Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Instant Gratification. As the economy gets ever better at satisfying our immediate, self-serving needs, who is minding the future? By Paul Roberts

A half-hour east of Seattle, not far from the headquarters of Microsoft, Amazon, and other icons of the digital revolution, reSTART, a rehab center for Internet addicts, reveals some of the downsides of that revolution. Most of the clients here are trying to quit online gaming, an obsession that has turned their careers, relationships, and health to shambles. For the outsider, the addiction can be incomprehensible. But listening to the patients’ stories, the appeal comes sharply into focus. In a living room overlooking the lawn, 29-year-old Brett Walker talks about his time in World of Warcraft, a popular online role-playing game in which participants become warriors in a steampunk medieval world. For four years, even as his real life collapsed, Walker enjoyed a near-perfect online existence, with unlimited power and status akin to that of a Mafia boss crossed with a rock star. “I could do whatever I wanted, go where I wanted,” Walker tells me with a mixture of pride and self-mockery. “The world was my oyster.”
Walker appreciates the irony. His endless hours as an online superhero left him physically weak, financially destitute, and so socially isolated he could barely hold a face-to-face conversation. There may also have been deeper effects. Studies suggest that heavy online gaming alters brain structures involved in decision making and self-control, much as drug and alcohol use do. Emotional development can be delayed or derailed, leaving the player with a sense of self that is incomplete, fragile, and socially disengaged—more id than superego. Or as Hilarie Cash, reSTART cofounder and an expert in online addiction, tells me, “We end up being controlled by our impulses.”
Which, for gaming addicts, means being even more susceptible to the complex charms of the online world. Gaming companies want to keep players playing as long as possible—the more you play, the more likely you’ll upgrade to the next version. To this end, game designers have created sophisticated data feedback systems that keep players on an upgrade treadmill. As Walker and his peers battle their way through their virtual worlds, the data they generate are captured and used to make subsequent game iterations even more “immersive,” which means players play more, and generate still more data, which inform even more immersive iterations, and so on. World of Warcraft releases periodic patches featuring new weapons and skills that players must have if they want to keep their godlike powers, which they always do. The result is a perpetual-motion machine, driven by companies’ hunger for revenues, but also by players’ insatiable appetite for self-aggrandizement. Until the day he quit, Walker never once declined the chance to “level up,” but instead consumed each new increment of power as soon as it was offered—even as it sapped his power in real life.
Read More at: http://theamericanscholar.org/instant-gratification/#.VCB845RdWEw

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