The problem with irresistible

According to a GameSpot review, Diablo III is “devilishly captivating and addictive.”

In a Taiwan Internet cafe last weekend, an 18-year-old identified only as Chuang died shortly after playing 40 uninterrupted hours of Diablo III. The exact cause of his death is still being investigated.

What would cause someone to lose touch with his surroundings so completely that a tragedy like this could happen? Whatever is found about the specific cause of death, the loss of this young man’s life is a reminder of the enormous power of some games to draw players in and keep some of them beyond spellbound.

To learn a bit about Diablo III, I read a review on GameSpot that was written shortly after the game’s release in May. In what is now a haunting foreshadowing, reviewer Carolyn Petit alludes a number of times to very positive game attributes that make players want to stay in the game. Staying in can turn dangerous when players lose all ability to connect with their judgment, their own bodies, and the world around them.

The problem with “irresistible” is that some people in fact absolutely cannot resist. Here are excerpts from the review:

  • “The constant stream of gold and treasure you earn is irresistible. Blizzard has the recipe for crafting a habit-forming loot-driven action RPG down to a science, and in Diablo III, the results of that recipe are more exciting and more addictive than they’ve ever been.”
  • “The rate at which you acquire new skills is part of what makes Diablo III so hard to pull yourself away from.”
  • “It’s about employing those skills to slaughter the monsters you encounter as you travel the world, and collecting the loot the fiends drop. This is where Diablo III’s habit-forming pleasures lie.”
  • “Loot is doled out at a pace that makes your victories fulfilling and makes fighting the next group of foes lurking in the shadows ahead nigh irresistible.”
  • “The cycle of combat and loot and more combat is addictive, but without peril, it would eventually become unfulfilling. Thankfully, the hosts of hell become increasingly dangerous over time.”
  • “You may ultimately be victorious at vanquishing the forces of hell, but if their true mission is to give you a compelling reason to sacrifice sleep as you keep clicking your mouse into the wee hours of the night, then they have won a decisive victory.”

I wonder if, since learning about what happened to Chuang, Ms. Petit has had any thoughts about what she wrote in her Diablo III review. Would she write it any differently now? In future reviews of other games would she write about their addictive qualities in the same way? Somehow, describing games with words like irresistible, habit-forming, hard to pull away from, and addictive doesn’t sound quite so positive anymore.

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