Have You Ever Been Hooked on a Game?

Around 10 years ago (at least, it feels that way), someone recommended 2 iPhone games to me: Pocket Frogs and Birzzle. Pocket Frogs is a game about collecting, breeding, and playing mini games with frogs, and Birzzle is a match-3 game like Bejeweled (but with birds!).

Over the next week or so, I experienced something very rare to me: I got completely, utterly hooked on these games.

Both Pocket Frogs and Birzzle, like many iOS games, are masterful at getting you hooked. They’re very easy at first, getting the dopamine flowing through a series of rewards, and then as you improve, the increase in difficulty results in fewer and more intermittent–but much bigger–rewards.

They’re Skinner boxes at work, in your pocket.

For some reason today I’ve been thinking about these types of mechanisms that hook players. I think sometimes they’re seen as deeply manipulative, especially if they result in people wasting tons of time and money.

But I also think if you’re aware of the psychology behind them, they can be a lot of fun for a short period of time. I’m interested in exploring that.

So have you ever gotten hooked on a game? What was it about the game that had such an impact on you?

16 thoughts on “Have You Ever Been Hooked on a Game?”

  1. World of Warcraft (mmorpg) was highly addicting and I could spend a solid DAY playing the game…then feel very guilty afterward. For that game, I think it’s just the wide variety of things you can do and explore. I haven’t really had that with a game on my phone because they all seem to have some sort of limit. I do play Star Wars Heroes on my phone every morning and again the the evening. It has daily quests and I like building my toons up, but once I run out of my limited resources I have to stop. (I almost never pay real money in these types of games) I think if games like Bejeweled (I play the Star Wars version ) had unlimited “lives” I’d probably play them longer than I should.

  2. I’ll also say I made myself NOT look up Pocket Frogs and Birzzle just so I wouldn’t find a game that would be too addicting! 😀

  3. Topsoil, Lines, Two Dots, and the Candy Crush family have all been banned from my phone. They all have nearly constant micro-successes that probably create a constant flow of dopamine to make them addictive. Komi has become my goto for a relaxing game that’s *not* addictive for me. Perhaps because each puzzle doesn’t have those micro-wins built into it?

    I think the closest analog I’ve encountered in analog games might be trick taking. But in multi-player games, you’re not taking every trick.

    • Like Denise, I’m hesitant to even look up those games! 🙂 Though I might take a look at Komi to see what you’re saying.

  4. I think back to SimCity, Civilization, and Railroad Tycoon as games where I NEEDED to do just “one more thing” before I was going to stop and then I would look up and it’s stupid o’clock…

    Pandemic Legacy has that to a point (as might other legacy games, just the only one I’ve played) with wanting to keep pushing ahead to the next game and see what new stuff comes into play.

  5. In the board game space, leaving out CCG/LCG type games, I think that a well-designed legacy game does this really well. Pandemic Legacy season one is a perfect example. In your very first game, you think you are playing a regular game of Pandemic, and then suddenly, the game changes, and you immediately start to tear things up and sticker things. And then throughout the campaign, the rounds each get harder, and you’re going to lose, but the game makes sure that when you lose, you feel ok about it, and never get 100% stuck in a scenario. And when you win a month the second time around, you feel really good about it.

  6. Are you familiar with the most current online craze of ‘battle royale’ style video games?

    Since they are player elimination shooters a large portion of the addictive mechanics wouldn’t translate well to boardgames, but the basic premise of being dropped into an ever-shrinking war zone to scavenge for loot crates full of random goodies has it’s merits.

    Addictive games often do two things well – they make the definition of insanity a (seemingly) rewarding experience and they allow for players of all levels to set their own personal victory conditions.

    • I’m familiar with them (Fortnite, Player Unknown, etc), though I haven’t played them. That’s an interesting observation about games that let players set their own personal victory conditions.

      • I feel it’s because you’re only focused on your individual experience rather than the overall game outcome that this is possible. You only need to kill one more guy, last one more minute or find one cool piece of loot to walk away feeling like you experienced a personal victory… a little harder to achieve this in competitive boardgames, but I guess euros do it to a degree.

        Another cool common mechanic of video game addiction are unlocks that carry over from match to match – It’s potentially unbalancing but I could imagine that even monopoly could be fun if you upgraded your car to move one more space or the dog could dig his way out of jail once in the next match – gives everyone reason to look forward to the next game if their time investment in the last wasn’t a total loss

  7. Did you consider app integration for Charterstone (Instead of probably much of the index box stickers and guideposts)? My wife and I just played through the whole campaign and we really enjoyed it (on the dining room table for three days until we finished it). Of course our favorite is Viticulture. We are ready to try out the new “Rhine” cards.

  8. Jamey,

    I think you know this story…my Gateway Game was Arkham Horror about a decade ago and it remains my #1 game of all time, despite having playing several hundred games at this point. Several things made it truly memorable…the fact that it played up to 1-8 people, one was amazing as it provided a solo experience and eight as it handled a larger game night crowd; it was the first cooperative game I had ever played; and the game’s volume, as evidenced by the number of expansions, led me to create my own company and launch two successful KS projects to bring order to the chaos among 1,800+ cards. I was “hooked” and admittedly it’s still a game I’ll play anytime, anywhere.



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