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Opinion: Why Gaming Disorder Could Lead to Scams

This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.

Editor’s Note: Due to a technical error, this editorial series was produced in the wrong order. This is the third part of a three part series. You can find part one here, and part two here

The World Health Organization (WHO) have declared “Gaming Disorder” a legitimate threat and have just two years to come up with treatment and solutions. The first editorial in this series laid out issues with the how the definitions and diagnosis was handled. The many concerns laid out over a year ago by scholars and psychologists had still not been solved.

Our second editorial then delved into how this could result in harm. False diagnosis could occur due to the above criteria and inexperience on what was excessive or improper for the medium. In addition, a protesting innocent could appear identical to a rejecting addict. Combined with how the medium is deemed the latest “big crisis” by some media outlets, this may cause even more false diagnoses and the harm it could cause.

Now our final editorial will instead focus on the external issues. Things that the WHO are not at fault for, but must prevent and minimize nonetheless. Unless the diagnosis for gaming disorder is as close to perfect as possible, there will be ways to exaggerate the problem. Claims there are more cases, that those suffering are in worse condition or that treatments are not working. All to fuel a lie that another solution needs to be found. This is why gaming disorder could lead to scams.

To better explain how easy it would be to “sell” a crisis, we need to explain what “shock doctrine” is. The Shock Doctrine is a book by Naomi Klein, claiming various world governments use terrible incidents to push controversial policies while the populous is preoccupied and emotionally fragile.

It was also used by critics of Anita Sarkeesian. It was used in regards to her alleged “tactics” in activism against content in video games she believed was problematic. Both share a common thread of exploiting a “problem” for gain, sometimes with the implication of creating or lying about the existence of the problem.

After this, an individual sells a solution. With enough emphasis on how drastic the problem is, drastic and even illogical solutions can be supported. “Selling” in this context does not always mean in exchange for money. By proposing you have the answer you can become valuable even if you are not profitable.

The final step then involves using your new found wealth or power to prevent critique and objection to the problem and the solution. This usually comes with the implication of illicit means, however it can also come simply through utilizing the respect you have garnered for the solution- becoming more of an authority or more virtuous than your critics. We shall be referring to this shock doctrine tactic throughout.

If this all sounds familiar, it should. It is an accusation levied against politicians since time-immemorial. Focus on a problem that is not that big an issue or non-existent and frame it as a disaster (should a disaster not be available at the time). Propose a solution in hopes of gaining political power. Then use that new-found power to influence the right people- ensuring the problem appears to be solved or is on-going and requires more support.

Sarkeesian was accused of lying in her video series discussing “problematic” video games. In one video analysis she claimed that in Hitman: Absolution, the player would gain more points for killing innocent female NPCs and deriving a sadistic pleasure from dragging the body around for long distances. In truth you would be penalized for killing any non-target NPC and the box to hide a body in was right next to her victim. Said NPC even had character depth, expressing concerns about being pimped-out by her boss.

Whether Sarkeesian truly believed what she was proposing has been debated by some. In either case, she used emotional language to draw light to a non-existent problem. In exchange she started to offer her talks on solving the problem of problematic video games for $20,000 as a standard speaking fee. In addition she was able to rub shoulders with video game developers such as Bioware. With claims of harassment against her, critiquing her work became harder to do without accusations of being similar to a harasser, if not outright harassment.

Another example has been taking in Philadelphia since January 2017. A “sugary beverage tax” was introduced, adding 1.5 cents-per-ounce of sugar. While it was designed to help cut the US’ weight problem, residents felt the tax was too high. It lead to mass buying when those drinks went on sale, sales of sugary drinks falling by 42% and some residents buying soda in other states.

In addition, the state failed to hit the goal of $46 million raised from the tax. Residents even turned to beer as it was cheaper than soda in some cases. A study into the whole plan stated “the tax does not lead to a shift in consumption towards healthier products, it affects low income households more severely, and it is limited in its ability to raise revenue.”

It is no wonder the tax is being quietly phased out with new bills. It all serves as a prime example of a failed shock doctrine. While the problem was genuine, it did not generate nearly enough fear or panic to warrant the inconvenience to luxury the residence had been accustomed to. In turn the money raised was not great enough to earn political clout for more support behind the tax.

Another infamous example of a failed shock doctrine came from the UN Cyber Violence Report. Released in September 2015, the report made a heartfelt plea to end “cyber violence” (online harassment), which it compared to being on-par with actual physical and sexual violence.

It was quickly mocked and derided for not focusing on more serious international incidents and human rights violations. When put under examination, only 64% of citations were accurate. Others were left blank, linked to dead websites, used false or disproven statements and even one instance of citing a file on the author’s hard drive. As stated in research by Jamie Bravo:

“That means that 36% of the citations in this document by the UN are either broken, duplicates, have little no effort put into sourcing them at all (only 3 of these, don’t bother nitpicking), are blank, or don’t appear to exist.
Bonus Fact! Over 15%* of all the citations are to the UN and its subdivisions.”

Bravo also released a summery of his research focusing purely on the most ridiculous things.” The credibility of the report was further damaged by the use of questionable images. Such as of an African woman in a rural area or developing country, screaming in terror at a brand new laptop (you can find it on page 33).

Finally, Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn both testified at the UN in agreement with the report’s findings. While both women also talked about their own experiences with online harassment in the past, some had already alleged such claims were falsified in attempts to bury controversies surrounding them. This only helped hammer in the belief some held that the report was being used to justify online censorship- branding those with controversial ideas and political complaints as bigots.

While it is common to see a shock doctrine’s solution (step 2) itself being the handing over of power to prevent backlash (step 3), it is rare to see one so spectacularly fail in convincing anyone of a problem (step 1). It was so bad, the UN later apologized for the report. Your shock doctrine’s problem should be something recent and believable.

Picking something that has an entire consumer revolt geared up to heavily research into anyone they would perceive as corrupting the things they like (video games and the internet), is tantamount to running through the Normandy Landings stark naked with a bulls-eye painted onto your head and torso.

There are a wealth of shock doctrines we could delve more into. The UK’s upcoming age-verification system (mocked as the UK “porn ban”) is to prevent under-age internet users browsing pornography. Some are concerned the “Age-verification Certificate” database will be leaked, used to blackmail, or is simply a money-making scheme.

The most famous examples are well known to gamers- the fear surrounding the violence depicted in the original Mortal Kombat. It sparked the debate to this day if video-games cause violent behavior, despite findings of several other studies already conducted beforeNight TrapDoomGrand Theft Auto, Manhunt and more all gained ire from one politician or another. With recent years those attacks have somewhat lessened, with attention instead being turned towards sexual content- such as Sony’s decision to censor such content to “meet global standards.

Let us also not forget Dungeons & Dragons, which were falsely blamed for the suicide of James Dallas Egbert III and the murder of Lieth Von Stein. The game even sparked religious uproar, as some Christians feared the game was encouraging satanism, dark magic and the associated violent and sexual crimes.

In short, shock doctrine is nothing new to the video game industry, other nerdy hobbies and politics. Even if every problem was solved tomorrow there would still be those seeking to get a head by lying about a problem. As long as the problem is a major deal to enough people (be it real or otherwise), someone is going to try and profit from it. Without any further ado, here are some of the scams to look out for when gaming disorder treatment comes into effect.

As with most medical and psychological treatments, quack doctors and “alternative medicine” soon follow behind. Even if the place offers genuine treatment, scam treatment centers can utilize many kinds of fraud to charge exorbitant prices, gain a larger cut or fake “grass-roots” promotion and praise. While it is hard to argue how far a scammer will go, its not hard to imagine the doctors in these cases do not truly care for their patients.

What becomes more dangerous is when a quack genuinely believes they are helping people through political or religious dogma. Chinese “Internet Addiction” camps utilize harsh military-style training as part of the “recovery” process. In August 2017 it resulted in the death of one teenager. He was found “completely covered with scars, from top to toe,” with 20 external injuries and numerous internal ones. That camp was shut down soon after.

In May 2019, a US pastor attempted to give away a miracle cure for HIV, AIDs, malaria and more in Africa. This was not the first time the scam had been run, with the “Miracle Mineral Solution” being chlorine dioxide- a bleach used in the textile industry. The whole process was done “under the radar” through a ministry, taking donations to help their cause.

While it can be hard to imagine someone using such measures to heal addicts, treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy are still used in extreme cases of depression or for manic and psychotic episodes. As discussed in our prior editorial, a perfectly healthy person objecting to being an addict can appear just like an addict rejecting treatment. Not to mention when the treatment inevitably takes an adverse toll on mental health, it can look like an addict reacting poorly to withdrawal. This can result in more extreme measures, even when the doctors genuinely cares for the patient.

Some politicians are also sure to jump on opportunity. Due to most politicians being from an older generation, technology such as video games and the internet are rarely understood. This combined with thinly veiled contempt for the medium has been shown with numerous attempts to censor and control. Whether this is mere coincidence however, we can all agree politicians love taxes.

From Pennsylvania’s “mature game tax” to Chicago’s 9% entertainment tax, things that are or should not be enjoyed are quickly taxed. The enjoyable is profitable, while the taboo needs to be beaten back to prevent people getting into it too deep or when they are too young. As enough voters still believe video games cause real life violence, there is a cause a politician can champion for votes and to earn money for their budget via taxes. It is curious to consider what will happen when the general public are better educated and the politicians come from a generation who have held a controller or mouse.

With the aforementioned Philadelphia tax and the UK’s age verification licence (which you have to buy), could we see a tax on video games akin to that on alcohol and gambling? Would we see higher taxes based on a game’s content or age rating? With the possibility of lootboxes being banned in the US, senators could easily believe “video games need fixing.”

If someone having fun is more likely to make them buy a lootbox, why would it not encourage them to murder? Sadly, these are the sort of questions we may have to explain the answer to. It will also be exceeding difficult if the politician is deaf to such explanations due to their own dogma, or fully knowing it is a scam.

The UK government recently gave a perfect example of the early stages of shock doctrine. Representatives from EA and Epic Games spoke with the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee regarding “Immersive and addictive technologies.” From the video of the meeting it is clear throughout the speakers are desperate for answers on how many hours people played their games for, and how much money those games make in microtransactions such as lootboxes.

The representatives stated on numerous occasions they did not know, wanted to keep “competitive information” to themselves. In spite of this, speakers kept pushing the issue. In fact the speakers came across as dying to cast their supposed guests in a poor light. Whether the representatives were telling the truth will be brought up shortly.

When a speaker brought up a story about a supposed incident in which a six-year old spent £1600 in a single day on Fortnite, the Epic Games representative stated it should not be possible. Yet, the speaker kept pushing the matter- quipping that Epic Games could take the matter to the UK Press Body if it was false. They also appealed to authority by discussing Prince Harry’s comments on Fortnite being “addictive” and that it should be banned.

The maddening thing is, the answers to give should have been simple. Outright say the Prince is not an authority on video games. Claim that stories are false and bring your data to prove it. No matter how time they insisted their games had parental controls to prevent microtransactions- none of them bit the bullet and said “we blame bad parents.” Then again, I do have to wonder how far they would have gotten telling those truths, or any truth…

If they do not or cannot answer a question on microtransactions or gameplay time, the governmental body can say the industry is being stand-offish and clearly has something to hide. This makes the UK government more likely to implement changes to combat gaming disorder with little regards to the industry.

If they provide almost any figure, than that figure can be made to sound disastrous with clever writing, body language or emphasis when speaking. Either way, the UK government and its bodies earn high praise for revealing the problem, and have a blank slate on the solutions- no matter how genuinely effective they are or what taxes they create.

Former World of Warcraft team lead Mark Kern also expressed his concerns about the proceedings. He fears that while everyone is mocking EA and Epic, they are forgetting governments want to restrict games (the current big problem). Combined with gaming disorder and media outlets attacking games (even some gaming new websites), this may have given governments the perfect storm to do as they wish:

“Epic and EA had a terrible showing in front of UK regulators to defend gaming. While we all wish EA’s version of lootboxes to die, there was more at stake. Regulators, in general, are looking for way to restrict, tax, or otherwise curb videogames again IN GENERAL.

While the news focused on poor answer by Epic and EA: “Fornite does not make money” and “Lootboxes are Surprise Mechanics” the media has forgotten to talk about the focus the regulator had on the time spent playing videogames.

Epic and EA are not popular right now, but we should not be cheering on their poor performances. These regulations will affect all games. Ever since the WHO classified gaming discorder as a health risk, regulators have new ammo to impose unrealistic and hard regulation on games.

One the other front, we have our own gaming journalists and “consultants” blaming games for “toxic behavior” online, that they’ve convinced entire companies like Xbox to jump on the “gamers are toxic” myth. This bring another great political desire for restricting games.

Years ago I predicted, in my petition to journalists to stop attacking games and gamers, that this would be used as ammo by regulators to control and attack gaming. I was not wrong but did not forsee the lootbox fiasco.

Lootboxes are just the gateway topic. The regulators were asking very hard questions about how long people play games. Epic evaded answers. Even though watching TV and being on the internet absorb other people’s time just as much, games are going to be singled out.

If gamers don’t start seeing the dangers to their hobby coming, and just start using it to trash Epic and EA, we risk losing a larger battle with regulators. In the past, game journalists helped push back on this stuff as allies. Now they could care less. It’s up to gamers.

So video bloggers, […] please look forward past the EA and Epic bashing (however deservedly) and start seeing the future coming. A bad future for gaming if videogame youtubers and gamers don’t start pushing back early. Need your help. Thanks.

Before you say “AAA companies did this, let them burn.” Remember these regulations on gameplay will not be restricted to the AAA, but your favorite Mid-tier Japanese or other studios and Indies. It won’t stop at lootboxes. It will go towards more, much more.

Expect time limits on gameplay, increased censorship of what you can and can’t show in games, and extensive controls over what a playerbase can do or say. The potential list of threats is endless. Don’t be shortsighted .

This is NOT a defense of lootboxes. This is a call to awareness to defend against the coming of other legislation that is needlessly restrictive on gameplay time, content and advertising. Lootboxes are just the gateway. I’m not defending lootboxes. Please don’t be that idiot.”

The final possible group to beware of sounds bizarre at first. The video game industry itself. Specifically AAA developers and publishers. With increasing demand to be bigger and better, development teams are getting bigger and more expensive. Meanwhile a skilled indie developer can make a game from their bedroom and (with a little luck) make something that sells gangbusters for very little production cost when compared to their AAA title that just flopped.

Suppose a tax did come in for video games. While it you may think AAA would recoil in terror at so much as a cent lost, it could mean a lot more to an independent developer. It could put a serious dampener on fresh talent when they realize even if they do sell a lot of copies, the increased tax might make what is left over not worth while.

If we assume certain AAA developers and or publishers lobby politicians for the tax rate to be in a “sweet spot” that means not so much to them but a lot to an indie, they have reduced competition who appear to do “better” than them. Though admittedly it can be hard to imagine, even if the tax was content based. Once you begin to wonder “who would lobby for this?” the speculation can become very wide, but with little probative evidence, let alone anything concrete.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have discussed why gaming disorder is a flawed classification, how it could lead to serious harm and how it could lead to scams. So what good can actually come of all this? We know there are genuine addicts, but correct identification and treatment can help those who need help, those who use games as a healthy coping mechanism for other problems and those with no issues at all.

Stopping scams is a lot harder however. Even with a flawless diagnosis and treatment system, someone will always claim there are more cases, that those suffering are in worse condition or that treatments are not working. All to fuel another shock doctrine. The answer lies in knowledge. A shock doctrine based on a lie cannot survive analysis, and a shock doctrine taking advantage of a tragedy cannot last under scrutiny either.

Author Walter Kirn said “The reason con artists get away with what they get away with is, their victims are ashamed of their own blindness and their own gullibility, and they tend to just quietly go away.” If you become or about to become a victim of a scam, do not be silent.

If you fear others will become a victim, do not be silent. Become educated, enlighten others and with the dying out of ignorance of a topic, so do those who sought to exploit it for their own gain.

Learn more about video games, about addiction, about your children, about your government, and about the video game industry. If you do not, then you may soon find your life in disorder.

Ryan Pearson

About

Taking his first steps onto Route 1 and never stopping, Ryan has had a love of RPGs since a young age. Now he's learning to appreciate a wider pallet of genres and challenges.