Where are my mobile phone gamers? This episode is for you.
Welcome to the fourth episode of ‘exposing the simple nosy strategies that keep you glued to your phone.’ Today we will be discussing a popular strategy called ‘Reward’. It is arguably the most recognized strategy used in mobile games.
All ye gamers like me, when playing the popular ‘Candy crush’ game, do you remember the awesome feeling from the satisfying sound of matching those candies (SUWEET!), and the sweet feeling of earning points after finishing a level? Do you remember the ‘Angry Birds’ game and how you feel each time you defeat the green pigs with your slingshot? Or the feeling of PUBG and Fortnight players, when they crush an enemy and collect their left-over arsenal and inventory?
You may wonder why you keep on playing these simple games for hours. Well, it’s your brain and body craving for these awesome feelings generated by mobile games. Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s research on human behaviour shows that when you are rewarded for doing anything, your brain releases a sweet dose of dopamine, which makes you feel excited and joyful and can persuade you to keep indulging in that activity. Where there is no mechanism to control or limit indulgence in the activity, it may lead to addiction. This strategy is not only limited to games. In real life, it is also implemented by commercial organizations that set up loyalty programs to ‘reward’ customers for doing business with them. This tends to keep them as long-term patrons.
Game development companies invest lots of resources in developing new forms of reward presentation, to make them more enticing and exciting to gamers. This is because the more additive these rewards are, the more gaming time their games would have, which would in turn lead to an increase in profit from in-game purchases or in-game ads. We now have game rewards in form of mystery boxes, loot boxes, badges, health points, experience points, power-ups and so on. All these require you to spend a good amount of time playing the game to acquire them.
Fortunately, there are some research in the field of persuasive system design to counter the adverse effects of these addictive games. For example, Ashfaq Adib, a member of our lab, led a project to develop a persuasive system for discouraging unhealthy mobile gaming behaviour. The app detects and limits mobile gaming time to prevent excessive gaming.
A way of countering this addictive effect is to actively create a gaming schedule. This programs your brain to stop gaming when the time allotted for it elapses. This way you are not sucked into the unending loop of game reward hunting. As I said, earlier, “where there is no mechanism to control or limit the indulgence in an enjoyable activity, it may lead to addiction.”
See you all next month for the final episode!
Image source: ‘Onur Binay’ from unsplash.com