Once upon a time there was a younger me who didn’t drink coffee. This younger me thought coffee smelled horrible and was a waste of money. I didn’t actually enjoy an actual cup of coffee until a friend of mine introduced me to a cafe in Olympia, WA by the name of Batdorf & Bronson. I had a latte there and it really didn’t taste all that bad. In fact, I kinda liked it. I was around 22 years old or so. After this, about once a month I would get a latte there.Soon after that I flew off to South Korea to become an teacher of English as a Second Language at a dreaded “Hagwon”, or, private academy. This is where I was introduced to mixed-coffee which was often offered by my Korean co-workers. This was certainly not the high falutin organic shade-grown lattes made with peace, love, and harmony, man. This was hardcore, survival-mode, energy coffee. As it is rude to not accept their offers, I slowly learned to appreciate it. I drank this stuff for a year, but not in any ritualistic manner. Maybe once or twice a week as needed.
Then I got my second job in Korea teaching at an “English Village” which is where I learned to truly love coffee. I found out that I loved drip coffee, from the way that the Korean ladies in the nurse’s office room made it. It was black and bitter and a great excuse to chat up a gal who would later become my darling wife. It was here, where I would say I finally acquired my taste for coffee. To this day (8 years later now) I am extremely particular to the way my coffee is made. Like so:
But am I just a caffeine addict whose cravings demand a specific kind of coffee made in a specific kind of way, or do I truly have a higher acquired taste? Is it somehow both? Is there a fine line between addiction and great appreciation?
What does this have anything to do with games though? Or frogs?
Not too long ago, I read a post by Naomi Clark titled Learn to Play: A Lack of Taste from 2015. From this post, my thoughts were that there was something at play that was obvious, but not stated; addiction. She alluded to a particular kind of gamer who has no taste in games, but feels entitled to a particular kind of experience when playing a video game. That experience he demanded sounded much like my relationship, not so much with coffee, but with smoking cigarettes. That is, the complaints from this gamer for the game he was testing sounded like an addict not getting what he wanted as opposed to someone who was just turned off by the experience.
Big-budget games do appear to be getting more and more like gambling games. That is, gambling elements are becoming somewhat ubiquitous. How many games have an element of randomness that keeps players coming back hoping for that one epic, legendary, or whatever weapon, armor piece etc. these days? A few games come to mind: World of Warcraft, Destiny, Black Ops 3, Battleborn, Hearthstone, Overwatch, not to mention about a jillion mobile games.
The above mentioned “AAA” games all have Skinner box type elements where the mouse/player hits the button in hopes of getting the reward. Sometimes it produces the desired effect, sometimes not, and then they keep pushing pushing pushing, playing playing playing, paying paying paying.
The “Black Market” in Black Ops 3 where players can pay real money to get a chance at getting their desired in-game item
So is it a matter of taste, or are players actually addicted to certain pay-offs in the game?
As for taste in games, I have my particular preferences, but when I see a game that is trying to get me hooked into paying money for random rewards then I will try to find a way around these elements or just put the game down. I’m not sure I find it unethical that people design games with the goals of getting money through encouraging compulsive behavior, but I think that it should be a conversation that comes up when game taste is brought up. I know that people need to make money and that life ain’t easy for anybody, but I won’t play into it… much.
Ms. Clark’s post reminded me of a story from the Zhuangzi about a well-frog and a sea- turtle:
‘Have you not heard of the frog of the dilapidated well, and how it said to the turtle of the Eastern Sea,
“How I enjoy myself? I leap upon the parapet of this well. I enter, and having by means of the projections formed by the fragments of the broken tiles of the lining proceeded to the water, I draw my legs together, keep my chin up, (and strike out). When I have got to the mud, I dive till my feet are lost in it. Then turning round, I see that of the shrimps, crabs, and tadpoles there is not one that can do like me. Moreover, when one has entire command of all the water in the gully, and hesitates to go forward, it is the greatest pleasure to enjoy one’s self here in this dilapidated well – why do not you, Master, often come and enter, and see it for yourself?”
The turtle of the Eastern Sea (was then proceeding to go forward), but before he had put in his left foot, he found his right knee caught and held fast. On this he hesitated, drew back, and told (the frog) all about the sea, saying, “A distance of a thousand li is not sufficient to express its extent, nor would (a line of) eight thousand cubits be equal to sound its depth. In the time of Yu, for nine years out of ten the flooded land (all drained into it), and its water was not sensibly increased; and in the time of Thang for seven years out of eight there was a drought, but the rocks on the shore (saw) no diminution of the water because of it. Thus it is that no change is produced in its waters by any cause operating for a short time or a long, and that they do not advance nor recede for any addition or subtraction, whether great or small; and this is the great pleasure afforded by the Eastern Sea.”
When the frog of the dilapidated well heard this, he was amazed and terror-struck, and lost himself in surprise.
The moral of the story is usually interpreted to mean: don’t be small-minded like the frog. There is another interpretation that says that both the turtle and the frog are equal in their own subjective happiness, even though one may be said to be more ignorant than the other. I doubt that a ‘gamer’ is as happy as the frog in his well and the ‘cultivated gamer’ is as wise as this turtle. Nor do I think myself as having a superior perspective on this matter either, but I do think that addiction plays a part in the issue of gamer taste and behavior. The designers of many contemporary games are honing their ability to tap into and cultivate compulsive behavior, and indeed it does ruin people’s taste in games. Clark’s article didn’t mention gambling, but the craving for more novelty, better rewards for in-game behavior etc., is not so different from gambling. To the addicted brain, it’s all dopamine. Or is it?