“This Game is Addicting! – 5 Stars!”
This won’t be a long post, I’m exceptionally tired and barely able to put the thoughts together necessary to swing a sword in Skyrim. With that in mind I want to talk about something I noticed on game reviews for the iPhone. I will note that “iPhone” is on the dictionary of Live Writer…that saddens me a smidge.
At any rate when people rate a game 5 stars on the phone I have noticed routinely that the words are “Addicting!” or “This game is addicting!” They then leave it at that, and I can’t help but be a little appalled (a word I keep trying to shove a u into). A game being addicting is not complicated, it involves abusing a few simple psychological tropes like loss aversion, skinner boxes, and reinforcement (this is not an all inclusive list). These are the most basic of tricks to manipulate people and they not only work but people throw perfect ratings at games that abuse them.
I’m not the next Sigmund Freud, nor is my understanding of Psychology as deep as your local therapist, but I know enough to be terribly offended by this. People should be more aware of the tropes that are wantonly abused to manipulate them into spending their money. A game shouldn’t get 5 stars because it is addicting, it should get 5 stars because it is fun. Any idiot with a bachelors degree in Psychology can make a game that is addicting, heck any random fool with Google can learn the tricks to making people do things because they feel they must rather than because they wish to.
It’s one thing if you know what the game is doing and you don’t mind, perhaps you enjoy the colors, the theme, or whatever else. But when people tout how they can’t stop spending and end it with “” it blows my mind in the worst possible way. Keep in mind, I’m not entirely a hypocrite, I understand the mechanics that underlie my obsession with magic cards. I have a compulsion for hoarding and am desperately addicted to alternative arts and shiny things. I’ve always been a fan of the unique and of different perspectives, as for shiny, well I think anyone with a Y chromosome is far more susceptible to shiny things than they might be willing to admit.
If you wanted to win a fight against me the most effective way would be to throw glitter in the air and then punch me in the face as I gawk at the glorious shimmering snowflakes. That would be rude of course, so don’t, or at least throw the glitter but don’t actually hit me. That would be an acceptable alternative.
But that’s the primary difference, I understand what is going on. Likewise its one of those things I’m fairly good about flipping off. There are periods of years where I don’t buy magic cards, I’ve routinely missed sets. Why? I just decide I need to cool off and check out other things. At the very least an addiction to a literally social game (you are actually talking to someone else) is a notch above “social” games where you are socializing with an AI.
But no need to justify it (rationalizing is another one of those wonderful little trips our brains like to take). At the end of the day if people are truly happy being addicted to something that is their decision, what I would hope is that people would establish that the quality of “addicting” is not something to be proud of, it is not challenging, and it certainly isn’t positive. It’s like giving a restaurant 5 stars because it didn’t give you Dysentery, basically anyone with half a brain can make a restaurant that won’t end up causing you bodily harm when you eat there. Some people merely choose not to (costs usually).
Making a game genuinely challenging, making a game fun, making a game that ages slowly, these are incredibly hard things. They require many levels of thought and are true high points in the art. An addicting game is no more complicated than setting up a random toggle with rewards at a low rate of delivery, bam you just got 5 stars on your local phone app sales system.
PS. Sex addiction is absolutely silly and a product of a truly broken culture. If this doesn’t fall into the pages of comedy by the end of my life I’ll be moderately disappointed. (Was looking up magic cards and there was an conversation on sex addiction on the MTG forums.)