Countering Videogame Addiction

A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior is a fun Coursera MOOC led by Dr. Dan Ariely from Duke University. One writing assignment from the 2014 session requested students to describe a real-world problem, summarize relevant research in behavioral economics that relates to the problem, and propose an original solution based on the research.

Below is a copy of the essay I wrote about countering videogame addiction by introducing relevant opportunity costs.

Solve A Problem

Student: Jemar Jed Roble Tan
Last saved: 3/31/2014 11:07:01 AM

Category I: Description of the Problem 

Principles of behavioral economics may be used to analyze and address the widespread problem of video game addiction.

According to Rigby and Ryan (2011), playing video games is a method of rapidly fulfilling a sense of competence, autonomy, and relatedness; These are basic needs and motivations according to the self-determination theory (discussed here: However, when video games are the only apparent means of obtaining the fulfillment of these needs and motivations, gaming can become a real and intractable addiction. Video game addiction may cause significant problems in academic performance, work, relationships, and health. Manifestations of video game addiction include: gaming for excessive amounts of time, thinking of gaming while doing other activities, escaping anxiety or depression by playing, feeling irritable when being told to cut down on gaming, and losing attention and time with family/friends/academic priorities/work duties ( The problem of video game addiction is not restricted to stereotypical populations. Even professionals such as eye surgeon Dr. Andrew Doan have experienced extremes of videogame addiction that were “life-ruining.” ( These findings highlights the important ways that videogame addiction can severely harm professional careers and interpersonal relationships.

Category II: Summary of Research 

The problem of video game addiction is related to the issue of opportunity cost neglect.  In Video 1 of Week 2, Dr. Ariely defines opportunity cost as “what you are giving up by choosing one thing over another,” especially considering sacrifices that are in the “same time frame and… category.” In a similar way, Spiller (2011) defines the consideration of opportunity cost as “considering alternative uses for one’s resources when deciding whether to spend resources on a focal option.”

In a study of opportunity cost neglect by Frederick et al. (2009), the authors provided an anecdote about a consumer who was considering whether to spend $700 on a Sony stereo or $1000 on a Pioneer stereo. After nearly an hour of indecision, a salesman remarked to the consumer that the $300 saved by purchasing the Sony stereo could be used to buy $300 worth of CDs. The consumer then promptly bought the $700 Sony stereo, because the savings of $300 was represented in concrete terms within the domain of music entertainment.

The impact of opportunity cost of investing time in videogame worlds is not easily highlighted, especially in light of the fact that the opportunity costs seem abstract and exist in an unrelated domain. The most important opportunity costs of video game addiction (i.e., lost time and attention to family/friends/academic studies/work duties) are disparate from the video game entertainment domain.

Category III: Proposal of Solution

I propose a solution to video game addiction that incorporates the foregoing behavioral economics finding about opportunity cost domains. In order for treatments of videogame addictions to remain relevant and effective, immediate opportunity costs must be presented directly to players within the videogame worlds (and concomitantly, the same domain of videogame entertainment). For example, videogame creators may design playable characters to become fatigued after 1-3 hours of continuous play in every-real time day. After this point, fatigue conditions may stunt the growth of playable characters, cause them to inflict no damage to opponents, prevent them from proceeding to other levels, etc. After becoming fatigued, playable characters would no longer become reasonable to use and playing further on that real-time day should seem like a waste of time. At this point, in-game messages may gently prod the player to take a break from playing to address priorities in the real world. These messages would serve to remind them of what they would be giving up by choosing to play further. This mechanic would hopefully motivate gamers to detach from the videogame world and return to tackle the priorities of the ‘real-world’ more consistently. To further enhance the effects of this treatment, gaming clients and gaming consoles (such as Steam and Xbox One, respectively) should set mandatory time limits for gameplay each day. This would complement the tenet stated in video game manuals that gamers should not play for longer than one hour or so a day. The implementation of these treatments should alleviate most instances of videogame addiction as, according to my experience, addicted gamers tend to dedicate time to only one or two games at a time.

Please include any cited works in this area.

     Frederick, S., Novemsky, N., Wang, J., Dhar, R., & Nowlis, S. (2009). Opportunity Cost Neglect. Journal of Consumer Research, 36(4), 553-561.

     Rigby, S., & Ryan, R. M. (2011). Glued to games how video games draw us in and hold us spellbound. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.

     Spiller, S. A. (2011). Opportunity Cost Consideration. Journal of Consumer Research, 38(4), 595-610.


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