At what point do addictive games become sinister?

Prior to christmas I found myself installing Candy Crush on my iPad. Less than a week later I forced myself to delete it, not least of all because of the dawning realisation that I was going to do something which I’d previously found absurd and pay for extra lives. Since then I’ve been thinking about compulsiveness in games and how, if at all, it should be seen as something sinister. I came across an article in Time which discusses how Candy Crush can be so compulsive:

1. It Makes You Wait
2. We’re All Suckers for Sweet Talk
3. You Can Play With One Hand
4. There’s Always More
5. You Don’t Have to Pay – but if You Want to, It’s Easy
6. It Taps Into Our Inner Child
7. It’s Social
8. It’s an Escape
9.  It Grows on You

To be clear, I’m not attacking games per se. I love games. I don’t play as much as I used to, partly due to demands on my time and partly due to the fact I’m one of those people who never upgraded from the ones I was playing in my early 20s (things like Civ 2, Red Alert and Age of Empires on PC & the Nintendo Gamecube). But why are things like fixed odds betting terminals widely seen as sinister but compulsive video games not? Am I projecting my views about how these are regarded? Or is it the money involved in the former which poses the problem?

There’s a term I took from a Mark Fisher talk a few years ago, perhaps entirely out of context, which always comes to mind when I think about these sorts of issues: electro-libidinal parasites. I’m grimly fascinated by the fact there are people who, in a manner of speaking, seek to engineer ever more virulent electro-libidinal parasites. I’d love to know more about how, if at all, the designers of games like Candy Crush talk about ‘compulsiveness’ as a goal. Is this an express intention in the design of games? How is it understood in moral terms? Is this a specialism for which particular designers are known? Could this develop into a specialism if not? There’s the plot of a social science fiction novel brewing in the back of my mind about a 21st century game design equivalent to Disney’s ‘imagineering’. Perhaps next year I should finally get round to doing nanowrimo.

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