Friday, March 30, 2012

Books, television, gaming and addiction

Every notice you've become addicted to a story (book, game or television based) and wonder why?

Did you actually think you were more than a complex, often contradictory animal capable of being brainwashed and manipulated just like any other animal? Sorry to pop the bubble.

Actually, no. I'm not.

It is always best to face the reality you're in even if you do like to escape to fantasy land every now and then and pretend you're more capable, whole, knowledgeable, empathetic and all-round wonderful than you actually are. Even our horror stories are often geared towards the 'flawed' protagonist making it through when really anyone would have been splattered physically and mentally at the first hurdle. Don't fool yourself, you will freeze, run, scream, cry, beg, scrounge, sell out, ignore, dish out and justify it all just so you will survive, which you likely wouldn't anyway in such situations. But we love our protagonists and dream with all our might that we could be like them, capable of dodging that bullet, knowing when danger will strike and intelligent enough to formulate a plan to save the day. If you think that you're above all this then you haven't really faced any particularly difficult situations or choices. The best people can do is to dream, imagine and work extraordinarily hard to come close to ideals. Hats off to those who fight to be good. It is much easier to give in and be bad. The only thing to worry about is the punishment systems and how to avoid them. Being good weighs on you so much more but it is worth the fight because some measure of happiness and peace comes because of it.

To the point, it is always best to face reality so that when someone tries to brainwashed and manipulated you're well aware of what's going on, whether you fight it or not.

So, why do we get addicted and how is this addiction forced on us?

  • Cliff hangers: Provide plenty of cliff hangers so the viewer has to return to find out more. They'll press that button to find out more, no matter the wait time. The greater the cliff hanger the longer they are willing to wait.
  • Advertising, teasers and trailers: Saturate television with reminders of that cliff hanger or of the story so far. The little reminders set you straight back to where you were when the story was interrupted by jogging your memory.
  • Sex symbols and the desirable: Use attractive people, places and views so that viewing the show is more attractive to the eye and mind than facing reality. The use of sex symbols helps create false connections by inducing emotional responses in the viewer. They aren't real. You know nothing of the person and they aren't by and large accessible to you.
  • False connections: Create and build false connections by revealing snippets of the lives symbols, stars and intellects. Also, use 'personal' pleas from these actors to draw the viewer in and use the actor as part of the reward system by placing them in an accessible position: signings, back stage passes etc.
  • Long plot lines: Carry the story over from one episode to another, leaving the viewer wanting more and more, trying to tie together the information and guess the answers. They will view to check their guesses and to find out what really happens. They will also become used to the complexities or particular characters and take their trials to heart as the character becomes real to them.
  • Base in fact: Use grittiness and real emotions to heighten the realism and the connection between a viewer and an actor. If the character is rounded out well the actor is mistaken as the character, building those false connections, while also being mistaken as someone to support or obtain. This is how an actor is voted into politics... and it has happened more than once.
  • Time slotting: Place the show in the appropriate time slot so as to catch the desired audience's attention. 
  • Bright colours and sounds: These shock the viewer, creating adrenaline and focusing the attention on the source. Slow moving build up to horror heightens the adrenaline and emotional response. Fast light humour keeps the viewer engaged, not because of how funny it is or the plot but because of the instant reward of watching that couple of minutes more. Coming back is to return to gain a quick dose of instant rewards.
  • Reward systems: Use the actors, give out prizes and freebies, create competition and anoint winners, 
  • Learning by observation predisposition: Humans are predisposed to learning by observation so showing someone anything has great impact. Fantasy it may be but it holds a basis in reality that will allow the viewer to learn. Learning can also become addictive (but I'll leave that for another day).
  • Hypnotism and mesmerism: The flow of movement, colour and sound can fix a viewer in place once the viewer is addicted enough to watch hour upon hour of television. It can become so bad that a viewer forgets social arrangements, chores, exercise, to eat and drink (or eat and drink the wrong thing) etc. At this point television is truly an addiction for the viewer.
  • Identification and the use of jargon, setting, in-jokes etc: Use cultural, national, historical and personal references to build a connection and a familiar and acceptable world for the viewer, one they will want to return to as it provides validation, justification and identity. All things we crave as we prefer to congregate and socialise than to live alone.
  • Small amounts at a time: Drip feed the stories on a weekly basis to increase the desire for a viewer to come back for more. This way several stories can be strung along at once during peak viewing, pulling in a steady audience number rather than losing numbers as viewers get up and move about their lives. The essential problem of any TV marathon is that viewers will need to get up and go about their lives at odd intervals unpredictable to television execs. They do their best with the scattering of advertising time (if you stay you get brainwashed but if you go you're back in time for a reward) but life can't always be conducted in five minute intervals.

  • Behavioural and brain sciences: From the desk of Microsoft comes this, "Each contingency is an arrangement of time, activity, and reward, and there are an infinite number of ways these elements can be combined to produce the pattern of activity you want from your players." - Behavioral Game Design by John Hopson. Remember the rat in the maze, mouse in the cage etc. with the reward and punishment system of learning? Consider yourself the rat or mouse.
  • To create the hours upon hours of entertainment, instead of thinking of more plots and ideas they simply punish you and send you back to the start. Because you're determined and want that reward you restart instead of getting annoyed and dropping the game.
  • Use fact based or instinctual based drives in creating the game: eating, obtaining cool items (fantasy swords, wands and goblets) etc. When you take time, use effort and build your skills to obtain an item it means the item has value, no matter what the item is or if it is real or not. Your brain is tricked into thinking it is important and will keep trying to obtain it when it isn't important at all to gain anything or even play the game. It is a game. Oh, and the playing hours can also be extended indefinitely by having you run after items of no importance to the actual game, leaving you even more addicted and counting scores like a gambling addict.
  • Drop in rewards at random indeterminate intervals so that the addiction to pressing the button to see if you get that reward increases. You will press the buttons faster as only by doing so will you potentially shorten the period of time between rewards.
  • Overpower real rewards in real life by initially giving large numbers of rewards fast (easy levels) so that you get used to rewards and will be willing to fight harder (harder levels) for them when needed.
  • Making each step small or easy enough to keep the player from balking completely. But include all the previous steps. This way there is no real reason to say no, is there.
  • Punishment is given for not playing at all through peer pressure, encouraged by advertising. Also, punishment is given if you stop hitting the button by your collected rewards disappearing and your status lowering. Two cages to run around in, both geared on punishment unless you do as you're told. The reason you care about the loss at all is because of that time and effort that went into the collecting.
  • Make the game more fun, challenging, relaxing and rewarding than everyday life in a job or school. To do this, give autonomy, create complexity and provide 'proof' of the rewards of your toil. You will be more satisfied with the life provided by games than your real life and you will return to the gaming world over and over, buying more and more (games and systems) so that you can continue to delve into the gaming world.

All I can say is phew! I've missed the gaming and gambling addictions. I'll stick to books thanks. Why? It doesn't seem to mess with my mind so much.

  • Escapism: Provide a world in which it is possible to escape the monotonous daily routines a reader generally goes through. The world provided takes you from the world you know while highlighting who and what we are.
  • Dopamine works for pleasure but it also causes us to want, desire, seek and search.  We can do this in active life or we can do this through delving into the recorded stories, history and lives of others. After a while the want and desire builds out of the search and eventually turns to like or a heightened desire for more and addiction. The flood of dopamine is addictive so you return to the behaviour that will create it. If reading was fun or pleasant, searching for information rewarding, then a reader will return to either the series or reading in general. If a particular read creates this response then anything by that author will likely succeed until the author really disappoints beyond forgiveness or fails to teach anything new.
  • Seeking information and answers: The need to know is a deep instinct for humans living in a social situation and books often provide those answers. We record information simply for this purpose and seek books to alleviate the need.
  • Anticipation: The length between books is often too great for mass anticipation but if an author is publicised enough, with old books reissued and new books advertised, sections are released and interviews are released, and throughout the gap between publications then anticipation can be built.
  • Peer pressure: This is one of the greatest ways of making any particular book popular. Make it appear a bad thing that someone hasn't tried reading a book or approved of it. Never underestimate peer pressure. It is a menace and the publishing industry can use it to squash free thinking, ironic considering the publishing industry often brands itself as the bastion of free thinking and intellectualism. Just think Harry Potter...
  • Small amounts at a time: Releasing sections, freebies and short stories to keep a reader interested can keep then interested in a particular series or publishing company. This needs to be done on a constant basis to create addiction.
  • Conversion to pop culture via other media: Addiction to a story can be created by having it converted to another medium, namely television, movies or games as these are far more addictive in nature.

Suffice it to say, there is much the book publishing industry has to learn before books become as addictive as television and gaming. It explains the publishing industries loss of market share in the entertainment world. So, if there is much to learn then research what is being done using other mediums and adapt what can be to the publishing industry, though I wouldn't encourage negative reinforcement.

Things that can be used in book publishing (either by publisher or author):  
  • Freebies
  • Multi-media addiction
  • Pop culture references
  • Drip feeding
  • Reward systems
  • Identification
  • Symbolising the author and marketing
  • Effective advertising
  • Meets
  • Events
  • Long plot lines
  • False connections
  • Cliff hangers
  • Publication timing

Some of this is already in play but not all and definitely not for every book written. 

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