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How does the game control you? Psychological explanation of game addiction mechanism

In 2019, the size of China's game market reached 233 billion yuan, while in the same year, the size of the movie market was only 1/4 of that of games.

Video games have become an important part of everyone's daily leisure and entertainment.

And related to this, many social problems have also appeared.

Game addiction, Places for cutting off Game addiction, Constantly paying for games, Complaints from parents......

We can see many related questions on the Internet, and we will have similar questions in our hearts——why are we addicted to games? Why are we addicted to paying for games?

Why do people who are usually thrifty spend so much money in games?

There are many related studies and theories. Today, I will briefly popularize science with you from the perspective of behavioral psychology.

Title: Skinner's Reinforcement Theory


B.F. Skinner American psychologist, was born 116 years ago.

He is a professor of psychology at Harvard University and one of the most important psychologists in the 20th century.

Skinner is a representative of behaviorist psychology and the pioneer of radical behaviorism.

In his theory, a word often appears: "control".

More accurate is "behavior control".


Radical behaviorist psychology believes that humans do not have free will. Humans are only places where various behaviors occur. Human behaviors are determined by the external environment. Therefore, we can use various means to determine Control people's behavior.


In order to prove the correctness of his theory, Skinner did a series of experiments.

One of them is the very famous Skinner Box.

Skinner box is a simple box with mechanism.

He put a very hungry white mouse in a box with a button at first.

Every time the mouse presses the button, food will fall,

By tying the behavior of food and pressing the button together, after a few repetitions, the mouse learned to press the button.

This is the first step of the Skinner box experiment.


Then Skinner did another control experiment. Every time the mouse does not press the button. Electricity will be applied to the box.

Bind the punishment of electric shock with not pressing the button,

In the end, although the mouse has learned to press the button, once the box is not powered on, the behavior of the mouse pressing the button will quickly disappear.

These two experiments illustrate a phenomenon that both rewards and punishments can quickly establish behavior patterns.

But the established model of punishment is easy to fail, and rewards are more conducive to the establishment of long-term behavior.

So when the behavior controller wants others not to do something, the punishment can take effect immediately.

But in the long run, we should find the "reward" for this wrong behavior and remove the reward to stop the wrong behavior.

In video games, the application of this theory is almost everywhere.

The planner expects players to do things that will be rewarded. Rewards will bring positive feedback to the player, thereby controlling the player's behavior, allowing the player to repeat a certain gameplay constantly.

When the planner does not want the player to do something, it will not give any rewards.

For example, in Mario Odyssey, gold coin rewards are a core driving force.

By placing gold coins in different places, players can be driven to explore the world.

In some cases, if the rewards given by a certain gameplay of the game are too small, the positive feedback will become weak, which will make the player feel that the gameplay is unattractive, and there is no motivation to stick to it.

Of course, different players have different needs.

Planning does not place a single reward when driving player behavior, but often multiple rewards and multiple positive stimuli.

Players who want to become stronger rely on equipment to drive;

Players who want to watch the story rely on the story to drive;

Players who want to see the scenery rely on art to drive.

This is the first layer of the Skinner box.


After these two experiments, Skinner had a whim again, so he added probability to the experiment:

When the mouse presses the button. It is possible to drop food. It is also possible that no food will be dropped.

The final result of this experiment is amazing. The mouse, like the first experiment, still learned to press buttons.

But the difference is. In this experiment of probability drop,

With the probability getting lower and lower, the learning behavior of the mouse pressing the button did not change.

Until the probability of pressing the button 60 times does not drop food once, the mouse will still keep pressing the button. Lasts for a long time.

This experiment proves that randomness has an extremely powerful effect on the establishment of long-term behavior.


Compared with video games, do you think of card drawing, box opening, or even gambling?

This kind of random game behavior is very attractive to humans.

Because this is in line with biological instincts, it will make people addicted to it unconsciously.

This is why paying to open weapon cases like CSGO can become the mainstream charging model. This is also the reason why game manufacturers make a lot of money.

Because it conforms to the laws of human nature.


Although I don't want to admit it, it is true. In many cases, human nature can be manipulated so easily.

This theory is not only used in paying to open weapon cases, but also in many other aspects of the game.

For example, there is a probability that the monsters will drop good equipment and the bad equipment will be dropped. Players will continue to fight monsters;

For example, reinforcement may produce good affixes, or bad affixes, and players will continue to strengthen;

For example, taking medicine may produce good effects, or it may produce bad effects, and players will continue to take medicine.


It is worth mentioning that in the course of the experiment, Skinner also discovered an interesting phenomenon:

That is, in the process of probabilistically dropping food, many experimental animals have developed "superstitious" behaviors.


Skinner wrote in the report:

6 out of 8 pigeons had a very obvious reaction,

The two observers got exactly the same record,

A pigeon forms a conditioned reflex of turning counterclockwise in the box,

Turn 2-3 times between fortification (giving food).

The other repeatedly bumped his head into a corner above the box,

The third one showed an upward response. It seems to put your head under an invisible rod and raise it repeatedly,

The heads and bodies of two pigeons showed a swaying motion.

They stretch their heads forward. And swinging from right to left,

Another pigeon developed an incomplete peck or light touch conditioned response. Move straight to the ground without touching.


After seeing this report, do you feel that there is a sense of ritual?

Contrast to the game. For example, onmyoji's painting system. In fact, it has no effect.

But if you happen to get a good reward when you draw a certain pattern,

Then you will subconsciously bind the two things that have nothing to do with "getting a good reward" and "this pattern". And continue to draw the same pattern.

You hope that this behavior will make you better luck.

So many card drawing games now pay more and more attention to the ritual sense of the card drawing process, part of the reason lies in this.

Not only games, but also in real life,

When you are doing a certain behavior, what you expect happens to happen.

When people are engaged in a certain behavior, and the expected thing happens by chance, people will subconsciously associate the two unrelated ones, thinking that these behaviors are related.

So this has produced superstition behavior.

Most people may have such superstitious behavior.

For example, the well-known singer Pavarotti must find the elbow nails in the venue before singing, because he thinks the bent nails will give him good luck. If he can't find it, he will sing badly.

For example, PawN, a well-known LOL player, during the game. The keyboard and mouse must be placed in a fixed position, otherwise there will be stress. He will feel that the position of the keyboard and mouse metaphysically affects the outcome of the game, so that he has to take a ruler before the game. Accurately measure position and distance.

For example, I would bind drinking water to exams, If you do not drink a sip of water before the exam. I feel that I will not perform well in the exam, and I will feel relieved after a sip of water.


After Skinner conducted this series of experiments, he summed up a set of theories, It's called Skinner's reinforcement theory.

Skinner believes that when the consequences of someone's behavior are beneficial to oneself, this behavior will be repeated, and when it is unfavorable,

this behavior will be weakened or disappear.

So we can use a variety of positive or negative reinforcement methods to affect the consequences of behavior, so as to predict, control, and modify human behavior.

This is the reinforcement theory, also called the behavior modification theory.


For this theory, he even wrote a novel, "Walden Two".

This is a utopian novel that describes a society built entirely on the basis of reinforcement theory.

The people inside have been used by community organizers to control their behaviors with reinforcement theory since they were young, so that they can develop in a good direction.

Eventually everyone will become kind and law-abiding when they grow up, and the whole society will be free of evil and crime.

Reading this utopian novel now will feel very punk: all your actions are actually controlled by higher-level people.

You are a good person because they want you to be a good person.

Including what you are thinking about now. It's just that higher-level people want you to do this.

Human beings are nothing more than organic substances capable of physiological and chemical reactions and conditioning.

Skinner did not believe in the existence of free will,

This extreme behaviorist theory is very controversial. It also made him much criticized.

He once made a "childcare box", using some reinforcement theory methods to train his own daughter.

This "childcare box" may just be an ordinary toy box,

However, being incited by the media at the time, people thought that Skinner was doing human experiments with his own daughter.

The media also fabricated rumors that his daughter had a miserable life and committed suicide.

Later, his daughter came out to refute the rumors when she grew up. Her father did not experiment with child abuse, but was a very loving and good father.


OK, after understanding this theory, let's look back again,

You will find that reinforcement theory is not designed for games.

The original intention of this theory is beautiful, hoping to build a better world through behavior control.


After the birth of reinforcement theory, it has been widely used in management, education,

Because by strengthening theoretical behavior control, it can indeed effectively guide people toward good.

But the real promotion of this theory is still in the video game industry decades later.


Why is this so? Why is it difficult for us to indulge in study and work? But you can easily indulge in games?

Why has the related research of pedagogy management started a long time ago, but it has not produced good results like games?

My personal view is that because of the game carrier, especially multiplayer online games. It is very much like a utopia in itself, which is a virtual world without considering the consequences of behavior.

Game planners are the managers of this world. They can make rules at will and let players follow them.

They can change the rules at will to guide the player’s behavior without having to consider too many practical issues.

This is a natural testing ground that fits the theory of reinforcement very well.

After reading here, pessimists may feel that players can be planned and played at will, the dominant power of the game will not be in the hands of the player, and the game is a world where only the player will be harmed.

Optimists may find that games are not just games, they are also natural social research objects, and they can work in conjunction with sociology-related scientific institutions to conduct some research.

In fact, there are already some sociological researches using games.


My personal feelings about Skinner's reinforcement theory are also very complicated.

On the one hand, this theory is really very useful, and it can effectively create a fun game loop.

On the other hand, even if I already understand this theory,

I will still be addicted to it after experiencing the fun of the game.

I also start to wonder, does free will really exist?

So what do you guys think?

This article was last edited at 2020-11-10 13:41:25

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