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  • A lot of people watch TV all day.

  • I'd rather play video games.

  • How long? I would say at least 50 hours a week.

  • I try to keep a healthy balance.

  • My bigger issue just besides the time,

  • was spending a lot of money,

  • just spending and gambling in the games.

  • I can't condemn a game for wanting to be addictive

  • because that's the point.

  • I'm Ahmed Shihab-Eldin

  • and I've been looking into the dark side of tech,

  • from facial recognition to fake news.

  • I wanted to understand how companies

  • design addictive games that maximize profit.

  • The global market for games grew from $70 billion

  • in 2012 to $122 billion in 2017.

  • By comparison, global box office revenue

  • for films in 2017 was $41 billion.

  • So we're in Boston at one of the biggest gaming

  • conventions in America,

  • maybe in the world. And I don't know where to look.

  • Gaming has gotten so big

  • that watching others play attracts massive crowds

  • and two-thirds of American households

  • now play video games,

  • according to the Entertainment Software Association.

  • Do you play a lot of games still?

  • Yes, not as much as I used to.

  • Why?

  • Time.

  • How much would you,

  • when you were playing a lot of games?

  • I would say like 30 hours a week, at most.

  • That's it?

  • Yeah, I know, right? Gotta pump those numbers up.

  • Those are rookie numbers.

  • Why, do you play still?

  • Yeah, for sure.

  • How long?

  • I would say at least 50 hours a week.

  • Wow.

  • Pretty much all my free time.

  • Is it tough? Do you ever lose track of time?

  • Some games can definitely make you lose track of time

  • more than others.

  • But it's definitely harder to balance work life,

  • personal life and video games.

  • I kind of cut out the personal life part.

  • focused more on the video games currently.

  • Do you ever feel addicted

  • to these games or to one game in particular?

  • I don't think so.

  • I know when to step away because I understand

  • some games, they'll make me really upset

  • and it's like, okay, I need to step away

  • and do something else.

  • One study estimated that nine percent of teen gamers

  • are addicted.

  • With an estimated 2.6 billion people playing

  • video games globally, it's not a limited issue.

  • After I heard that the World Health Organization

  • was classifying gaming disorder as a mental health

  • condition, my reporting brought me

  • to a gaming rehab center near Seattle.

  • You spent 8 weeks here?

  • Yeah

  • So I was playing

  • on average between 12 and 16 hours a day.

  • I would either be playing video games,

  • watching porn,

  • watching some show

  • or I would be sleeping. That was it.

  • Every day?

  • Yeah.

  • Jon Jones is in phase two of the program,

  • living in an apartment provided by Restart,

  • but free to roam the real world.

  • A flip phone to start out with.

  • Computer use would only be at corporate

  • in the computer lab.

  • My main excuse of rationalizing was like,

  • "I'm only playing so much just because I'm depressed.

  • If I wasn't depressed, I wouldn't be playing."

  • Do you think games are designed to be addictive?

  • Yeah and

  • You didn't even hesitate.

  • Hilarie Cash founded reSTART

  • after seeing patterns related to gaming

  • and screen addiction.

  • My first case was in 1994

  • and throughout the 90s, you know, people were coming

  • in for therapy

  • Parents are handing their devices to their kids and

  • it's going to really impact their development and

  • prime them for addiction.

  • Even if they're not addicted,

  • they're going to be primed for it.

  • So I think it's a growing problem.

  • The initial seven weeks of resident care at reSTART

  • costs nearly $30,000,

  • but Charlie Bracke said it changed his life.

  • Did you feel anxious, shaky?

  • Very much so.

  • There's very, very real physical withdrawal symptoms

  • to video gaming.

  • How serious of a problem is this?

  • I was so depressed that I started researching how to kill

  • myself on my phone

  • because I couldn't get up

  • and go to the computer to do so.

  • There are concerns about the affect of games on kids

  • since nearly half of gamers are under 18,

  • and mostly male.

  • And teens who spend five hours a day gaming

  • are 71 percent more likely to be at risk for suicide

  • than those who spend less than one hour per day.

  • it just spiraled out of control

  • until I was gaming 16 hours a day.

  • There are few screen rehabs,

  • and experts are divided on the best routes to health.

  • At reSTART, a complete digital detox is required.

  • I don't play games at all.

  • If it's digital and gaming, I don't touch it,

  • so I don't even allow myself Sudoku

  • on my phone.

  • Gaming used to be all about personal computers

  • and consoles. You'd buy a game outright and play it.

  • Then smartphones came along.

  • The gaming industry went to what's calledfree to play,”

  • which basically you get the game

  • and you can play the game.

  • That's Bill Grosso, a gaming industry insider,

  • who founded Scientific Revenue to help companies

  • maximize payments within their games.

  • If you think about what a really bad game is,

  • it's the game that is completely non-addictive.

  • Designing a good game is inherently trying to design

  • something that people will want to come back to,

  • will feel compelled to come back to.

  • It's also helpful for making more money.

  • As games transitioned to free to play,

  • the selling of virtual goods became crucial.

  • By 2016, 'Grand Theft Auto Five'

  • had sold more than 60 million copies,

  • but the free version, 'GTA Online'

  • made more than $500 million

  • on in-game micro-transactions.

  • My bigger issue just besides the time,

  • was spending a lot of money

  • just spending and gambling in the games.

  • I will joke about it in the games.

  • Oh really?

  • Like, "Oh yeah, I just spent $600.

  • Yeah, they're getting their money,

  • they're ripping us off."

  • We would joke about how they designed the games

  • to get you to play longer,

  • get you to spend more money.

  • Now, I get to pay too much money to open loot boxes.

  • Loot boxes amount to a randomized purchase that may

  • or may not contain what you're looking for.

  • It's very definitely the same thing as a roulette wheel.

  • It's very definitely aimed at the compulsion

  • and addiction side of the game,

  • of the human personality.

  • I think loot boxes are straight-up gambling.

  • It's something that keeps people coming back,

  • keeps people grinding in the game,

  • playing it longer and longer,

  • and because you can't just buy what it is you want,

  • you have to keep forking money over.

  • Last year, one game company caught so much flack

  • for the practice that they advertised a game this year

  • with a simple message:

  • No loot boxes.

  • Belgium declared loot boxes illegal gambling in April

  • and American politicians like Senator Maggie Hassan

  • have also questioned the practice.

  • Do you agree that children being addicted to gaming

  • and activities like loot boxes

  • that might make them more

  • susceptible to addiction

  • is a problem that merits our attention?

  • So it would be 300, 400 and then it's like,

  • "Okay, well, I'll keep going until I get it."

  • And if I don't get it after a couple hundred dollars

  • then I would get really depressed

  • and sometimes I would just keep going.

  • I already spent 400, well, I'm just going to spend

  • until I get it.

  • Loot boxes are also one of the best ways

  • to pull 'bleed whales' dry.

  • What is a 'whale'?

  • Whale is industry terminology for someone who spends

  • too much, fundamentally.

  • It's one of those really unfortunate things

  • in that it's really a piece of terminology

  • that comes from Las Vegas.

  • Whale was casino terminology for

  • a really, really big spender.

  • Bill Grosso caught flack last year

  • because, as his website brags, his company works to:

  • Turn free users into paid ones and keep more whales.”

  • But during our interview, Grosso walked that claim back.

  • If you look at some of the coverage

  • of Scientific Revenue, where people have said,

  • "Well, they spot whales and then milk them

  • at the psychologically maximum moments."

  • There's no truth to that.

  • None whatsoever. We're not that good.

  • The claim remains on their website.

  • And game companies remain focused on whales.

  • They'll spend 10, 20, 30 grand,

  • they're the people who keep the game alive

  • because they spend so much money.

  • You wouldn't call yourself a whale?

  • No. I was more of a 'low.'

  • I did spend a lot with eight grand in a year.

  • That's a lot of money.

  • Of course, it's not just games.

  • The rewards systems built

  • into games are also built into our phones.

  • And no method is off the table

  • in the battle for our attention.

  • My name is Nir Eyal. And I'm the author of a book called

  • Hooked, How to Build Habit-Forming Products.”

  • Nir told me how to use gamification and psychology

  • to make apps that will keep people coming back.

  • Every hook starts with a trigger.

  • A trigger is something in our environment

  • that tells us what to do next.

  • A ping, a ding, a ring.

  • Some kind of notification that tells us what to do.

  • Then the next step is the variable reward.

  • It's some kind of uncertain outcome

  • that we're looking for.

  • Scrolling the feed has this variable reward mechanism

  • just like pulling on a slot machine.

  • And then, finally, the investment phase

  • where we put something into the product, like data,

  • followers, content, reputation, that makes the product

  • better and better with use.

  • Eventually, we're using the product

  • because of an internal trigger.

  • When we're lonely, we check Facebook.

  • When we're uncertain, we check Google.

  • When we're bored, we might check the news.

  • We might check stock prices or sports scores

  • to satiate that need.

  • Three out of four American children

  • have access to a smartphone

  • and nearly half of American parents believe their kids

  • are addicted to mobile devices.

  • For now, both gaming companies and rehabs will profit,

  • while gaming addicts are left with few resources

  • for recovery.

  • There's lots of evidence to support that contact

  • with nature is actually very healing and reduces anxiety,

  • and helps people concentrate,

  • so we have them out in nature quite a lot.

  • What was your favorite part of being here?

  • I tried to diversify,