Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Makes Video Games Addictive?

Games are designed to be difficult enough to be challenging, while allowing players to achieve small accomplishments that motivate them to keep playing. In this respect, the design of video games is similar to the design of slot machines, which will allow players to have small "wins" that keep them playing.

There are several "hooks" built into games that increase the odds of making play an addictive experience:

1. The High Score

Whether you have tried the latest edition of Halo or Call of Duty or you haven't played a video game since PacMan, the high score is one of the most easily recognizable hooks. Trying to beat the high score (even if the player is trying to beat his own score) can keep a player focused for hours.

2. Beating the Game

The desire to beat the game is fed as a player "levels up" or finds the next "hidden clue."

3. Role-Playing

Role-playing games allow players to do more than just play to beat a level or a score -- they get to create the characters in the game and then take off on an adventure unique to their character. As a result of creating an "avatar," a strong emotional attachment to the character is often developed which drives ongoing play.

4. Discovery

The exploration or "discovery hook" is most often used in role-playing games. One of the most popular online games EVER is World of Warcraft. During the game the player spends time exploring imaginary worlds. The thrill of discovering fantasy civilizations/cultures can be extremely compelling -- especially for teens and adults who are dissatisfied with their offline lives.

5. Relationships

Online role-playing games allow teens to build relationships with other players who are also online. For some teens, this online community becomes the place where they are most accepted, admired and desired -- which draws the teen back again and again.

Massive Multiplayer Ongline Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) are especially addictive because there is no ending to the game. Unlike standard games like Super Mario Brothers (where you win when you save the princess), the MMORPG goes on and on -- with new adventures and challenges unfolding.

In addition to the psychological addiction, it is now believed there is a strong physiological element to addictive game-playing. Researchers at Hammersmith Hospital in London conducted a study in 2005 which found that dopamine levels in players' brains doubled while they were playing. Dopamine is a mood-regulating hormone associated with feelings of pleasure. The findings of this study (and many others conducted in China, Korea, and the U.S.) show that gaming is chemically addictive and can permanently rewire the brain.

Although there is ongoing debate about whether gaming addiction is a diagnosable disorder, compulsive gaming behavior undeniably exists. The combination of intentional programming by designers and the predisposition many teens have to addictive behavior means this is a real issue that parents, teachers and friends should be aware of and take action to prevent.

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