Video Games and the Dopamine-driven Reward System

I’m reading a book right now titled “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World” by Jane McGonigal. I’m not too far into it, but I’m already learning so much about the intensive psychological research surrounding games.

One of the most important elements of a great video game is a great reward system. If our busywork is shrouded with rewards whether that be cosmetics, player capabilities, or the next chapter to the story.

It’s fascinating.

Many high-end development companies hire psychologists to find this proper balance. A reward can’t be so hard to attain that it’s not worth the effort, and a reward can’t be so easy to attain that the work becomes boring or lacks challenge.

According to this book (or what I’ve read thus far), intrinsic reward breeds happiness. That fulfillment that our hard work is rewarded. The book parallels this to real life where many people are unfulfilled at work because they aren’t challenged, or the reward (money) is repetitive and lacks that unique nature.

Many video games implement difficulty systems. I’m currently playing Super Mega Baseball 2 which has almost 100 different levels of difficulty.

I love this game so much because it does such a great job of pissing me off. Just when I think my skill warrants a higher difficulty, I’m striking out and my opponet is hitting doubles, triples and homers constantly.

This is where I am broken. Often times in video games we bite off more than we can chew with our difficulty ranking. In high school I use to aggravate my friends by playing every song on Guitar Hero and Rock Band on expert. We’d fail mid-song but I’d lobby to keep trying. “How else are we going to get better?” I’d ask.

Eventually I became very solid at Guitar Hero and made Top 10 world rankings on several songs in Rock Band.

That felt good.

With Super Mega Baseball 2 I had to tone down my difficulty. Unfortunately now when I do succeed, my dopamine rush isn’t nearly as satisfying as I know it could be.

I’ll keep working at it though!

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