There was a fascinating development a number of years back. Games were previously a single-purchase affair, you'd front the $50 and walk away with a whole title.
Then, someone had the bright idea that rather then have someone drop $50 once, you could instead get them to drop $50 and then $15 every month. But how do you get them to keep paying that $15 a month?
Do you continue to release new content so that they're always finding new adventures to go on? Fuck that, why not just put build a virtual Skinner box?
An essay, distilled to five points:
- 5. Putting you in a Skinner Box
Microsoft has spent a lot of money figuring out how to elicit behaviours from gamers. They are not the first, nor the last people to research this. Language is important, note the word "behaviour" not "emotion".
- 4. Creating virtual food pellets for you to eat
Our brains can't really differentiate between "virtual" objects and "real" objects. If we feel joy in getting them, they are "real" to our brain.
- 3. Making you press the lever
Variable ratio rewards systems, used in basically every MMO ever, have been absolutely proven to tap into some weakness in our operation that slot machines exploit. The anticipation of the reward is far more addictive to our brains then the reward itself.
- 2. Keeping you pressing it... forever
You can get a player absolutely hooked by easing them in, removing natural break points, and punishing them for not playing.
- 1. Getting you to call the Skinner Box home
TL;DR: Entry level workforce jobs suck balls. Fact. MMOs and other gametypes are designed to provide "tangible" rewards and advancement that we cant' get elsewhere. We prefer games to reality because, well, to our brains, games are
better then reality.
So what does it all mean?
Game developers are, arguably, creating predatory titles that are designed to hijack the flaws in our thinking system and rake us in for monthly payments. It's long been accepted that a fool and their money are soon parted, and I am normally loathe
to say "think of the children!" but well, think of the goddamn children!
Parent's don't know how addictive these games are. There's no warning labels. There's no publicly available information like there is about gambling or smoking. People who are "addicted" to video games are mocked unlike anything seen in people with other addiction problems.
Important to note is that this is not
a condemnation of video games, but rather a particular type of video game design, where the player is drawn in and ensnared in a carefully designed trap.