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Keegan McNamara is a data scientist and venture partner for Contrary Capital studying mathematics at CU Boulder. He can be reached on Twitter.
video games are ubiquitous. Nearly 70% of Americans play on some sort of device. People between the ages of 15–20 collectively spent over eight billion hours playing Fortnite in 2018. While that number is nearly double the roughly 4.2 billion man-hours spent on the Apollo mission, it’s trivial compared to the total time humanity has spent playing video games in general.

基根 · 麦克纳马拉,数据科学家,Converst Capital风险合伙人,在加州大学博尔德分校学习数学。
电子游戏无处不在,将近70% 的美国人用某种设备来玩。2018年,15-20岁的年轻人总共花费了超过80亿小时玩《堡垒之夜》。 虽然这个数字几乎是阿波罗任务花费的大约42亿小时的两倍,但与人类花费在玩电子游戏上的总时间相比,这个数字微不足道。

That’s a lot of human potential, being spent on something of questionable value. The traditional justification for seemingly harmful or non-productive behaviors is that people have an individual right to freely choose how to spend their time. But the decisions involved in gaming are often far from rational or even individual. Many video games increasingly take advantage of instinctual psychological drives, routing around higher reflection to create addicting escape experiences for people who find real life increasingly frustrating and unrewarding.

人类的潜力是巨大的,但花费在值得怀疑的东西上。对于看似有害或非生产性的行为的传统理由是,人们有自由选择如何度过时间的个人权利。 但是,游戏中涉及的决策往往不是理性的,甚至不是个人能决定的。许多电子游戏越来越多地利用本能的心理驱动,绕过更高层次的反思,为那些认为现实生活越来越令人沮丧和无回报的人,创造着迷的逃避体验。



As the industry iterated on the successes of the ’70s, developers started to notice specific psychological effects that drove popularity in their games, and they began to intentionally embed those effects to drive demand. One of the most important concepts in the industry to emerge during this time was the compulsion loop. In a very general sense, loops are sequences of actions that organisms will reliably repeat to gain rewards. Obvious examples from the animal kingdom are things like having sex and consuming food, but in the gaming domain, loops are sequences of actions within games that players will reliably repeat to get a rewarding experience—the rush when Candy Crush colors connect and pop in a dazzling animation, or when the “Head Shot: +150” badge flashes across the screen after a Call of Duty player manages to excavate the brain of another. Loops are fundamental to understanding how game designers and developers harness the psychological tendencies of the players. Along with other gamification tactics, loops began to become more and more widespread in the ’70s and ’80s, and can be readily recognized in games like the aforementioned Frogger, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong.

随着70年代游戏行业的成功,开发者开始注意到一些特殊的心理效应,这些心理效应推动了游戏的流行,于是他们开始有意识地嵌入这些效应,以推动需求。在这个时期产业中出现的最重要的概念之一就是强制循环。 在一个非常普遍的意义上,循环是生物体为了获得回报而可靠重复地进行一系列动作。在动物世界的明显例子是交配和吃东西,但在游戏领域,玩家重复循环游戏中的一系列动作,以获得奖励——当《糖果传奇》的颜色在炫目的动画中连接并弹出,或者当《使命召唤》的玩家对另一个玩家爆头后,“爆头:+ 150”的徽章就会在屏幕上出现。“循环”是理解游戏设计者和开发者如何利用玩家的心理倾向的基础。随着其他游戏化策略,“循环”在70年代和80年代开始变得越来越普遍。

By the time the ’90s and early 2000s rolled around, the Internet had achieved mass adoption, and gaming devices had become many orders of magnitude more powerful. Using the connectivity afforded by the Internet and the power made available by innovations in computer hardware, developers were capable of simulating more life-like environments and complex interactions between human players; the Wolfenstein and Call of Duty franchises were pioneers in 3-dimensional graphics and online gaming. As games became more advanced, though, so too did the gamification techniques.

到了20世纪90年代和21世纪初,互联网得到了广泛的应用,游戏设备性能和数量级也变得越来越强大。利用互联网提供的连通性和计算机硬件创新带来的能力,开发人员能够模拟更逼真的环境和人类玩家之间复杂的互动;《德军总部系列》和《使命召唤》是3D图像和在线游戏的先行者。随着游戏越来越先进,游戏化技术也越来越发达。

Mobile gaming was born in the same period, with the advent of miniaturized devices capable of doing what previously required large workstations. Ports of simple games like Snake and Tetris existed in early Nokia phones, but when the first iPhone arrived, the App Store and an explosion of mobile game consumption quickly followed. Titles like Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and Temple Run came to dominate. Fast-forward to 2018, and gaming purchases on smartphones and tablets accounted for 47% of the gaming industry’s total revenue. The average U.S. gamer spent 29% of their gaming time on a mobile or tablet device.

移动游戏诞生于同一时期,随着微型设备的出现,能够完成以前大型设备的工作。早期的诺基亚手机中就有像《贪吃蛇》和《俄罗斯方块》这样的简单游戏,但是当第一代 iPhone 出现的时候,App Store 和手机游戏消费紧接着爆炸式增长。像《愤怒的小鸟》、《植物大战僵尸》和《神庙奔跑》这样的游戏开始占据主导地位。快进到2018年,智能手机和平板电脑上的游戏购买量占到了游戏行业总收入的47%。美国玩家平均花费29% 的游戏时间在移动设备或平板电脑上。

Mobile games have come to permeate the small pieces of time when people aren’t actively engaged by their lives—quick levels of Candy Crush in line at the grocery store, or 20-minute-long sessions raiding enemy bases in Clash of Clans while on lunch break. Freemium games abound, with stimulating visual rewards for in-game achievements, and gambling-like environments to get their users to spend real money. Mobile games offer a low-commitment alternative to console and desktop games, but provide the same artificial accomplishments, skill progressions, and sedentary adventure.

当人们没有积极参与到现实生活中的时候,手机游戏就已经开始渗透到生活中的一些小片段中——在杂货店里排队时,玩一会儿《糖果传奇》 ,或者在午休时间在《部落冲突》中花20分钟的时间突袭敌军基地。免费增值游戏比比皆是,游戏中的成就可以得到视觉上的刺激奖励,还有类似赌博的环境可以让用户用真金白银来消费。移动游戏提供了一个低投入的游戏机和桌面游戏的替代品,但提供同样的人工成就,技能升级,和久坐的风险。



One gamification tactic that started emerging in the ’90s and 2000s was human-vs.-human competition. It’s one of the core components for a game to get on a breakout path to rapid success. For a modern example, consider Fortnite—Fortnite’s first version was a game whose core mechanic was players fighting against computer-controlled enemies. It flopped. The next game mode they implemented, a multiplayer battle royale, had the psychological hooks necessary to draw in 125 million players in less than a year and propel Fortnite’s ascent to becoming the most successful free-to-play game in the history of the industry. Human-vs.-human competition introduces a high-stakes arena that would’ve been unimaginable to the early game developers of the ’70s.

在上世纪90年代和本世纪头十年开始出现的一种游戏化策略就是:人 vs 人,人与人的竞争。它是游戏走向快速成功的关键要素之一。举个现代的例子,想想堡垒之夜,它的第一个版本的游戏模式的核心机制是玩家与电脑控制的敌人作战,结果以失败告终了。他们实现的下一个游戏模式是多人大逃杀,然而在不到一年的时间里就吸引了1.25亿玩家,推动堡垒之夜成为该行业历史上最成功的免费游戏。人与人竞争引入了一个高风险的竞技场,这对于70年代的早期游戏开发者来说是不可想象的。

Competing against other humans is psychologically intense and rewarding. It isn’t just a solitary activity, but a social one. When you beat another person in a game, it subconsciously becomes a story about your relative social status. If you win, you’re better than they are. If you lose, you need to try harder to keep up, or lose respect. Recreational Rocket League player turned professional, Squishy Muffinz, describes the effects such intense psychological dynamics had on him

与其他人竞争,在心理上是激烈而有益的。这不仅仅是一个单独的活动,而是一个社交活动。当你在游戏中击败另一个人时,“与人竞争”下意识地变成了一个关于你相对社会地位的事了。如果你赢了,你就比他们强。如果你输了,你需要更加努力地跟上,否则就会失去尊重。娱乐性质的火箭联盟球员变成了职业球员,Squishy Muffinz,描述了这种强烈的心理动力对他的影响

Another effect of imbuing games with human-vs.-human competition is the emergence of a positive feedback system that incentivizes players to dedicate more and more hours to honing their skills. For any given competitive game, there is a range of natural talent. Natural talent, though, only accounts for so much of any given player’s success in the competitive arena—a far better predictor is aggregate time spent playing. Many games employ a numerical Match Making Ranking (MMR) system to measure the skill of players relative to their peers, which makes it easy to test for a potential correlation between skill and time spent playing. An informal survey taken of Rocket League players shows a positive exponential relationship between a player’s MMR and aggregate time.

在游戏中加入人与人竞争的另一个效果是出现了一个正反馈系统,激励玩家投入越来越多的时间来磨练自己的技能。对于任何特定的竞争游戏,都有一系列的天赋。然而,天赋只是玩家在竞技场中成功的一部分因素而已,一个更好的指标是总游戏时间。许多游戏都采用数值匹配排名(mmr)系统来衡量玩家相对于同龄人的技能,这使得测试技能与游戏时间之间的潜在相关性变得很容易。一项对火箭联盟球员的非正式调查显示,球员的mmr与总时间呈指数正相关。

For professionals, this relationship is at its worst—moving up in the rankings by a few spots requires hundreds of additional hours of gameplay. And although the number of professional gamers relative to the total number of players is small, the influence of a professional scene on a game’s broader community can be significant. In games like Fortnite, CS:GO, and Dota 2 where professional scenes exist, one’s competitive ability is exceedingly important even among more casual players in the game’s community. This status competition creates an arms race in time spent. It’s a normal occurrence for players in the professional scene for any given game to routinely devote 10+ hours each day to training and playing

但对于职业场景来说,这种关系是最糟糕的——排名上升几个名次需要额外的数百个小时的游戏时间。尽管职业游戏玩家的数量相对于普通玩家总数来说是很小的,但是一个职业游戏场景对于一个游戏更广泛的社区的影响却是巨大的。在像堡垒之夜、CS:GO和Dota 2这样存在职业场景的游戏中,一个人的竞争能力非常重要,即使对游戏社区中的休闲玩家来讲也是如此。这种地位竞争造成了消耗时间上的军备竞赛。对于职业玩家来说,每天花10个多小时训练和比赛是很正常的事情。

Not only does gaming provide a natural mechanism for people to spend a lot of time on gaming, but the profit incentive on the part of the developers also pushes them to positively reinforce that mechanism. A profit-motivated developer not only embeds human-vs.-human competitive loops into games, but also invests heavily in developing a professional-level competitive landscape. By providing a hierarchical structure that players can use to compete with one another and ascend on their way to obtaining the glory and riches given to the pros, developers can increase the amount of time and money that players spend in-game.

游戏不仅为人们提供了一个在游戏上打发大量时间的自然机制,而且开发商的利润动机也促使他们积极地加强这种机制。一个以盈利为目的的开发商不仅仅在游戏中嵌入了人与人之间的竞争,也大量投资于发展一个职业水平的竞争环境。通过提供一个等级结构,玩家可以利用这个结构来相互竞争,并在获得荣誉和财富的道路上继续前进,开发商可以增加玩家在游戏中花费的时间和金钱。



These are still relatively speculative problems for most people, but as video games are only slated to become even more compelling, and perhaps as real social life becomes ever less compelling, these trends will continue.

对于大多数人来说,这些问题仍然是相对推测性的问题,但是随着电子游戏逐渐变得更有吸引力,或许随着现实社会生活变得越来越没有吸引力,这些趋势将会继续下去。

The long-term influence of addictive, competitive loops, and escape from social reality, on the developing brains, skills, and social development of children, especially on a mass scale, remains to be seen. Gamers under the age of 18 constitute 21% of the market, and gamers between the ages of 18 and 35 make up 40% of the market. The majority of players have either grown up in the video game era of the last couple of decades, or are in the process of doing so.

成瘾、竞争循环和逃避社会现实对儿童大脑、技能和社会发展的长期影响,尤其是大规模的影响,仍有待观察。18岁以下的玩家占市场份额的21% ,18至35岁的玩家占市场份额的40%。大多数玩家要么是在过去几十年的电子游戏时代长大的,要么是这个过程中长大的。

Little is known about the human brain and how the formation of habits and neural pathways in adolescence can affect long-term social behavior in community participation, family formation, and work life. But among a group of roughly six hundred 8th and 9th graders in Minnesota, those who were classified as addicted to video games self-reported participating in more physical fights, starting more arguments with friends and teachers, and receiving lower grades than their non-addicted peers. It could be that video games are causing psychological problems, or it could be that kids who have more social problems find the addictive escape of video games more compelling. Either way, it indicates a relationship between video game addiction and social pathology. This study was done back in the early 2000s, meaning these children now find themselves in that 18–35 age bracket.

关于人类大脑以及青春期习惯和神经通路的形成,如何影响社区参与、家庭组成和工作生活,我们知之甚少。但是,在明尼苏达州大约600名8年级和9年级的学生中,那些被归类为电子游戏成瘾的学生自我描述说,他们发生了更多的肢体冲突,与朋友和老师发生了更多的争吵,并且比那些没有成瘾的学生分数更低。这可能是因为电子游戏引起了心理问题,也可能是因为有更多社交问题的孩子发现电子游戏的成瘾性逃避更有吸引力。不管怎样,这表明了电子游戏成瘾和社会病理学之间的关系。这项研究是在2000年代早期完成的,这意味着这些孩子现在处于18-35岁的年龄段。

Video games, digital media, and surrounding culture don’t just affect people as individuals, they affect what kind of culture we have. It’s common for technically or artistically oriented young people to say they want to make video games as a career. Roughly three times more American kids want to be vloggers and YouTubers than astronauts. The same survey showed that 56% of kids in China want to grow up to be astronauts, compared to 18% who are captivated by vlogging. How kids spend their time, and therefore what they idealize, isn’t just a matter of individual preferences and harms, but a matter of collective strength and ambitions. America’s collective future perhaps starts to look a bit darker. The 21st century might see significant geopolitical reshuffling influenced in part by these cultural dynamics.

电子游戏、数字媒体和周围的文化不仅仅影响个人,它们还影响我们所拥有的文化。 对于技术或艺术导向的年轻人来说,他们想把制作电子游戏作为职业是很正常的。想成为视频博主和油管博主的美国孩子,大约是想成为宇航员的美国孩子的三倍。同样的调查中显示,中国有56% 的孩子希望长大后成为宇航员,相比之下,只有18%的孩子迷恋拍摄视频vlog。孩子们如何度过他们的时间,因此他们理想化的东西,不仅仅是个人喜好和危害的问题,而是集体力量和雄心的问题。 美国的集体未来可能开始变得更加黑暗,21世纪可能会出现重大的地缘政治重组,部分原因是受到这些文化动态的影响。

The social reorientation towards video game culture makes it even harder to participate in non-virtual social life for many people, exacerbating the low quality of social life that drives much of the demand for video games in the first place. Why go out when everyone else is at home playing video games or watching Netflix?

社会对电子游戏文化的重新定位,使得许多人更难参与现实社交生活,从而加剧了社交生活质量低下的问题,而正是这些问题首先推动了对电子游戏的大量需求。当其他人都在家玩电子游戏或者看Netflix的时候,为什么还要出门去呢?

This general problem isn’t unique to video games. Activities like traditional sports, alcohol-oriented bar and club culture, gambling, sexual subcultures, and other forms of entertainment have existed in all civilizations. They at times get out of control to antisocial levels. But mostly they are kept well-regulated by social norms and laws that limit their downsides and cultivate their upsides, and by competition from more productive activities. This process can be thought of as a sort of “domestication” on the activities in question. Athletic sports and alcohol are mostly domesticated. Video games, being new, are still a wild west of exploration and exploitation.

这个普遍的问题并不是电子游戏独有的。传统体育活动、酒吧文化、俱乐部文化、赌博、性的亚文化和其他形式的娱乐活动,在所有文明中都存在。他们有时会失控到反社会的程度,但大多数情况下,他们受到社会规范和法律的良好管理,这些规范和法律限制了他们的缺点,培育了他们的优点,并受到更具生产力的活动的竞争。这个过程可以被认为是对相关活动的一种“归化”。体育运动和饮酒文化大多已经驯化了。电子游戏作为一种新兴事物,仍然是探索和开发的狂野西部。



The domestication pressure on entertainment norms towards benign productive functionality usually comes from the community and the state. Someone has to think about the big picture, and have the power and incentives to act on that thinking to change how entertaining activities like video games actually work. Individual gamers and developers outside of leadership positions in society just don’t have the power or incentive scope to address these collective questions.

娱乐规范对良性生产功能的驯化压力通常来自社区和国家。有些人必须考虑全局,并且有能力和动力按照这种想法行动,从而改变电子游戏等娱乐活动的实际工作方式。社会中的普通游戏玩家和开发者没有能力或动机去解决这些集体问题。

The main problem might not be with video games at all, but with the weakness of the main social fabric, and lack of opportunities for more purposeful and fulfilling behavior. Obsessive gaming is a cope—an elegant cope that allows players to push further into the back of their minds the fear and reality of years slipping away. It’s elegant because it’s compelling, more socially acceptable than hard drugs, and because there’s still some social fabric. Normal society is failing to provide compelling alternative opportunities to the psychological loops and constructed escape experiences of video games.

主要的问题可能根本不在于电子游戏,而在于主要社会结构的薄弱,以及缺乏更有目的和更有成就感的行为的机会。沉迷于游戏是一种应对方式,一种优雅的应对方式,让玩家能够将多年来的恐惧和现实推到脑后。它之所以优雅,是因为它吸引人,比硬毒品更容易被社会接受,还因为它仍然有一些社会结构。正常社会未能为电子游戏的心理循环和构建逃避体验,提供令人信服的替代机会。

The fast pace of development of ever more compelling digital media like video games requires a corresponding acceleration of the ability of society to domesticate these behaviors into their most benign and socially helpful variants. That is, like many other problems, the problem of domesticating video games is partially a problem of state and community capacity—the same state capacity that would be needed to fill the holes in the social fabric that drive so much demand for addicting video games in the first place.

电子游戏等越来越引人注目的数字媒体的快速发展,要求社会相应地加速驯化这些,使之成为最温和、最有益于社会的变体。也就是说,和许多其他问题一样,驯化电子游戏的问题,在一定程度上是国家和社区的能力问题,国家能力也是填补社会结构中的漏洞所需要的,而这些漏洞正是促使人们沉迷电子游戏的首要原因。

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley’s recent bill to ban loot boxes and certain payment incentives in video games is perhaps an early signal of this kind of state-driven domestication action—though one which also shows how difficult it can be to regulate such hyper-specific practices, and inadequate on its own to tackle the problems with the dynamic profit-driven ecosystem of video game development. But American society is at a historical low point of state capacity and strength of social fabric, so our governing institutions may not recognize the problem and get a jump on it, or have the capacity to intervene successfully.

密苏里州参议员乔希 · 霍利最近提出了一项法案,禁止在电子游戏中使用战利品箱和某些支付激励的措施,这也许是州政府驱动的驯化行动的一个早期信号,尽管这也表明,要规范这种超级具体的行为是多么困难,而且仅靠这项法案本身不足以解决电子游戏开发。但是,美国社会正处于国家能力和社会结构力量的历史低点,所以我们的治理机构可能没有意识到这个问题,也没有能力进行成功的干预。