What makes video games so addictive?

Has anyone ever told you that you spend too much time playing video games? Some people find it easy to pick up a controller for half an hour and then walk away to do something else, but we don’t all have that willpower. For some of us, playing on the PS4 or Xbox One makes up a large percentage of our daily activity. Why is that? What is it about video games that makes them so hard to stop playing?

It’s a social activity

Gone are the days when a video game was something to enjoy by yourself. While there were some titles like Mario Kart which promoted multiplayer gameplay with your friends and family, most releases were targeted at single players. Nowadays, many of the bigger games have flipped that on its head. Titles like Overwatch and Call of Duty involve playing with other people online. If you ever felt like your social life was failing because you were playing video games, you’ll probably think differently now. Many gamers create friendships with the people they play with online, so going on Guild Wars for five hours is now the equivalent of hanging out with your mates. Two birds with one stone, right?

What makes video games so addictive?

It never ends

What was the last game you finished that had a natural end? Back in the ‘90s, you had games like Crash Bandicoot where it was obvious once you’d finished the game. You’d played ever level, collected every gem, and the save file told you that you’d completed it 100%. You rarely get that anymore. So many games nowadays are set in open world environments that seem to have a never-ending roster of side quests and secret missions for you to carry out. Even the games that do have the possibility for 100% completion can take hundreds of hours to complete.

Look at the latest Legend of Zelda title. The first 100% speedrun of Breath of the Wild took 49 hours to complete, which is a long time for someone completing the game as fast as possible. There’s so much for players to explore in all these games that it’s easy for them to get sucked in and continue coming back for more day after day.

Consistent rewards

There’s a mechanic used in video games that slot machines also utilize to keep people gambling. It’s known as variable ratio or interval, where players get rewards after a certain number of attempts or an amount of time has elapsed. The rewards they receive are considered worthwhile in the game, and lead to the release of dopamine in the brain which makes the experience pleasurable. Players seek out that feeling again and again by continuing with the game, even though they don’t know when a reward will come. They’ll keep saying “one more mission,” until they look at the clock and realize how much time has elapsed since they started playing. Who said video game addiction wasn’t as bad as gambling?

What makes video games so addictive?

Companies are dedicated to games

Downloadable content never used to be a thing in video games, but now it’s everywhere you look. On the one hand, it’s a great way to pad out a game. It adds something new that keeps things exciting, even if it means having to pay more money. However, this DLC is just another way that developers keep you hooked on a game. Never before have they been so dedicated to investing in games post-release, but it’s just another way to pull money out of a player. If a title is already popular, adding new content month after month will stop people from ever putting down their controllers.

There’s nothing wrong with playing video games. They’re a great way to unwind, have fun, and even make friends. There comes a point, though, when these games go from being a hobby to an addiction. Just be wary of these things next time you boot up your console.