Addiction is when something (a game, activity, substance, etc) becomes a necessary and possibly harmful part of a person's life. Specifically when applied to games, addiction often manifests itself as an overwhelming desire to continue gameplay, to the detriment of other parts of ones life. Examples could be staying up to the point of exhaustion to continue playing or spending uncharacteristically large amounts of money on a game. Designers must keep the perils of addiction in mind when developing new game mechanics. There is a fine line between engaging the player and addicting them, and a designer must decide how to handle this disparity.
Addiction in games can feel like literal entrapment
In Candy Crush Saga, players perform simple 'match 3' style tasks in a manner similar to Bejewled. The game is simple, fun, and long, with slow paced but short gameplay segments. Candy Crush is not necessarily an addicting game, depending on the player, but there are several factors that lead to it being more likely to drive addictive tendencies. As Joshua Topolsky points out in an interview with NBC, there are a few main factors that contribute to this. * Slow and Steady Pace: The game is casual in nature, and moves along at a pace that's very easy to get into a rhythm with. * Engrossing Simplicity: The game is simple in concept, but deep in strategy, with an 'easy to learn, hard to master' nature to the gameplay. * The 'Freemium' Model: The game is free to begin playing, but it quickly becomes apparent that smaller, micro-payments (around $1.00) may be needed to complete the game. These small purchases add up quickly, but don't register in the player's mind near as heavily as larger payments. * The Right Level of Difficulty: The game uses many of the concepts from the Lens of Competence to provide a very gentle but still engaging difficultly curve, helping players feel like the next level is just within reach.
When designing games, it is extremely important to consider how much impact the game will have on it's players. If it is too engaging or too reinforcing, it may become something that can cause players to become addicted.
Think about the circumstances that surround the player's who will play this game - will they be playing a little bit every day? A lot, but in short bursts? Maybe on their phone during down time throughout the day? Whatever the planned interaction space, ensure that there are sufficient consideration made to help players disengage at natural points. This allows them to remain fully engaged when necessary, but allows them to gently leave the interaction if necessary or when is healthy.
Purpose of Engagement
Take time to examine all of the various facets of the interactions that are designed and look for the underlying reasons why they exist. Evaluate the benefit to the players, as well as they potentials for abuse, and how the game's mechanics might encourage players to over-engage. By remaining mindful and responsible, designers can make sure that their player's best interests are the driving factor.
There are a growing number of studies about addiction in games, as it becomes a more and more prevalent issue.
The lens is becoming a standard and continuously studied.