Two headlines recently made the news. The first was the World Health Organization’s consideration of adding “Gaming Disorder” to their International Classification of Diseases. The second was how our mobile devices are making us stupid. Both of these have more in common than you might think. What gaming has that makes it addictive is often utilized by the same dark patterns that power much of today’s social media interactions. Most notably, interactions that cause dopamine responses. The problem with these artificial (aka computer-mediated) interactions providing a dopamine release is that if you lack in-person interactions that are the biological basis for dopamine responses, you’ll turn to artificial ones to supplement them.
When artificial interactions work better, faster, and easier than organic ones at providing a dopamine high, they might induce a person to engage in an addictive relationship with the artificial interaction at the expense of an organic one. In layman’s terms, this may cause a person to have problems in their daily life due to their detrimental relationship with technology. For example, a person may forgo an in-person interaction to engage in an artificial one because they find the artificial one more compelling. These may start out as situations like skipping out on going to dinner with friends to instead engage in synthetic interactions but may escalate to neglecting essential responsibilities such as going to work or school.
The real question is, is the subject matter that induces the dopamine response to blame for the addictive relationship that is developed or is the environment where the person cannot find organic interactions that would produce such natural and beneficial reactions responsible for the resulting addiction of looking for them elsewhere? Careful consideration should be made here as people who are diagnosed with an addiction to a particular trigger are thus restricted from engaging with that trigger in the future. What would this mean in situations where grade-school students are diagnosed with gaming disorder and are thus unable to do their school work because their school utilizes game theory and electronics in much of their teaching? What happens when someone recklessly engages in social media and thus is forced to give it up, but must interact in a similar environment for their careers such as utilizing tools like Slack or office Intranets?
Questions for consideration:
Should the underlying cause of addiction not be of more concern than those places to which people look to supplement their natural human needs? What can be done as designers and researchers in these areas to bring possible addictive behaviors to the attention of the user before they go too far? Are businesses at risk of losing revenue by putting the customer’s behavior and mental, physical, emotional health first? Should they be responsible when a user becomes addicted? If so, to what end?