How Some Games Keep You Hooked

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By: Tomi Vacca, Journalist

Image source: LearnIntell/SkinnerBox.htm
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Have you ever looked back on a gaming experience and wondered why you wasted so much time playing it? This is because the developers of that game had created the illusion of engagement. But how did they do this? Well, a lot of games nowadays tend to use a series of psychological discoveries made by a man by the name of B.F. Skinner. Skinner put a pigeon in a box with a button, and when the pigeon pecked the button in would be given food. The reason why this is so important is because it is making an active decision to receive a reward. This is known as operant conditioning. Another discovery of Skinner’s was the idea of a reward schedule. The idea of a reward schedule is after completing a certain amount of tasks repeatedly, the person doing the action gets rewarded. The reward is generally something that the person always wants more of (such as money). Now many rpg style games tend to use reward schedules frequently to keep players doing a task that had long since gotten boring to the player, but since they were making progress to the next reward they would keep playing. An example of this would be if you were ever reading a book late at night and you were about to go to bed but decided that there are only a few pages left in the chapter so you would keep reading. Similar conditioners such as this are being used all around the game development industry generally to mask a gaming experience that would otherwise be far more boring to the player. Lots of these techniques try to pray on the human psyche because it likes to create goals and stopping points for itself, thus making it fall victim to these Skinner box techniques more easily. For these games, there’s also lots of engineering put into the games to make the player get some sort of response or to make the mechanics good enough to keep playing. Lastly, its also important to note that these techniques can potentially lead to game addictions so its important to be mindful of when we catch ourselves falling into these pitfalls.

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