When I was younger I used to play games a lot for hours. I would say I got addicted to them. Now I'm a software developer and was wondering if games are explicitly designed to be addicting?
Game developers are interested in keeping their users playing as long as possible. I've read about Operant Conditioning and Virtual Skinner Boxes. According to psychologists, most games use a fixed reward system to get the player hooked at first. For example, you can level up pretty fast in beginning. Then reward frequency gradually drops, but player keeps playing because they are hooked. In the end, you switch to variable reward frequency, which means rewards occur randomly and rarely. By this stage, the player might not even enjoy the game, but still play in order to get his reward fix and the resulting good feeling from it. This is very similar to how rats are conditioned in Skinner boxes.
Rewards can be in the form of social status recognition in the game world, working hard for a virtual item therefore giving it great value when acquiring it, feeling in control and power that are not met in the real world, escaping to somewhere else, being able measure progress to some goal and getting instant feedback. If the player abstains from the game, a punishment is applied, i.e losing social status or items. After a while, the rewards will be associated with the game itself and therefore even the sight of the game can evoke craving, much like in case of Pavlov's dog
In addition, there is another research which states that the immersive nature of video games, the rich visual stimulus from realistic graphics, the complex thinking required for playing, great autonomy and fast feedback loop can result in increased dopamine levels in the brain, and create a sense of flow. Combined with an effective rewarding system, games can stimulate the feel good centres of the brain. This means that after several sessions, the player needs to play longer in order to achieve the same dopamine levels as before. Some even experience euphoric feeling and relief from withdrawal when they play. They replace real world with game world and focus on in-game motivations only. Players may stop showering for long time, have reduced hygiene, become socially isolated, drop out of school, become overweight, withdraw from their family, have dreams about the game, think and plan about the game while doing other activities, stop doing non game related activities, have trouble concentrating.
Can a game be simply too fun to resist?