How much do you think is a reasonable amount to spend on a game? A dollar on a crane machine? Five dollars on the latest app?
What about $300,000? Most people would consider spending that much money on a house, let alone any form of entertainment. However, in the rise of online gaming, people are willing to spend over hundreds of dollars to play these games to their full potential. Is this willingness to turn money into virtual credits (which, in most cases, cannot be exchanged back into legal tender) an element of problematic use?
Online gaming communities such as DotA 2, Counterstrike and League of Legends encourage spending money in game to purchase cosmetic items, weapons and added skills. According to an article on World Record Academy, the most expensive online gaming item ever to be purchased was sold at a huge $330,000. The Crystal Palace Space Station was sold to a well-known member Buzz “Erik” Lightyear, who believes the item is “amazing” and better to be owned by “a very active, and very old player who loves Entropia Universe”.
If you heard a story of someone spending $300,000 on a fruit machine, you would assume that their gambling habits were getting out of hand. The study of video game addiction and its definition is somewhat of a volatile subject in the academic and media worlds. This sort of excessive spending definitely is an element of problematic use, and should be studied in connection to how video game “addiction” works.
These sort of games are ridiculously easy to get involved in. In my own personal experience, I found myself involved in the world of Habbo Hotel. Habbo features a similar item purchasing system: in order to decorate your room, and in turn earn major status, you must put in real money for “coins” which buy “furni”. At the age of 13, I had pocket money to spare and this seemed like the perfect outlet for me to do so – only it doesn’t stop at pocket money. Instead, I was beginning to ask for Habbo giftcards for birthdays and Christmas, and started investing hundreds of dollars into a virtual game. Eventually, I must have invested over $600 of money into the game only to have lost interest and grown out of it. That is $600 that will never be redeemed, and sits on the internet in virtual items that no one else can touch. However, at the time, it seems absolutely worth it.
Part of the problematic elements of these games is the social identities that an individual gains within them. In order to be respected as a player, it is considered mandatory to invest real money and purchase skins, items and weapons to make your heroes unique. With that added peer pressure, and the basic human need to fit in, these online games’ encouragement to spend such money has potential to lead into problematic gaming.
It appears that along with money, the social aspects of online gaming should also be included in the study towards problematic use and “addiction”. If we continue to look at the effect these games can actively have on our ‘real’ lives, relationships and living standards, then a definition will be easily attained.