Gamers Anonymous

How is it that certain games can become addictive, while others seem to simply run their course before tapering off into that void of content that we feel has been satisfactorily exhausted? There has to be some key factor (or factors) in the distinction between addictive and non-addictive video games (but still fun ones, because who really wants to play a game that isn’t? Well, actually…hmmm…I’ll come back to that later.)

I got to thinking about this while playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village, which I feel is a solid game with nothing revolutionary or “must-have” about it — but that is still enjoyable… and addictive. Now why does a simple game full of brain-exercises compel us to keep playing fervently for hours?


The game gives us a brand new sense of achievement at very frequent intervals. Every time a puzzle is solved, the human mind has completed a conquest, and feels pretty damn good about itself. A little shot of dopamine, and you’ve got yourself a natural high. Professor Layton and the Curious Village does an EXCELLENT job of sustaining that high.

Obsessed much?

You love Xbox 360 achievements, right? If you said no, stop lying… everyone loves achievements. There are people out there who play games solely for the purpose of unlocking those little nuggets of “I did it!”

Well, achievements work on the same basic premise as I described before. Each micro-victory acts as new incentive for the player to continue, in hopes (conscious or subliminal) that there are more successes to be had in the future. The ones that are more tangible and practical (meaning something other than “take 10,000 steps in this area,” or “fall from the corner of a building while crocheting a pillowcase and whistling ‘Oh! Susanna.'”) are more likely to produce that sort of feeling, because they result from obvious causality. “I did that, so I earned this,” is the simple conditional here.

Frequency, as I mentioned earlier, is also important. Knowing that the next reward for your actions is right around the corner keeps you motivated to continue what you are doing. If too much time should pass between those reinforcements, you become more prone to fatigue, and more likely to discontinue play.

The funny thing about this process is that, contrary to what you may think, it doesn’t even have to be fun in all cases! I’m sure most of us can recall a time when we were completely absorbed in a video game, making steady progress, meeting goal after goal after goal, and then suddenly realized that it was no longer fun. Sometimes the response to success can even overshadow the basic responses to actual pleasure… and displeasure. Know any workaholics?  Well, there it is.

Anyway, there you have a very basic view of what is going on when you just can’t… stop… playing.  I don’t claim to be a professional on the subject, but I do call it like I see it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my puzz– I mean, uh, daily… exercise… and stuff.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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