Behind the compulsive behaviour of playing with video games lies a deeply ingrained hard-wired compulsion in our brain to organise things. Many researchers have suggested that a love of matching patterns taps into a basic human compulsion, giving the same fix we get as an infant pushing shaped block into their corresponding holes. Game anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that it is a ludic loop that triggers addictive and obsessive gaming. Ludic loops are tight, pleasurable feedbacks that stimulate repetitive, if not compulsive, behaviour. For example, slot machines lure people into short cycles of repeated actions. We do something and the machine responds with lights, jingling sounds and occasionally cash rewards. The constant and repetitive switching between certainty and uncertainty is what lure people into dependency and addiction. Our affinity for this kind of activity is typically ascribed to dopamine, a brain signalling chemical that has been linked to reward, gambling and gaming. Recently research has confirmed that dopamine’s production and activity is linked to the compulsion to repeat an activity whether or not that activity is pleasurable. Once this compulsion has been set up the conditioning is incredibly persistent.

Additional information