I’ve just been reading a long article in The Guardian about how games become addictive (‘How technology gets us hooked’ by Adam Alter, at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/28/how-technology-gets-us-hooked). It started me thinking about the social and political dimensions to all this – games, social media, etc, and the ease with which we seem to be losing ourselves in a digital world.
The ease and profundity of addiction to games is, I suspect, connected to the fact that game-playing is behaviour without any extrinsic meaning or value – we do it for the sake of the immediate in-game reinforcement. It’s a rewarding behaviour that almost stands outside our cognitive systems. As a result it is extremely hard to engage on a rational plane. So it’s pretty irresistible. However, addiction – and even more addiction to more developed forms of technology such as VR – is also made a lot easier by the prevailing culture (and economic model) of consumerism, in which the process of consumption (considered as a private, value-free and self-sufficient behaviour) is valued for its own sake, and with it gratuitous pleasure.
That’s not to say that pleasure should be rejected (though any action should also be judged in terms of its ability to deliver the other components of happiness, namely satisfaction and contentment), but in the absence of supervening social or personal values, it will overwhelm all else, and thus reduce the player to a plaything of the game.