There are many reasons that people are attracted to, and sometimes addicted to, video games. We’ll save the other reasons for a different talk and this time focus on: the gambler’s addiction. This type of addiction is based on a reward mechanism in the brain that seeks to provide non-stop, positive feedback to the pleasure center of the brain. By knowing how video games manipulate players, we can better understand why these addictions happen.
Ever see people sitting in a casino feeding money into slot machines as if some amazing reward is about to pop out? In truth, only 1 in 5000, to 1 in 34 million people ever win at slot machines (Investopedia.com). When it comes to good places for investing (money or time) – slot machines are NOT it! So why do people keep putting their money into this 34 billion dollar, black hole industry?
It’s a psychological satisfaction – feed the machine, pull the handle – and boom – free money! (Well… not so free). But, believe it or not, money is NOT enough! That’s right – people need to hear the sounds, visually see the flashing lights, feel the rumble on the floor, and have the admiration of others around them! Why? It goes back to the fact that we’re biological creatures with some basic functions and needs.
People take in experiences through sensory input. Just seeing money drop or hearing coins go “ca-ching” is not enough, especially when every failure by the slot machine is accompanied with a dark, unpleasant tone. Our ears begin to crave a more resounding and pleasant sound. Our eyes become distracted by the dark screen and buttons and want them to light up again. Emotionally, humans are also very needy creatures. We want to be accepted, admired, respected, and treated well. Winning makes us special. Need proof? Watch what happens to someone in Las Vegas who wins the jackpot – it’s V.I.P. city! They are catered to and nurtured in ways that they could rarely get elsewhere. This happens because casinos know the addictive effect it has on people.
Video games are not so different. Ever see someone repeating the same task, over and over, desperately trying to pass a section of the game? See this (or doing it yourself), is difficult to watch sometimes. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again without the results ever changing – then video game playing is definitely insane! Kids and adults will play games over and over, desperately trying to get through (and the game writers know this). The games are repetitive, the tasks mundane, and the outcomes usually have very little difference from one to the other. Video games and gambling have a lot in common:
The first few levels of a game are always – easy. Those levels flash bright lights and addictive sounds at the player every time they do something good, reminding them how awesome they are (paying out and giving recognition). But, there comes a point in the game when the difficulty challenge jumps – dramatically. So far, the player has been depositing their quarters (their time and energy) into the game and the result has been the same – Winner! When they hear and see distasteful and unpleasant results, there is an immediate need to want to get back their winning streak. Some games span the reward mechanism from the beginning to the end, forcing people to spend longer hours playing in what seems like a mindless addiction. And, after investing so much money into a game (the long, countless hours of playing vs. dropping tons of money at the blackjack table), no one wants to stop until they win – otherwise – it leaves a person feeling, empty (or in the case of the blackjack table – a little less lighter “in the wallet”). Liken this to a casino with machines and tables, back to back, throughout the entire building and people running around from one place to the next, desperate to win this “level.”
Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and a vast multitude of games on portable phones use this same reward and withdrawal system. When a player is pulling the handle and the numbers are positioning for a win, they’re getting the satisfaction they need to feel better about themselves. But, when the winning stops – the obsession sets in. The worse part about these games and the addictions they cause is that they provide a false sense of success. Want proof of this: cheat codes.
People are so desperate to win at these games that they actually beg and plead – and even pay – others, to get the solutions. Hey, if you could pay off the casino to tell you which machine would win next, wouldn’t you? It really wouldn’t even matter if you paid more than you’re going to win. It’s the psychological component that you’re a winner and you’re on top that continues to drive people on. Knowing this makes understanding these addictions jut a little easier – and provides some answers for getting people off the games!
The next time you see someone addicted to or stuck on a video game (or even if it’s yourself) – give them some attention. Reward them (or yourself), big-time for getting off of the machine and getting back to real life. Use bright and flashy lights and pleasant noises. Make sure that others acknowledge how awesome you are! Because, the only distraction between one casino is – another casino!
And, if all of that doesn’t work or seems a bit too much, we can get back to something more simple and find success in just living. Remember – society tries to force us into its definitions of what “success” is – but considering the state of the world today, I’m not sure “society” is doing well enough to set that definition. So, don’t judge yourself too harshly and take comfort in the people around you – sometimes, that’s the best reward of all!