Destiny has been the topic of a fair amount of criticism, both on my blog and YouTube channel, as well as other game review outlets. I have tried to be fair and measured as I’ve called for more content and a better focused identity, and recently said the House of Wolves trailer was exciting but also sad because it proves Bungie has the ability to tell a much better story. Recently I read an article at GamesRadar that walks through why the average playtime of Destiny players is 77 hours. Bungie’s John Hopson explained the research Bungie gathered in testing pre-launch and what went into changing and modifying the game to ensure player behavior that kept coming back for more. Hopson is certainly qualified to talk about player behavior with a Ph.D in behavioral and brain sciences, but does a person’s willingness to play repetitious content for long hours equate lasting enjoyment of a game?
Addiction doesn’t equal enjoyment
I want to be careful when using the word “addiction” as there are very real and besetting addictions with respect to drugs and alcohol. We need to be careful not to dilute the word or equate shopping and gaming addictions with persons who are dealing with real chemical dependencies that often require medicinal assistance. But I do think the word can be used when talking about games because digital entertainment is becoming more and more accessible and terms like “binge watching” exist for a reason. And I also think that drug addictions will serve as a helpful parallel for our discussion, so hang with me. If you’ve ever watched shows like “Intervention” where a person’s drug problem is the focal point of the show you are familiar with behavior that is counter-intuitive and frustrating. They often hate the very drug they are addicted to, and yet they can’t stop using it. Yes, in the moment, the euphoric experience of the drug is enjoyable, but when considered on the whole, they would not say they “enjoy” using drugs. Some drug users may claim different, but for the most part drug addicts wish to be free, and Portugal’s reallocation of government funds that used to go to prosecuting drug users now goes to rehabilitation, and the country has seen a massive decrease in drug use. I think this paints a pretty clear picture that most drug addicts would prefer not to be addicted. I say all this to make it crystal clear that addictive behavior does not equal enjoyment of said behavior. So yes, John Hopson is an expert on behavior, and has used research and player feedback to create a game that is addictive, but that doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable. An average player engagement of 77 hours is all the proof we need that Destiny is an addictive game. That’s over 3 whole days of playing Destiny, a game consistently criticized for having no story or depth of play. So, like drugs, people are addicted but many are not enjoying themselves.
Behavior is one part of the human experience
Now you’re probably wondering how Destiny and Candy Crush are similar because of the title of this post. As I’ve already laid out above behavior is only part of the human experience with the other side being emotional and experiential. Video games that focus primarily on behavior are usually accessible and very repetitious. So you craft a game that anyone can play and always looks and feels basically the same. This works because we like what is familiar and what is fun. Games and activities that are too hard or too dynamic to keep your bearings tend to have a slope of de-engagement as people dislike what they don’t understand and nobody enjoys failing. Quick repetitious success is addictive because it has a sense of movement and reward. Like tiny injections of a drug, you get a small sense of fulfillment, and as the feeling fades, the knowledge that you can do it again and again and again has you continuing to play. Now, ask someone if they really enjoy playing Candy Crush. Similar to a drug addict they will probably talk about how they can’t stop playing even though they don’t really like the game. This is a pretty common theme with Destiny players. They keep coming back for long play sessions, and yet they are continually vocal about how much they hate the game. In fact it seems as if the most hardcore players are the ones voicing their disdain the most as they experience the negative effects in a greater way with poor loot drops and the content never really changing. This is why I’ve said before that long engagement with Destiny doesn’t mean players enjoy it more than other games, because the long engagement is by design. They studied player behavior and psychology to create something that, like Candy Crush, has you coming back every day for the tiny injections of fulfillment from numerous and repetitious activities that are tied to the intentionally slow process of advancing in the game. This sort of game design isn’t just bad for games, it’s bad for gamers.
The ugly side of digital entertainment
This type of research and development is basically the worst side of digital entertainment. It is turning gaming and consumption of digital media into an addictive habit rather than a rewarding and fulfilling hobby. The sad reality is that this type of gaming and game design hurts the value of all games as we over indulge and over play. We can all remember pleading with our parents to have, “Just 5 more minutes”, but this is an entirely different animal. Watch a child get their iPhone or mobile gaming device taken from them and you’ll get a glimpse into how different this problem is. I can speak for myself and say that my level of enjoyment and satisfaction with games, movies, and TV shows increased dramatically the more distance there was between when I was grinding out Destiny for raid gear or slogging through over-monetized leveling paths in Marvel Puzzle Quest. Digital content that is intentionally addictive is the worst side and representation of video games as a whole. This is worse than monetization and microtransactions because it hurts gaming for those who over indulge as the only means of getting value out of said games, but it also hurts the community as it creates a frustrated and ravenous player base. Hopefully the future content releases for Destiny start to curb down the behavioral focus and start giving a more rewarding and less addictive experience. I’ve already said House of Wolves and the new game mode have me very hopeful, and honestly, it’s time for Destiny to become a better game and a trend setter. You’ve got the player base and the high levels of engagement, now deliver a better experience.
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