure I see the use of having a term that encompasses both the real person and their virtual projections.

    Since automobiles and cheap-oil addiction have been a recurring theme on this page, another analogy come to mind:

    Race-car drivers and their cars.

    Nobody seems to confuse the driver for the car.

    Why the need in this context?

  20. Didn’t Merleau-Ponty confuse the driver with the car? ;-)

    As for terms, they are just that… “terms”.

    Augmentology is catchy though. I like the way this word “packages” this whole project.

    Any terms used to describe the holistic experience of virtual worlds and their properties is ultimately superficial but sometimes it is fun to spin off a bunch of kewl sounding words…It also helps to have a really nice logo ;-)

  21. mez says:

    Howdy again Nino, Jer, all.

    Nino: the next Augmentology entry [_Reality Mixing + the Geospecificity Complex_] discusses issues that you may find provocative and/or relevant, so I might hold off on commenting on your point until I post that tomorrow?

    Jer: I don’t in the least consider the description/assessment of synthetic environments as superficial. Augmentology is an attempt to formulate emergent principles/theories/structures that adequately reflect the experiential nature [and validity] of such states. I see it as of similar importance to the formation of any major discipline, including many other “-ologies” [including Psychology and Sociology]. It surprises me that you consider an attempt to do as “ultimately superficial”.

    And a purdy logo does help:)

  22. Hey Mez,

    I should clarify here. I do not mean to say that the study of Augmentology is “superficial” – far from it…it is a necessary discipline in the 21st century.

    What I was referring to was with regards to Nino’s comment “I’m not sure I see the use of having a term that encompasses both the real person and their virtual projections.” Maybe I mis-read what she said but terms in themselves have limited uses when reduced to simply that, terminology so maybe that was why Nino did not see the use in having such a term. Was Nino referring to some other term or word?

    The overall work and what you are doing here is nowhere near superficial but the search for a useful term – in the light of such a transformative experience – ultimately is…well, in my opinion anyway.

  23. What I am trying to say is that this Augmentology project is (hopefully) not merely trying to bury this kind of multidisciplinary experience under some “useful” terminology. I think what you are trying to do is turn this kind of experience into a valid academic discipline which is essential.

  24. mez says:

    Jer: *phew*:) Thanks for clarifying.

    Oh and Nino is a guy [though they may not be concerned re: biological labelling, you never know;)]

    Ash: Brilliant comment! [All: Meet Ashendar, an Officer in my World of Warcraft Guild _Affinity_. Ash is a great guy and an accomplished Synth. Without Ash's amazing tanking ability our guild would be up Synth Creek without a paddle;)].

  25. Hey Mez,

    Any Augmentologist would naturally aspire to be a (s)he ;-)

    Nino, I apologize for the gender bending.

    Heheheheh “Up Synth Creek”…I will have to remember that one.

    So if we are “Synths” who becomes the “synth module” or the ultimate “synthesizer”?

    Welcome to this site, Ash.

  26. mez says:

    Q: Who becomes the ultimate “synthesizer”?

    A: The Daleks, Cylons or HAL 9000. Obviously.
    ;)

    In all seriousness, the participants do [or should]. In this versionalised state there’s no grand virtual auteur/entity pulling the validity strings. It’s an aggregational attempt at discipline formation.

  27. I saw those entities as more like “Vocoders”…but anyway… ;-)

    I am glad that you do not assign the Synthesizer role to one’s biological “RL” self.

    Usually us flesh-bags get the flack for being the puppetmasters (or puppetmistresses) of our own destiny…sigh!

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