We all know how easy it can be to start playing our favorite video game and, five hours later, look up and wonder where all of that time went. This can be an issue for some people, as gaming can sometimes get in the way of getting other important tasks done, but this article is not the place for looking into whether or not gaming time is becoming an issue for you. The focus of this piece is the psychological aspect of what makes gaming so addictive. We’ll take a look at how video games are engineered to keep us intrigued and motivated to keep leveling up. So, without further ado, it’s time to put on your noise-cancelling headphones, settle into your favorite gaming space, and read along to find out what makes video games so extremely addictive.
One thing that makes video games so addictive is the satisfying, delightfully attainable thrill of leveling up. While leveling up in real life in terms of getting a promotion at work, or saving up a certain amount of money, can take a lot of hard work, in video games, leveling up by beating a boss or finishing a quest can be finished within a matter of hours, depending on what game you’re playing and what you have the difficulty set to. It’s not exactly instant gratification, because you do have to work for it, but it can be a lovely break from the work that goes into leveling up in real life. What’s more, rising up through the ranks in games can be a great motivator to help you move along in life. Personally, if I’m ever in a rut, I like to hop on my favorite game and complete a particularly difficult quest to get myself feeling better about my productivity levels. The ability to achieve your goals in video games and see rewards in the form of great gear and higher levels and options is one of the greatest addictive qualities of games.
Another aspect of gaming which feeds into its addictive nature is the music within the game, which is often designed to keep you focused on your activities. In the words of Nora Inveiss from desktime.com, “The music in video games is specifically designed to motivate players while staying in the background. It sets the mood and the tone of the game, keeps up a good rhythm, but never distracts from the game’s objectives. It fosters a sense of achievement while motivating players to reach the next level and keep moving forward.” This factor isn’t present in all games, but in many games which are action based and very energetic like Super Mario and Zelda, the music is designed to help you stay in the zone.
There’s also the oh-so-addictive nature of the visual design of video games. With intriguing quest areas (see the image below), dark corners to be explored, and the constant hint of something new and exciting just around the corner, the design of video games is made to keep you wanting to move forward. I’ve found this to be relatable especially in playing open world games like World of Warcraft where, if the option is between stopping playing, and seeing what lies beyond a small forest, I am compelled to explore beyond the trees, to see what else is out there. The allure of the unknown is a strong factor in the addictiveness of video games.
Overall, the biggest addictive factor of video games is their ability to transport us out of our lives. The allure of being in a space which gives you a break from reality is a strong pull for any gamer, no matter what their non-gaming life is like. Even if life is wonderful, it can still be an amazing treat to step out of the real world for a few hours and give your brain a break. If life is stressful, a long gaming session can be the exact thing you need to break the pattern of stress and come back stronger than ever after taking that respite from reality. This is actually one of the biggest reasons to be aware of how much we game and make sure we are keeping it in balance with the rest of life, because it can be so extremely addicting to spend time in those magical fantasy worlds.
Next time you’re playing your favorite game and you’ve been at it for hours, take a step back and see if you can identify these factors within the game. There’s something quite fascinating about figuring out what keeps your brain so focused on video games, and it can also be quite helpful in boosting productivity outside of gaming as well (it’s been shown time and time again that listening to the Mario soundtrack while studying can help you keep focused and get even more work done). If you learn the secrets of what makes video games so addictive, it can lead to better focus and ways of leveling up in all areas of life.