There’s a new hybrid of online gamer. They live on Facebook, flooding our news feeds with updates and friend requests. You might know one. They’re called ‘The Farmvillers,’ and there are 75 million of them. Concern is growing over whether social games like these pose an addiction risk.

Facebook gaming is a guilty pleasure; choosing to spend an evening ‘harvesting crops’ over going out with friends is something that many wouldn’t admit to. Being a self-confessed Facebook gamer, I can understand the appeal of spending hours in a virtual world. So why are some experts considering social network gaming risky?

Perhaps it’s the element of isolation. When we play on a console, we’re often in the presence of friends, whereas when we play online, we’re physically alone. Concerns are also stemming from the rapid increase in the number of gaming hours that users are clocking up. According to AllFacebook.com, out of the 200 million Facebook users who log in every month, 15% are playing ‘Farmville.’ When you break it down, that’s an average of 285,714 per day, 11,904 per hour and 198 per minute. Why are people playing so much?

Going for the high score is stimulating. Rewards such as free gifts and bonuses positively reinforce gaming behaviours, increasing the chances of them being repeated. Social gaming allows users to do things that they couldn’t (or couldn’t be bothered) to do in reality. With only a laptop and Internet access you can play with friends instantly.

It’s presumptuous to say we are addicted to social gaming. Playing regularly doesn’t make you an addict, although health experts have said that using Facebook for over an hour is symptomatic of addiction. While game developers are giving us more reasons to log in, we’ll still be actively making a choice to click the buttons and enter the virtual world. Why we play has nothing to do with anything created by a team of visual artists; they don’t force us. The only conclusion I can make is that games fill a void. Whether this has a positive or a negative effect depends on the user.

Katie Mackay

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