ADHD & the F2P

Previously I referenced free-to-play or “freemium” games in a discussion about how the MMO game model interacts with our brain, especially those brains wracked by inattention. Today I’d like to talk about that a little more.

Story time! I ran out of meds a few weeks ago. As a tangent, healthcare in this part of the world is not at all consumer friendly. But that’s for another post. I ran out of meds and before I could get them refilled I had a good three days without the concerta and it was an enlightening experience. For this was the first occasion in which I was off the brain pills since we figured out the secret code and they began to work for me.

What I noticed was that my inattention manifests itself less as pure distraction. I think it’s fair to say my ADHD symptoms are (relatively) mild. Obviously I’ve been able to wrangle my focus enough to complete graduate coursework, maintain a career, and write a few books. So while it was definitely harder to get things done, it was not impossible as these sorts of tasks can be for people with a lower executive function. The thing that I truly struggled with for those three days was impulsivity and emotional regulation. Whereas with the meds I can calmly address certain situations with a bit of forethought, without them I fall back into old bad habits of simply lashing out because my mind is sizzling and I feel overwhelmed. What the brain pills truly do for me is not “fix” my frontal lobe, but offer me choices.

Remember ADHD is, among other things, a disorder of executive function. The executive is the boss, the decision maker, like an executive producer or chief executive. They execute the plans. When the executive function of the human brain is compromised said executive is off golfing or having a leisurely martini lunch. So sometimes, there is no decision. The thing just happens. What stimulants do is force a cup of coffee down the executive’s throat and tell them to get back to work, so at least someone is in charge around here some of the time.

Now imagine this impulsivity, this lazy executive, in a casino. But we’ll come back to that.

As I have likely evidenced here, I’m back on my Warhammer 40,000 shit. It’s good fun but it can be hard to find a way into this universe outside the tabletop game (which I will probably never play) I did, however, find a pretty decent little game called Tacticus. Tacticus is a nicely done turn-based tactics (it’s in the name!) game. It’s also rapacious mobile rubbish. The juxtaposition is tough, for on the one hand I do fancy a good tactics game, going all the way back to Ogre Battle on my beloved SNES. On the other, I hate the monetization of your average phone or free-to-play (referred to “f2p” or sometimes “gacha”) game with the burning passion of a Carolingian. If I find a game with some flare, some gumption, some je ne sais quoi, I’ll download it, play it for a week, and delete it when I hit the paywall. Bing bang boom.

But I truly like Tacticus. The gameplay is fun. I love Warhammer. And I can play as my favorite greenskin Orks…for $30.

And that’s the rub with this type of monetization model and inattention: impulse buys are a very real, leering threat. So, as is often the case, this game has become a moment for me to reflect and wrestle with my inner plaguebearers. It’s felt as if the first week of my playing Tacticus has been an internal wrestling match to avoid paying through the nose for some polygons.

Or, worse yet, I could spend my real money on some space bucks and use those to buy a chance to get what I want. While a spin of roulette at Bazooka’s Circus is not often what we have in mind with the flashy, overendowed characters affiliated with the gacha game species, it is gambling. You pay for a chance (a slim, predatory chance) to hit the jackpot at random. No, it’s not sitting at a blackjack table but, yes. It’s definitely gambling.

The documentation showing that ADHD and addiction go hand-in-hand is extensive and gambling remains near the top spot. Poncha did a very good video explaining the abuses of f2p gaming, it’s connexion to gambling, and its application by Games Workshop (makers of Warhammer), so check that out if you want a deeper explanation.

Dr. Russell Barkley says that the core of what we call ADHD is “time blindness.” Without proper use of the executive function there is only now…until there isn’t. So there’s a real temptation for me, or any human but especially those with this “time blindness,” to forget about the fact that the money could be spent on something more fulfilling, or helpful, or realistic, or necessary, and plunk it down at that moment. Whether it’s imaginary space orks, a slot machine, or a $20 beer at a hockey game is of no import because, at that moment, there is only the thing.

The upshot is that this model, of either slowly eking out progress in a game or slapping down way too much money to get what you want immediately, can wreak havoc. Just like MMOs, there will always be just one more thing and, worst of all, the game is very good at dangling said one more thing right in front of you. That rush, that repeated offer of hormones to a dopamine emaciated brain, is a fleeting second of pure bliss; sweet relief in an otherwise frustrating world of disappointment.

Thankfully, I am aware enough and medicated enough that it’s rare for me to make such purchases. My addictions lay elsewhere. And if I did spend $30US to unlock a couple green guys that are good at punching stuff on a screen, it wouldn’t be the end of anything. I’m a grown up on a budget and I’ve spent far more money on far sillier things.

It’s the principle of the matter, though. Consumers, especially vulnerable ones like addicts and children, should have to tangle with this kind of money-grubbing and companies shouldn’t use it.

But I digress. Positioned as I am, with mental health professionals and old age on my side, the mission now becomes patience rather than ejection. Delayed gratification. The glorious pain of waiting. In some ways this is ideal. As I said, I do enjoy the gameplay of Tacticus as I have other such games, so to practice living beyond the all-or-nothing mindset that’s so frequented me is rather exciting. Who knew one could learn so from da boyz?

I hope this little series of posts on ADHD and gaming has been helpful. It certainly has been for me to write out all this stuff that swirls around my head all day.

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