Why are video games so addictive?

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I have three children. When I attempt to remove their gaming consoles I have three Gremlins. What is happening in their minds to make them change so radically?

If you’re as old as me (I never thought there would come a day when I would say that!) you may remember the Commodore 64: a personal computer with a floppy disk as big as a party plate. Then of course there’s the Atari game console. In the 1980’s these were the machines we played games like ‘Pong’ on. Games were fun. But they weren’t an obsession.

Now look at us 40 years onward. In 2018 the gaming industry is looking to rack up over $138 bln. It’s crazy how gaming has become such dominant past time for so many! Fortune magazine this years mentioned that your chances of making it big on YouTube is 14 times higher if you focus on gaming than anything else. Damn…

Sure, the games have come a long way since the 80’s, but surely something else must be happening that has increased their allure. And that ‘something else’ is a deeper insight into our psychology…

Back in the earlier part of the last century there was a behavioral psychologist BF Skinner who focused on changing behavior by giving reward and punishment. He went on to invent the Skinner Box for rats. In the box rats were first conditioned to press a lever to receive food. Then Skinner changed it so that only some of the time food would come after pressing the lever. The result: the rats would continue pressing the lever no matter how long it took. The birth of addictive behavior. So those in the gaming industry realized that to get people addicted, all they needed to do is give random rewards here and there throughout the game, and lallaaaa… another person addicted and another gremlin created who can’t leave

Getting rewards releases dopamine in the brain. This produces the emotion of pleasure. Every new reward, every new level reached creates another pleasurable feedback forming a new dopamine baseline. To get back to that new level more and more time behind the console is needed and gamers can even forget to eat. In some cases they can actually die. A similar line of reasoning is behind why so many popstars die from cocaine overdose – but that’s a different post. 

Take away the game from an addicted person and VLAM!: instant Gremlin. Your kids are being manipulated by messing with the hormones in their brain. Not a bad idea to pull the plug if you still can…

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