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Gaming Psychology: Why are games so addictive?

Apr 09, 2024

Ever wondered why it's midnight and you're still saying, "Just one more level"? Why are games addictive? If you understand the gaming psychology behind it, you can use it in your own courses or memberships to boost engagement. 

Introduction

Let's begin with two facts:

  • People are so drawn to games that they often find it difficult to stop playing.

  • Over 90% of individuals who start an online course never see it through to completion.

Why is there such a stark contrast in commitment?

Picture the traditional classroom: a place where immediate feedback and direct interaction keep you accountable and motivated. Online, though, it’s harder to stay focused and excited.The moment course materials start resembling Mount Everest, or life's endless to-do list starts screaming louder, or the sun dares to shine, online courses suddenly feel like hard work instead of fun. 

So, what can we do to make online learning as catchy as games? Introducing game elements into courses may just be the key. But why is this approach effective?

Brain receiving dopamine

Dopamine Delights of Gaming

At the heart of gaming's addictive nature is dopamine, a neurotransmitter often associated with feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. When you achieve a goal, overcome a challenge, or receive a reward in a game, the brains release dopamine, creating a sense of joy and accomplishment. This biochemical reward mechanism encourages continued play, as the brain seeks further dopamine surges.

One important element in the gaming psychology is the randomness of rewards in many games. Unpredictability enhances the dopamine-induced pleasure and therefor increase the chance of repeated behavior. Simply said: getting an unpredictable reward, creates an extra dopamine boost. 

Achieving goals

The Power of Progression

Getting points, badges, and certificates taps into a deeper psychological need for progress and achievement. These elements serve as tangible markers of advancement, satisfying our desire for self-improvement and mastery. They also cater to our need for external validation, offering social proof of our accomplishments that can be shared and compared.

This aspect of gaming psychology leverages the social comparison theory, where individuals evaluate their own abilities and opinions by comparing themselves to others, thus fostering a competitive and engaging environment.

The Fine Line Between Frustration and Flow

Challenges are another crucial aspect of gaming psychology that game designers masterfully employ. Optimal challenges— not too hot, not too cold, but Goldilocks-level perfect—promote a state known as 'flow,' a concept introduced by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is characterized by a profound focus, a sense of ecstasy, and a loss of self-consciousness. It occurs when individuals are completely absorbed in an activity that is neither too easy to be boring nor too difficult to cause anxiety. This delicate balance keeps players engaged for extended periods, as they experience a sense of immersion and fulfillment.

This is when time warps, and suddenly, it's 4 a.m., and you're wondering where the night went.

Woman balancing on a tight rope between frustration and flow
 
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Escaping Reality: Your Passport to Narnia

Beyond the biochemical and psychological mechanisms, games offer a form of escapism. Games are the ultimate escape pod from the dull hum of daily life. They whisk us away to worlds where we can be heroes, villains, or even furniture designers (shout out to "The Sims"). It's not just about running away from reality; it's about proving a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness—core components of self-determination theory: We become the best version of ourselves.These elements satisfy deep psychological needs, contributing to the game's overall appeal.

How to help your students finish their course

Gaming Psychology: Conclusion

The gaming industry's success in capturing the hearts and minds of players worldwide can be attributed to its expert manipulation of psychological principles. By leveraging the dopamine reward system, catering to our needs for progress and achievement, balancing challenges to induce flow, and providing an immersive escape from reality, games create a potent formula for engagement and addiction.

Understanding the psychological mechanisms at play, can help us when we want to use game elements to boost engagement of our learners in our online courses and memberships.

 
Agnes and Bastiaan
Agnes & Bastiaan - Kajabi Specialists since 2014

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