Video game addiction – why I can never have an iPhone

Written by: Captain Skellett // April 16th, 2011 // Science at Home

Before writing this post, I played Fruit Ninja for an hour. It’s a cute app on my partner’s iPhone where you slice fruit in half and try to get the highest score possible in a minute. My high score? 599.

This is why I can never have an iPhone – because I would play ridiculously repetitive games like this (and Runway, landing airplanes) all day and achieve nothing but a high score. Quite simply, I’m addicted.

Why is Fruit Ninja so addictive?

Bright colours, fun noises, extra points for hitting combos, it’s basically the pokies. A game of chance, the high score mostly depends on which fruit come up when. My mad skillz help, but it’s really just a gamble. And if I don’t get good fruit in one game, there’s always the next one, and the next one. One day, I’ll hit the jackpot (a frenzy and a freeze banana.)

When we’re talking gambling (or gaming) addiction, we’re talking dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to rewards. You caught a fish? Have some dopamine! That felt nice, didn’t it, keep on fishing. With fruit ninja, the reward is a high score, or in the early days, a new blade or background unlocked. Ice blade, fire blade, shadow blade, butterfly blade, I’ve got all but one…

Dopamine LOVES random rewards. If every time you throw in a hook you get a fish, it get’s less exciting. But if you only get one sometimes, it’s much better. It’s like the dopamine is saying – WOAH! You randomly caught a fish! What did you do? Do it again! Same with Fruit Ninja. Wait, that was a high score? How? Hell, I have to do that again, whatever I did. Random rewards from a repetitive task increases dopamine levels.

Dopamine also loves near misses. Oh, man, you almost caught a fish – so close, keep trying and you’ll get it next time for sure. While that might work when you’re fishing or hunting or in anyway being skilled – it’s nothing but a CRUEL TRICK. Woah, that was SO CLOSE to a high score, you’ll get it next time! Doubtful. It’s worse for the pokies, where there really is no skill. Almost winning does not increase the chance of really winning, but it still boosts the dopamine.

Do games know their addictive nature?

This Cracked article talks 5 creepy ways video games are trying to get you addicted, mostly talks about online mulitplayer games like WoW. There’s no question to me that it’s an addictive game. I’ve never played it myself (I don’t touch the hard stuff), but I know people who spend at least 20 hours a week, every week, leveling up and planning the next quest.

So, dear readers, I’m making a commitment to you now. I’m gonna give it up! No more iPhone games, I’m done, I’m out. No dopamine for you, brain.

Captain Skellett

I be Captain Skellett. Me blog started in April 2009 when I was working full time and didn’t get a chance to talk science. Now I have changed jobs and talk science all the time, but that doesn’t stop me blogging. More About Captain Skellett   Google


3 Responses to “Video game addiction – why I can never have an iPhone”

  1. psi*psi says:

    YES! Flash games are my undoing. Sometimes I have to remind myself no one’s going to give me a PhD in Bejeweled…

  2. Anna says:

    I can’t see why the reward needs to be random to trigger a ‘kick’.
    The two most addictive iPhone games I have been stuck in are Trainyard, which is a strategy/construction game (don’t try it! Seriously addictive!), and Find Freak, a simply error-spotting game which I got inexplicable hooked on for a while (My score on global level: 608,430;-). None of them give random rewards.

  3. Gem says:

    It’s four am and I am doing cross words. Let’s talk addicted.

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