The Disturbing Ways Our Video Games Addict Us

Have you ever spent so much time playing a video game that you felt like a caged rat? That means it's working. Cracked's David Wong takes a serious look at how and why our video games won't let us go. isn't a place I normally turn to for serious business, but Wong's "5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted" called to me, partly due to my own battle with video game addiction, and partly because there's a link to my story in it that uses the word "boobies". As I regularly Google "Mike Fahey"+boobies, it was only a matter of time before it came up.

Having said that, I do not need to be convinced that video game addiction is a real thing, but I felt it was mainly a failing on my part that led to it. After reading David's article, I'm not so sure.

A reoccuring theme in the article is that of the "Skinner Box," a behaviour control experiment created by BF Skinner. The "Skinner Box" was a cage containing a small animal, who could be trained to press a button in order to receive food pellets. Gaming has changed.

It used to be that once they sold us a $US50 game, they didn't particularly care how long we played. The big thing was making sure we liked it enough to buy the next one. But the industry is moving toward subscription-based games like MMO's that need the subject to keep playing—and paying—until the sun goes supernova.

Now, there's no way they can create enough exploration or story to keep you playing for thousands of hours, so they had to change the mechanics of the game, so players would instead keep doing the same actions over and over and over, whether they liked it or not. So game developers turned to Skinner's techniques.

That's the first of Wong's five ways, and it links to the rest. Number four involves creating the food pellets themselves, in video gaming's case virtual items, creating a perceived value in the players' minds so they will continue to hunt for them.

Then there is the "Variable Ratio Rewards" system. A rat in a box will eventually figure out that if he presses the lever, the food is always going to be there. The trick is to have the food come at random times when pressing the lever. Think random item drops in any massively-multiplayer online game you've ever played.

It's the same principle as the slot machine. You don't win all the time, but you win enough that you'll keep coming back for more.

Utilising these sorts of principles is diabolical enough to make even the most novice evil genius bent on world domination perk up and pay attention, but it gets even worse. Once they establish that clicking the button over and over again leads to random rewards, then it's time to make sure players don't stop clicking.

Imagine a carrot on a stick. As you get closer and closer to the carrot, the stick grows longer. Maybe the carrot turns into a piece of cake, or a wallet full of cash. Hard and hard to acquire, but so much more rewarding. This is how MMO titles generally work. The higher level the more you work, with the rewards growing in power to keep you eagerly playing, even if its the same content you've played over and over again for years.

Wong concludes at the end of the article that when it comes right down to it, it is our fault we're inside the "Skinner Box".

The terrible truth is that a whole lot of us begged for a Skinner Box we could crawl into, because the real world's system of rewards is so much more slow and cruel than we expected it to be. In that, gaming is no different from other forms of mental escape, from sports fandom to moonshine.

The danger lies in the fact that these games have become so incredibly efficient at delivering the sense of accomplishment that people used to get from their education or career. We're not saying gaming will ruin the world, or that gaming addiction will be a scourge on youth the way crack ruined the inner cities in the 90s. But we may wind up with a generation of dudes working at Starbucks when they had the brains and talent for so much more. They're dissatisfied with their lives because they wasted their 20s playing video games, and will escape their dissatisfaction by playing more video games. Rinse, repeat.

5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted []



    Interesting.i'm currently on the fence on this one. The article has made me reflect on my gaming practices.

    I think its similar to achieving a work-life blance where you don't work so hard to the detriment of your family life and similarly gamers should balance gaming with other activities.

    It is interesting that even if you manage to avoid the addiction, that it may be unbalancing your views on life in general. I've noticed a lot of my friends under 30 have a sense of entitlement that I don't see in the older gen X crowd so much (i.e. Guys that are about 40 or older).
    They are kind of waiting for the world to come to them, feel that progression through work should be faster than it is, don't want to wait or save for anything, so are pretty much credit junkies to get the 50" plasma + 360 + PS3 now instead of later. They are for the most part still living with their parents waiting for the world to discover them.
    My older friends (40+) don't seem to have the same attitude, they save up for stuff, they assume that they will have to work damn hard to get ahead and will have to create their own opportunites, and mostly moved out of home at 18 into share housing and were just broke for the first few years until they got ahead at work. It looks like gaming may be a contributor in this, along with a lot of other things of course, but it was interesting to read how the hooks get in, and how it might affect some people.

      This is not a Generation Wars article. Your comment about age brackets serves only as ammunition to fuel that senseless and stupid raging fire. Your listing of attributes seeks only to classify and pigeon-hole, and makes no attempt to understand the underlying reasons behind them.

      The Generations are different. That's all there is to it. Neither are wrong or right. And addiction can strike any person of any generation.

      This is about the How, Men behind the Curtain type stuff. Much like how Television execs figured out the right amount of advertising to content ratio as a means to keep you watching. And before them how Casinos figured out how to subtly and subconsciously relax its patrons to stay and spend more.

      In the end, it's all the same; the medium has simply changed. That's all.

    good article. the closest to addicted for me was playing muramasa and spending 8 hours one day grinding just to get the last sword and unlock the last unique ending. luckily i was sufficiently convicted of the time i just wasted that i'll never do that again.

    To be honest while i tend to play games for long periods of time i never consider myself truly addicted to them. I've never passed up an outing with friends or my girlfriend to play a game. While i love games because they are so much more entertaining than anything i can do by myself, nothing will ever beat being able to hang out with my friends and do something fun with real people rather than a bunch of keyboard warriors and sqeakers. To be hoenst at this point in time i find that having a job, would be preferable to playing a game.

    I kinda have to agree with you there from personal experience, reality sucks in comparison to what you can imagine. But stuff like books and movies can contribute the same way.

    As he said though, it is just one more form of escapism really. Not much different from alcoholism. At the end of the day you just have to deal.

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