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Top 7... tricks that make video games highly addictive

Can't... stop.... playing. You'd think that putting down a controller and walking away from a game would be the easiest thing in the world. But it's not. There's no escaping the fact that video games are highly addictive. They are designed in devilish ways to keep us playing. And playing. And playing.

How do games manage to keep our attention on complete lockdown? Do they beam subliminal 'KEEP PLAYING' messages into our eyeballs? Are controllers and keyboards made with crack-infused plastic that we absorb through our fingertips?

If we had to write an article about it, we'd probably say that these are the Top 7 reasons that video games can take control of our minds so effortlessly...


7. The power of story


Ever since prehistoric man invented imagination, the telling of tales has been an intrinsic part of human culture. And while the quality of some video game stories is so awful it makes us suspect that they may very well have been constructed by grunting cave dwellers, it's undeniable that - regardless of literary merit - just the very presence of a plot is a great motivator in keeping gamers playing.

The desire to find out what happens next - even when we know we don't really care - has always been a trusted device of film, television, comic books etc cunningly employed to keep punters coming back for more. Nothing tingles the excitement glands like a cliffhanger, after all.

The episodic-style chapters of Heavy Rain recently demonstrated how well this can be done in games. No matter whether you consider Quantic Dream's 'interactive drama' to be a lot of preposterous button-wank or the most exciting interpretation of the medium since Shenmue, it was an absolute sticky bastard to put down.

A 'whodunnit' is always hard to resist and most players will have found that the simple need to satisfy their curiosity was the major force that carried them - probably in one or two hefty sessions - to the game's conclusion and the unmasking of the Origami Killer.

And that can be a bit of a pain in the ass. While films, for example, can go from start to finish in a couple of hours, wrapping up the story of a game can take considerably longer. We're still helplessly compelled to get to the end and find out how it all goes down, so all we can do is stay focused and keep playing til we get there. Even if that means foregoing a few hours sleep.


6. The laundry list of completion


Most gamers have an obsessive-compulsive nature bubbling away under the surface. And when presented with a laundry list of objectives that need completing, we are almost powerless to stop playing until we feel as though we've reached a satisfactory point. A point when all immediate chores have been done and we are at peace with our work.

Games are structured in very literal stages. Be they missions, sub-missions, levels, worlds or whatever. Good, generous game design dictates that there are various opportunities to save progress throughout those stages. In theory, we should be able to stop playing whenever we like. But we all know that doesn't happen.

The save point that actually matters arrives only after the 'stage' has been properly completed. Only then - when that satisfactory point of self-imposed 'completion' has been reached - can we stop playing and get on with pressing real-world demands, such as eating, sleeping, conversing with loved ones etc. Any preceding opportunities to save progress are purely for convenience. The game doesn't seriously expect us to give up half way through a mission, surely?

Mass Effect 2 was an absolute killer for this. Not only do a list of primary and secondary objectives pile up like dirty dishes, but there are so many residual objectives also: sub-objectives, scanning new planets, upgrading technologies, trying to have sex with the crew and so on.

Finding that satisfactory cut-off point in a game like Mass Effect takes real mental discipline. There's *always* something else that needs to be done, so there's always a reason to just keep playing. IT HURTS!

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53 comments

  • talls - April 5, 2010 12:06 a.m.

    What gets me is; 1) Ragdoll 2) Awsome skills 3) Chalange 4) High-Score 5) Level up (No with RPGs so much) 6) That "Whats that?", or "I wonder whats over on that side of the map???"
  • SilentGiant - April 4, 2010 3:59 p.m.

    #5: human beans lol
  • DriveShaft - April 4, 2010 2:23 p.m.

    Story is really what drives me, if there's no story, I don't give a rats ass about higher scores and levels.
  • Solidsnake1 - April 3, 2010 2:23 a.m.

    one just came to me, how about sandbox games, aka games that have multiple endings, for example, dead rising. there was a lot to do on that game, and so little time to do it. in that game, every second counts because you won't be able to do everything at once. just thought of a second one, usually games with rewards and nearly impossible tasks make it highly addictive, for example, mega man (original ones, not x), the jumps that you need to jump at the perfect moment were frustrating. last one is difficulty levels, people want to brag that they defeated the game on the hardest difficulty, but to be better, you should beat it on every single difficulty they have made, because some rewards require you to change the difficulty setting. for example, metal gear solid 2's plant chapter required you to obtain all the dog tags on the normal difficulty setting in order to obtain the stealth camouflage, and all the dog tags on very hard in order to obtain a certain wig.
  • JC182 - April 2, 2010 3:56 a.m.

    Mass Effect 2 is the most addicting game ever i have been playing it for a wek now and im not even haalf way done with the acuall missions because of all the side missions
  • CandiedJester - April 2, 2010 3:45 a.m.

    The desire for solving puzzles is a big one for me. Like Exit/Exit 2, extremely addicting. I love when there are puzzles in games that I have to solve. I liked half-life 2 alot for that reason. I can be pulled away from something if I'm just shootin' stuff up, but if I am intensly involved in figuring something out, good luck.
  • Strangleme - April 2, 2010 3:11 a.m.

    Wow!!! They couldn't of nailed Mass Effect more accurately. That is one of the most addictive games I've ever played. Not to mention one the absolute best I've ever played. Any GTA is very addictive to me as well.
  • AuthorityFigure - April 2, 2010 1:38 a.m.

    Everyone agrees that escapism is key, but I bet you all go for the most true-to-life games available.
  • 15bugdes - April 2, 2010 12:18 a.m.

    its true i get addicted to GTA san andreas easily
  • mdiaz033 - April 1, 2010 3:20 p.m.

    lol @jmcgrotty's comment! trophies and achievements are my demon. and challenging stages/playing modes and the pic for mass effect is hilarious. just look at that stupid face!
  • Smeggs - March 30, 2010 11:17 p.m.

    Character Customization and Reward systems. Character customization adds a more personal level to games, hell I must have changed my armor colors and attachments (Ex: Leggings and Torsos) in Mass Effect 2 AT LEAST twice between each mission. The reward system includes for me Achievements and new equipment or upgrades, i.e. Halo 3 armor, I went out of my way to get the achievements like find all 12 skulls and shoot down a banshee with a spartan laser just to unlock some new armor. The easy achievements work like so, *Look at the achievement requirement* "Oh, I could do that, I'll just start up the campaign really quick and get that one." Then you keep looking down the list and start saying the same thing about more challenging achievements, eventually you get to the ones where the requirement is something like "Beat the full campain in under 10 minutes on the hardest difficulty and only using a rock to fight off the enemies." You keep trying to do them way past enjoyment because it feels good to here that little satisfactory tone when you've done something, and the fact that you may have gotten new junk to slap onto your character as well.
  • MacGyver1138 - March 30, 2010 8:34 p.m.

    Did you seriously write "human beans?" I couldn't tell if that was supposed to be a joke or not. I recently read another article that talked about a lot of the psychology they intentionally use in games like WOW to keep you playing. It's actually a little scary.
  • IIIIIACEIIIII - March 30, 2010 3:54 p.m.

    I see that someone screencapped my highscore :>
  • pastycaucasian - March 30, 2010 2:06 p.m.

    Hey sometimes it just better to stay indoors and play FF13 instead of going outside.My name is pastycaucasian for a reason the sun burns me, and inside I can hide from the sun.
  • rxb - March 30, 2010 12:41 p.m.

    Number 3 is the bain of my life. If I hear a game is hard, I think ' Not hard enough to stop me beating it' queue 35 hours trying to beat Ikaruga without using too many continues.
  • MaynardJ - March 30, 2010 12:31 p.m.

    All very true for me except 1 and 2, I don't play MMORPGs and never go for highscores but prefer the sense of accomplishment in story progression, exploration and new items. Zelda and Metroid give me a lot of that. I've been playing Phantom Hourglass since a few weeks, and once I tunr on the DS I'm hardly able to put it down. Finish the dungeon, salvage another treaure, catch another fish and hope it will be Neptoona, have another go at Maze Island. I just keep postponing the final part of the Ocean King Temple even though I know I can still do side quests after finishing the game. Mega Man was always good for the challenge part. Number 9 made me give up after beating 3 bosses, but it makes me want to beat the older Mega Man games and then try again.
  • Rhymenocerous - March 30, 2010 10:03 a.m.

    Hahaha, "Be a dick"
  • philipshaw - March 30, 2010 9:11 a.m.

    Great article and have to agree with point 6 because I always have to beat a level before saving
  • sveini22 - March 30, 2010 7:57 a.m.

    achivements
  • michaelmcc827 - March 30, 2010 7:02 a.m.

    Yeah, I'm a huge completionist myself, hence my need to whore 'cheivs..

Showing 1-20 of 53 comments

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