The Ludicrous Ludic Loop

Ok, so what gets us hooked on those stupid farmville turned battle games? I will take a minute, to explain one of the hooks that gets us at the start.  Mind you I am not a psychologist in real life, just playing one here.  

There is a nasty thing in the center of our brain called the ludic system. It’s what those that are real professionals consider the emotional center, or in my non- professional opinion, the boom-chika-maw-maw of our brain.

Its is a system of structures that signal each other and try to find pleasurable patterns in the things we do. Its primitive and meant to help us be successful at survival and reproducing.

There are loops it creates to reinforce and burn into our memories successes and failures in situations that really matter. Our brain interprets success as pleasure on this level, so in that, guess what, we are a screwed bunch of monkeys eating yellow bananas.

For example, you eat a yellow banana and your nervous system reports back, all is good now, thats pleasure. You eat a banana that turned black and your stomach reports back, what the hell just happened to your brain.

Every time something pleases us, dopamine is sent from one area of our ludic system to another as if to say, that was good, remember that. After some repetition, the brain has burnt in a pattern, and begins to anticipate this. It expresses this by sending out dopamine in advance of what pleased us before, to say, hey dude, grab those yellow bananas.

So the same crap happens when you upgrade buildings, harvest resources, and any number of mindless and pointless activities in a game. Every time the game rewards you, your ludic system is tracking that as pleasure. The beauty of the video game is the mechanisms are so simple, its not long before your ludic system learns the triggers and is sending out dopamine in advance to say hit that button, hit it, hit it, thats the good stuff, do it.

You might think there is no comparison between the pleasure you get eating chocolate versus getting 10 more hit points in a game, but your brain really doesn’t. Remember, its primitive and when you sit focussed over time constantly getting pleasure hits to the ludic system, it might as well be sex for all it cares. The dopamine is flying around like bats in a cave.

And here is the great part for game makers.  Your brains ludic system starts telling you to open and play the game.  It does not know why, it doesn’t care.  You have innocently burnt a pattern into your brain that is as fullfilling as eating or any other primitive success.

Now game makers capitalize by increasing wait times to get that pleasure, literally requiring you to pay real money to get back to the clicking and tapping.  They keep increasing wait times while raising prices.

If that wasn’t enough, they add in payment functions of your smart phone that numb you from the financial consequences of what your about to do.  Credit card purchases on your smart phone, that take a few clicks, has been proven to take out the realty of spending.

There is one more trick.  The social side.  You join alliances or guilds.  These become your new social life.  This is so strong that many players I spoke with will keep playing and spending long after they have had the realization about how bad they are being scammed.  When they finally do leave, some have emotional break downs, feeling they are letting down and losing friends.


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