Why are video games so addictive?

I think it has something to do with purpose. Video games offer us a noble, meaningful purpose (save the princess, save the country)… which is our greatest need and greatest lack. Modern life offers few, if any, opportunities to prove oneself. But we desperately need that. The quest to “Know Thyself”, to prove oneself, is as old as humanity.

However, another reason that video games are enjoyable and entrancing is that they are designed to be.

Would you enjoy them as much if you knew that when you play a video game you are being manipulated?

There are 40+ strategies that game makers use to “hook” the player.

Bottom line: you’re being manipulated. Maybe you’re OK with that sometimes. Maybe sometimes you just want to relax or “veg”. Maybe your brain needs a break.

But the vast (vast!) majority of the time spent playing video games is time stolen through manipulation.

TechCrunch reveals one set of strategies.

Zynga has an internal playbook, for instance, that is a collection of “concepts, techniques, know-how and best practices for developing successful and distinctive social games”. Zynga’s playbook has entered the realm of legend and was even the subject of a lawsuit.

Of course, in the video game industry (as in every industry) there are people making art. I think of everything Bungie did before Microsoft (after that it was just milking and manipulation. It was dollars and not art.). I think of everything Blizzard did up to W.o.W. (after that was just milking—no fresh ideas).

Some people recognize the manipulation, or recognize that something is off somehow. Some people are pissed about it.

“There is a whole shit load of wrong out there these days, from abusive and manipulative money making tactics, to flat out stealing.”

Some people have thoroughly analyzed it.

“…the total number of hours consumed by Angry Birds players world-wide is roughly 200 million minutes a DAY, which translates into 1.2 billion hours a year.”

Maybe the take-away is this: if you don’t have a purpose for yourself to dedicate your life to, someone else will have a virtual purpose for you to dedicate your life to.


  1. Excellent comments… and one has to wonder about the subliminal messages associated with that type of media. It is truly about having a purpose in life, a mission, and vision that points due north and trumps everything else. Why do game makers make what they make? The bottom line, of course, is money…

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