What makes a video game addicting?
Why is it so hard to just play one more game, and what are the games that really hit the sweet spot between satisfaction and never being truly satisfied?
Mankind has always had its vices. In Ancient Rome people gathered by the thousands to watch and gamble on gladiator battles and chariot races. Nowadays, millions of people flock to video streaming websites like Netflix and YouTube to get their fill.
An addiction is both reinforcing and rewarding, and for many of us this addiction comes in the form of video games. Different games push our buttons in different ways, while they also share some common characteristics. Whether it’s a futuristic first-person shooter or an old classic, every gamer has stayed up until 3am telling themselves they’ll go to bed once they finish one more mission or hit one more high score.
The first category of game that comes to mind is competitive games, like first-person shooters. These are the games that you can’t put down because you want to win and get better, games that satisfy us with the thirst for competition.
Do you go off after a good game? Or do you come back for a better one? If you’ve ever used the phrase “let’s keep playing until we win one” then you know what true pain is.
Games like Halo, Call of Duty and Counter Strike keep bringing us back for more because we want to be the best. The added incentives like ranking up and unlocking new items are a nice little boost, but the competition is really what makes these games so impossible to put down.
Next up are the games that have you competing against yourself and your friends. This is Pac-Man and Tetris, Candy Crush and Temple Run. Simple but effective, these games fall under the same blanket as the ones above, except for the fact that the person you’re really trying to beat is yourself.
Recent games in this category usually add some sort of shortcut system involving paying extra money, but we can all agree that’s frowned upon.
We’d feel pretty stupid if we left role-playing games off the list, so let’s check that one off right here.
RPGs can be single player or online, historic or futuristic, realistic or just downright ridiculous (we’re looking at you Saints Row).
RPGs check pretty much all the boxes. Games like Skyrim and World of Warcraft bring us back time and time again with their infinite levelling… if you never spent hours getting your smithing and enchanting up to 100 did you really even play Skyrim?
Then there are those open world games that pretty much let you do whatever you want. Grand Theft Auto might be the most popular example of this; there’s a great storyline there to play, but the choice is yours whether you want to follow it or just drive around the sidewalk causing carnage.
At the other end of the violence spectrum there’s Minecraft and The Sims, games that seem pretty much pointless but are impossible to put down. These games let us escape reality and just have a great time without really exerting too much effort.
Last but not least are the RPGs that pull us in with their storylines. These are your Fallouts and Bioshocks, your Final Fantasies and Mass Effects, and don’t think we’re forgetting about The Witcher. These games keep us coming back for more because we want to know what happens at the end, or why Butch took our sweetroll.
Finally, there are the games that we can’t really even explain why they’re so addictive. These are games you play all day on your own or all day with your friends, even without much of a reward system in place. We’re talking Rocket League and Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart.
The prize from these games is typically little more than bragging rights over your friends or a previously locked character, but nonetheless we keep coming back for more.
Many of the games mentioned fall under several of these categories, which of course only makes them even more addictive. If you’re still reading at this point, you probably love gaming as much as we do, so what are you waiting for? So when a game like COD WWII comes out, stop reading and go start your quest for 10th prestige!