TKG KNOW: How Video Games Are Getting Inside Your Head — And Wallet

How Video Games Are Getting Inside Your Head — And Walletfarmville

by STEVE HENN @ Waldorf Today

Max Kelmon, 13, has his own little version of a man cave in Palo Alto, Calif. Behind the family kitchen in a converted garage, he has an Xbox, a big-screen TV, headphones and a microphone. There’s an old couch covered in a sheet. And that couch where he parks himself, surrounded by boxes and Christmas lights, is one of Max’s favorite places on the planet.

From that couch, he connects to friends all over the globe — and he spends hours, pretty much every day, honing his skills in Call of Duty.

The first commercially successfully video game, Pong, invaded Americans’ living rooms 38 years ago. Since then, the industry has evolved from a simple bouncing ball in the Atari original to games with astounding graphics and sound, most of them connected to the Internet.

That means that kids like Max can play with people spread across the globe. It also means that gaming companies can analyze how gamers play — each and every decision they make.

So when kids sit down with a game, they are actually sitting across a screen from adults who are studying them — and, in some cases, trying to influence their behavior in powerful ways.

Researchers in game companies tweak games to get players to stay on longer, or to encourage them to spend money on digital goods. They study gamers’ reactions. It’s become a science.

And parents like Max’s mom, Vanessa Kelmon, often feel outgunned.

“I hate it. I really do,” she says. “He could play Xbox for 12 straight hours. [He has] friends in Mexico City and friends in England.”

Vanessa says Max is addicted to video games. “When I took it away, he started to cry,” she says. “My God, I am offering you to go play tennis or go play golf … and I am making you shut this down, and you’re crying about it.”

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