Gaming behavior scientists gather for ‘Video Game Debate’ panel at PAX South


Depending on whom you’re listening to, it’s possible to think that things like “gaming addiction” and “gaming aggression” are incontrovertibly settled science. It’d also be possible to think that there’s so little research on gaming-related behavior out there that we should solicit and act on feedback from nonprofessionals. Neither is actually true!

Demonstrating the reality of gaming science as it stands right now is this interesting panel from this year’s PAX South, which brought together six academics and analysts in the field of gaming behavioral studies to discuss the current research, applications, and implications. The host of the panel was none other than Dr Rachel Kowert, whose work we have covered at great length at this point since she’s one of the academics in the field with the most digestible content for gamers and parents alike.

The panel covers a range of research on gaming, from positive to negative, including toxicity, violence, privacy, online friendships, addiction, anonymity, stalking, media sensationalism, science journalism, moral panics, mental health, bad faith publishing, sexism, autism, representation, and even how studios deploy tricks to keep you in games. It’s a wide discussion!

The high point of the panel comes when one of the scientists, in trying to make a point about the general public’s lack of science literacy, asks the audience how many of them have ever taken a statistics class. Of course, this is an audience full of gaming geeks who showed up at a science panel in Austin, so of course it was most of the audience, thereby ruining the joke. (I suspect our audience might be similarly inclined – I took two years myself!)

Set aside 47 minutes and watch the whole discussion below.

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Can anyone pick out for me the best game among those listed on this site? game recommendation

Fervor Bliss

Agree with comments below not much new here. Made me think about how much better Face to Face time (the “gold standard” rolls eyes) has improved since gaming. How you are able to open up about things troubling you to an online friend that you would never say in a face to face conversation. Then take that knowledge gained and communicated better in your face to face talks.
Oh well, eat your veggies and have some water.

Fenrir Wolf

Addictions are interesting. Some happen because the substance actually forges a need for it within the host. Which is a roundabout way of saying that it does stuff your body quickly becomes far too dependent on. Other addictions, however, can be anything that’s pleasurable.

If you take a vulnerable person, add a past-time that’s grounded in pleasure? You’ll likely end up with an addiction. This is why it can be important to protect vulnerable individuals, but we really should be doing that via education.

I feel that that would avoid tragedies like the mother who became addicted to World of Warcraft and allowed her children to starve to death. A vulnerable person, a pleasurable past-time, and therein lies a potential addiction.

It’s just a matter of remembering that something can be addictive because it quite simply is, by virtue of its nature, whereas other things can be addictive because they can be very pleasurable. Then dopamine does its thing.

Dopamine, eh?

This is why there’s examination of concepts like gaming addiction, sex addiction, candy addiction, and so on. Not that they have an innate addictive quality, but rather a vulnerable mind can get quite hooked on the dopamine response.

Naturally, this affects extroverts more due to their love of dopamine vs. acetylcholine, so introverted persons may have less to worry about.

The issue, really, is when developers muddy the waters. That’s when it gets annoying.

I can claim ‘video games aren’t addictive’ but that only remains true if the person playing it isn’t prone to addiction. This is further confounded by developers who intentionally choose to use social engineering to incorporate structures designed to target more goal-oriented individuals. Now it gets complicated, hooray.

If you have an individual who’s prone to addiction via a dopamine response to pleasurable stimuli, and then you actively encourage this addiction with systems designed to play off of their dopamine reward system, it’s fair to say that such a title is more innately addictive than any game that doesn’t.

I feel that the more goal-oriented a game is, the more it’d be helpful to have a warning on the cover about potential addictive qualities. And i think for companies that intentionally build this in (and some do), these warnings should be positively mandatory.

It’s something that some gamers won’t like hearing but not all developers are innocent snowflakes. Blizzard, notably, often requires experience with psychology in their hires, regardless of the job. I used to find this utterly bizarre until I realised that they were looking for a cohesive language across all fields of design as to how to make their experience more addictive.

I recall once, years ago, I brought up how social engineering was an emerging field and how it was used to exploit people. I was mocked by ignorant gamers who had no familiarity with the fields of psychology whatsoever. Still, I turned out to be right, much to their chagrin.

I like to read, you see. Science journals in particular.

From my experience, I feel the article over-estimates gamer intellect and education. I feel gamers are far more often not nerds, but rather everyday folks who enjoy a pleasurable past-time.

I feel it’s an unfair supposition otherwise as it implies that those who agree with any given argument are more clever, for reasons that might not be true at all or even remotely relevant to them. It’s a hasty generalisation at best, and a fallacy at worse.

Because, frankly, not even I’m that clever.


Ok. Now that I have a little time.

The panel and discussion were too short. They barely revealed a few interesting nuggets and it was over. Next time, it should be longer or maybe each of the topics being covered needs a full hour in and of itself.

I liked and agreed with all of the panelists. I didn’t think I would, but their summaries all made sense.

Highlights for me:

The insistence of good research and empirical quantifiable data and results. They highlighted that not all research is equal and many times there is an agenda behind the massaged expected results.

Moral panic. It is is a real thing. People fear what they don’t know or don’t understand.

The brief but well-described emergence of addiction: Natural addiction vs. Psychological addiction. The rat tests were interesting.

Autism and video games. A fascinating glimpse of how games can help.

Differing perspectives on identity and representation in games. Perceptions often depend on experience.

Good books on the subject matter. And btw, this is not new science.

Woot! I loved it but, again, it was way too short.


The biggest take away from this, and it was repeatedly stated during the panel, is that it’s mostly the negative news that gets highlighted and broadcasted repeatedly. Websites attach to negative headlines and then sensationalize them when in fact actual scientific study goes on to show that such things are marginal.

A lot of the topics however are often times mentioned in passing and rarely expanded upon.


Heh. That was interesting. I’m mulling it over before I comment. Thanks for posting this.