See, we can be sensationalist too. This is called "yellow journalism
". And while the inclusion of 'experts' in this 'study' rebukes -- in language -- our claim this Four Corners piece
is yellow journalism, it's the sensationalist claims behind all the cited examples of addiction and developer exploitation of 'gamers' here that we have an issue with.
This is done so without acknowledging things like premium pricing over free to play, the warnings that come with that, player-intent or the level of intended investment in the first place (read: knowing full well you're spending real-world money on cosmetics and the like).
It's all disappointingly framed, to say the least.
In the article proper, Four Corners says one Kat McDonald "lost track" of how much money she was spending, glossing well and truly over the very loud acceptance of spending in the first place in her statement:
“I had thought that it was around the $2,500 mark. I wasn’t sure how to work out an itemised account, because on your bank account, it just says Apple.
“I sat down with a notepad and pen and wrote out every single transaction and added it up to $4,000.”
While it is alarming Kat didn't realise just how much she spent, the fact she "thought" it was over $2K is as clear an acknowledgement on her part that she was spending not just real-world money, but a significant amount of real-world money on a non-premium product that would, by law in Australia, reveal the game/app features in-app purchases.
This is more commonly known as "buyer beware".
Problematically for this piece is the nature of its intent. In Kat's case, Four Corners is looking to lay blame on games for hiding these in-app purchases behind psychological design carrots; baited rewards that give the illusion of progression. And in her instance, it's the mobile app game "Legend of the Phoenix
". However, Four Corners then follows up that example with one from Rob Leming, whose completionist attitude towards a game released in 2007 is used as another example of addiction, and in concert with Kat's experience, despite neither having anything to do with one another:
“I would wake up, I would do essentially the basics. Borderline get dressed if I had to, put a bit of food in my belly. Definitely make a coffee, usually a strong one. And sit down and start playing,” he said.
“At that point on, everything in the day revolved around the game.”
He sank deep into grinding as he played for hours on end.
“I spent days jumping around rooftops in some ancient land collecting feathers, and I’m sitting here now and I’m going, ‘Huh? What for?’ Maybe they gave my character a new sword or something, but the game didn’t depend on it. It’s not Assassin’s Creed Fight For Feathers.
“[These games] have a lot of busy work built into them that if you were to actually look back at them you start to wonder, ‘Why does this even exist?’”
There's a lot to unpack here. This section of the article rests under the subhead of "Pay to Win", which focuses on grinding. But Assassin's Creed
's feather collection side-'quest' (activity, really) has no ties in any way, shape or form to 'winning' anything other than a Trophy or an Achievement, and you certainly can't pay to magically have all the feathers collected. These were included in the game originally as a means to show off its groundbreaking parkour gameplay, and its level design that promoted a new style of movement through a game-world. It was also released 14 years ago.
Disappointingly, Assassin's Creed here is also tagged alongside World of Warcraft
-- a game that readily does feature grinding, but also no pay-to-win model. And these games are thrown under the bus in the article with no grounding whatsoever in what you actually do in them, or what the purpose of playing them is for. Both are also premium products.
We also finally meet Nae Jackson who has been "gaming since she was a child". Nae's problem is she was caught up in a guild on a quest in the game Rift
, to complete a raid. Someone playing Rift and who has been playing most of their lives will know what they're in for in an MMORPG like that. Again, what's being sold here in the article is the idea that games are being designed to trick players into time and monetary investment, but the level of pick and choose, and anecdotal 'evidence' to back up these haphazard claims riddled throughout, is as misleading as I've read in over 20 years as a games journalist.
For example, this excerpt featuring Legend of the Phoenix player, Kat, is beyond clear in its intent to suggest there's a level of indoctrination buried within the social aspect of 'gaming' ('gaming' used broadly here in tone with Four Corners' language):
“I was definitely identified by the guild, because of my regular gameplay and the fact that I had increased so much power and that was by spending money,” she said.
Her husband Anthony McDonald understands why the guild had such a powerful influence on her.
Kat's husband Anthony McDonald says gaming should be fun, not a tool to exploit people who aren't able to stop.
“There was a bit of a community sense and an obligation almost that she had to maintain and help and support her guild pushing forward. And it was around that time that she spent a lot more time, and I’m assuming a bit more money, doing that,” he said.
Dr King said guilds were a powerful way to keep players online.
Four Corners will run this as a report on the ABC tonight from 8pm, and while we know the representation of games is going to be a cringe to watch based off the language and misdirection leveled throughout this article, we implore you watch and then offer constructive feedback. This is a ridiculous time to be throwing gaming under any bus, let alone one being driven by unlicensed bus operators.
I can probably best highlight the nature of this piece with this little nugget featuring psychiatrist Kim Le:
“I have had paediatricians refer children to me who have been soiling themselves … the child will come to my office, I’ll ask them, ‘What are you doing when you are soiling yourself?’ They’ll tell me they are playing a video game and they can’t stop.”
The alarm bells here are loud -- there's zero mention in this addition to the article of proper parental guidance when it comes to screen-time and game-time management with kids. I have a nine-year-old who, naturally, has more access to games than 99% of other children his age in the country due to the nature of my job, but managing his screen-time and game-time across myriad moving image options is my prerogative. If I let him go, he would 100% play games all the time -- that's the nature of most kids. To ignore parental obligation here in this article is, frankly, dangerous. Especially for the misinformed, for whom this piece is clearly written.
It also skirts on inflammatory topics in games, like loot boxes, which have admittedly been a hot topic for gamers and non-informed gamers for a while. Here though, their inclusion is contextually lost and, honestly, useless. Another jigsaw piece from a different jigsaw box...
The games industry defends loot boxes, saying they’re no different to a Kinder Surprise.
“I don’t think they’re similar to gambling. With the loot box, you are investing money to get something back. You’ll always get something back,” Mr Curry said.
“Now, whether it’s something you really wanted or it’s something that’s less than what you wanted, it’s still something you can play in your game.”
Dr Sauer rejects this comparison.
“I think when somebody buys a Kinder Surprise, by and large, they know what they’re getting … some chocolate and they’re getting a little plastic toy,” he said.
“In loot boxes … you don’t buy the game for the reward mechanism but the reward mechanism is there. You purchase access to this … and you get a random outcome, that might be very valuable or not at all valuable.”
Thank you to Ron Curry (head of IGEA
) for involving himself here, though it's clear his points have been used entirely out of context. But I've left you with the above as an example of the misleading nature of this feature. If loot boxes exist in a game, then it's your choice to buy them. They're an impulse item. But then so is a Kinder Surprise. If you visit a shop, which is pretty much the only way you're going to be exposed to the option to purchase a Kinder Surprise, no one should be surprised
at you buying it, or in what you get out of it. The same can be said of loot boxes.
Unfortunately there's no real delineation of the points mashed together here to make a case for gaming 'addiction'. Or for how developers and publishers utilise things like loot boxes to maximise profits in any academic form. Instead what we get is something as reaching as suggesting the Earth is flat because you've never seen it yourself from space, despite all evidence to support that it is, actually, not flat.
I appreciate the hopeful intent of the report, but the way in which the authors and producers have framed this is embarrassing and frustrating all at once.
I honestly thought gaming and alarmist views like this were largely behind us, but that is apparently not the case.