5 Creepy Ways Video Games Are Trying to Get You Addicted
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(I suggest reading the entire article):
Are some games intentionally designed to keep you compulsively playing, even when you're not enjoying it?
Oh, hell yes. And their methods are downright creepy.
If you've ever been addicted to a game or known someone who was, this article is really freaking disturbing. It's written by a games researcher at Microsoft on how to make video games that hook players, whether they like it or not. He has a doctorate in behavioral and brain sciences. Quote:
"Each contingency is an arrangement of time, activity, and reward, and there are an infinite number of ways these elements can be combined to produce the pattern of activity you want from your players."Behavioral Game Design by Microsoft Game Designer
Notice his article does not contain the words "fun" or "enjoyment." That's not his field. Instead it's "the pattern of activity you want."
His theories are based around the work of BF Skinner, who discovered you could control behavior by training subjects with simple stimulus and reward. He invented the "Skinner Box," a cage containing a small animal that, for instance, presses a lever to get food pellets.
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.
So What's The Problem? Of course, virtually every game of the last 25 years has included items you can collect in the course of defeating the game--there's nothing new or evil about that. But because gamers regard in-game items as real and valuable on their own, addiction-based games send you running around endlessly collecting them even if they have nothing to do with the game's objective.
It is very much intentional on the developers' part, an appeal to our natural hoarding and gathering instincts, collecting for the sake of collecting. It works, too, just ask the guy who kept collecting items even while naked boobies sat just feet away. Boobies.
As the article from the Microsoft guy proves, developers know they're using these objects as pellets in a Skinner box. At that point it's all about...Making You Press the Lever.
So picture the rat in his box. If you want to make him press the lever as fast as possible, how would you do it? Not by giving him a pellet with every press--he'll soon relax, knowing the pellets are there when he needs them. No, the best way is to set up the machine so that it drops the pellets at random intervals of lever pressing. He'll soon start pumping that thing as fast as he can.
They call these "Variable Ratio Rewards" in Skinner land and this is the reason many enemies "drop" valuable items totally at random. This is addictive in exactly the same way a slot machine is addictive. You can't quit now because the very next one could be a winner. Or the next. Or the next.
Skinnerian game mechanics are a form of "exploitation." It's not that these games can't be fun. But they're designed to keep gamers subscribing during the periods when it's not fun, locking them into a repetitive slog using Skinner's manipulative system of carefully scheduled rewards.
Why would this work, when the "rewards" are just digital objects that don't actually exist? Well... Most addiction-based game elements are based on this fact: Your brain treats items and goods in the video game world as if they are real. Because they are.
People scoff at this idea all the time ("You spent all that time working for a sword that doesn't even exist?") and those people are stupid. If it takes time, effort and skill to obtain an item, that item has value, whether it's made of diamonds, binary code or beef jerky. That's why the highest court in South Korea ruled that virtual goods are to be legally treated the same as real goods. And virtual goods are now a $5 billion industry worldwide.
BF Skinner called that training process "shaping." Little rewards, step by step, like links in a chain. In World of Witchcraft you decide you want the super cool Tier 10 armor. You need five separate pieces. To get the full set, you need more than 400 Frost Emblems, which are earned a couple at a time, from certain enemies. Then you need to upgrade each piece of armor with Marks of Sanctification. Then again with Heroic Marks of Sanctification. To get all that you must re-run repetitive missions and sit, clicking your mouse, for days and days and days. Boobies be damned. Once it gets to that point, can you even call that activity a "game" anymore?
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.The Goal: Getting You To Call the Skinner Box Home