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Jake Lessick Jake Lessick

Video: How Mobile Games Get Us Hooked

Basic smartphone games like CandyCrush are overtaking traditional video games because programmers design them to get us addicted. Find out their tricks!

3 Substance

Sweet, sweet candy...

Photo via Shutterstock

More and more people are switching from complex, state-of-the-art gaming console video games to simple games programmed for phones and other mobile devices. According to a new video (below) by YouTube’s “Gaming Theorists,” this is because these basic handheld games—like Candy Crush, and the infamous Flappy Bird—are designed to addict us.

As the video explains, it all comes down to exploiting dopamine pathways in the brain.  Dopamine is secreted and transmitted from neuron to neuron generating happy feelings upon completion of a task—in these cases, completing a game level or winning “prizes.”

Mobile game programmers have a number of tricks for getting players hooked. These techniques include:

1) They allow you to fly through introductory levels easily. “Right off the bat you’re receiving rewards, achievements, unlockables…I was swimming in dopamine,” says game theorist Matthew Patrick. Then to keep players from becoming desensitized to the dopamine rush, the games get harder, while increasing rewards. “As it got harder in upper levels those bursts became more sporadic and unexpected but rather than feeling discouraging it made me more excited because each victory felt earned and the reward was even more satisfying,” says Patrick.

2) Addictive mobile games can also limit the length of any given play session, cutting players off once they are most invested. This technique swindles the user by creating an “absence makes the heart grow fonder” effect in the brain.

In essence, mobile games end up working like a slot machine, the video explains: “You never know for sure when you’re going to win, but when you do it’s incredible, and the designer’s make sure that you win just often enough to keep you coming back for more.”