Many of today’s games often promote
narcissism and anti-social behaviours. The worst examples exploit players,
forcing them into vulnerable and uncomfortable positions in order to make them
easier to monetize; harming players’ physical and mental health and creating
resentful, aggressive and toxic online communities.
It seems that lately we’ve seen more and
more high-profile warnings about the negative impact of video games, including Prince Harry’s condemnation
of the popular video game Fortnite.
Many games have in fact adopted dark lessons
learned from the advertising and casino industries.
The most obvious connection between games
and casinos is the adoption of straight-up gambling mechanics such as “loot
boxes,“ “portals,“ and “eggs.“ These are usually in-game items that players can
purchase in exchange for real money, which when opened or activated, give
players a small chance to receive over-powered game items. They are in effect, slot
But many game companies often implement more
complex behavioural conditioning techniques such as “threat generation” in
order to maximize a player’s time in-game. Threat generation often puts the player
in situations such as “unless you log on regularly, your crops will die”, or “you
can be attacked and lose progress when offline”. This type of game is often
easy to spot because they almost always sell a “shield” that allows a player to
sleep normally in return for real money.
Another exploitative technique being used
is “fun pain”. This is the practice of encouraging consumers to spend money by
making them increasingly uncomfortable if they don’t. Often when a player
demonstrates a willingness to pay to avoid discomfort they are confronted with
an even bigger discomfort in a never ending cycle. These games usually try to
sell players “boosts” that help them “just get over the hump.”
Perhaps one of the most invasive exploitation
techniques, especially in online games, is “pay to win.” Pay to win occurs when
one player is able to pay money to gain a competitive advantage over other
With each purchase pay to win empowers one player,
while disempowering the other players. It’s an inverted pyramid – all the
purchases other players make negatively affect every other player. In order to keep
up, a player must not only spend, but outspend the combined effect of all the
other players’ purchases!
Players in a pay to win game are ultimately
far more often disempowered than empowered, and because spending harms everyone
else, it also generates great resentment between players and encourages toxicity
in the gaming community.
Video games also have enormous potential
to be positive social influences.
Look at some of the examples of the
powerful effects games have had on peoples’ lives as captured by Scott Jones in
his podcast Heavily Pixelated.
Can a video game bring people together and
create meaningful social interaction? Can playing games be a healthy
Throughout history, games originally served
as a means to bring people together, acting as a vehicle for social and
physical interaction. In the best cases, such as the Olympics, they provided a
venue for people with different perspectives to come together and share
experiences. This improved social bonding, happiness, and mental health.
For the majority of our existence, we acted
cooperatively to improve our chance of success and then shared the fruits of
our labors with our community.
Video games can encourage this kind of positive
social interaction by promoting interdependence, rewarding interaction and
ensuring accountability among players.
It turns out, this may be best practice
both ethically AND commercially.
Creating healthier online gaming
communities results in better social cohesion, increased player retention and
higher levels of organic user acquisition as satisfied customers tell their
friends about their positive experiences.
At 2Dogs Games, we’re working together with veterans and mental health experts to build Destiny’s Sword, an online game which explores mental health and the long term consequences of conflict.
Destiny’s Sword promises a healthier gaming
experience, cultivating empathy and cooperation as players work together to
manage the mental health of their squads.
We’ve teamed up with some great
organizations to help guide us along the way:
This is a mental health charity. Their mission is “to decrease the stigma,
and increase the support for, mental health in the game enthusiast community
and inside the game industry.”
Alda Communication Training
was founded by renowned actor Alan Alda. Their mission is “to develop the
qualities of authenticity, clarity, and empathy as the foundation of powerful
Wellness serves current and ex-military personnel in Canada. Its mission is
“to ensure consistent and outstanding delivery of services through integrity,
honesty, respect and giving back with a focus on those in uniform and their
families who served and still serve Canada.”