Why We Play Games (Part 2)
Game playing triggers a basic instinct
on Saturday 07 February 2009
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Why do we play games into the wee hours of the night? It turns out that games trigger a basic drive that neurobiologists call the pleasure instinct which is directly related to the fitness of a species to survive.

If you’re a gamer, and I assume you are if you're reading this piece, you might have wondered at some point why games can be so addicting. Why do we willingly give ourselves Herculean puzzles and adventures when we could just as well be sitting in a bar sipping on a cold one and making eyes at that gorgeous thing across the room. What possible drive could we be satisfying that would keep us glued to a keyboard and a video screen until the wee hours of the night? Well, keep reading and I’ll tell you.

My first clue was in the form of a rejection letter from an editor of a magazine. He said he liked the story but my style was “old fashioned.” Ouch! When I finally recovered from my wounded ego, I started thinking about what, exactly, could he mean? I didn’t have a clue. Then I started reading stories in the magazine that passed muster until finally it hit me. Compared to my stories, the published stories packed in a lot of information in a few words. While my stories were setting mood, painting pictures, revealing character, these stories were giving mountains of detail that the story really didn’t need. If I was right and the story didn’t really need all this detail then the question was, why do readers find pleasure in this kind of writing?

To understand that, we have to understand what neurobiologists call the pleasure instinct, which is evolution’s tool for giving us behavior that maximizes our reproductive success. Once this is understood it becomes more or less obvious that we must enjoy a high input data rate in our reading because it triggers our instinct to survive through learning. If we did not have this instinct then our natural instinct for conserving energy would have wiped out our species a long time ago.

We can see how this applies to games. Games play right into evolution’s need to drive us to learn and understand. A good game encourages learning, fast responses, and quick decision making and we’re rewarded by the pleasure instinct.



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