Do you guys have games that you play on your smartphones or tablets that drive you crazy? You know, the ones that, for the life of you, you can’t figure out WHY IN GOD’S NAME you are wasting your life playing??
So it got me to thinking, why do I keep playing? Then I thought, WAIT! I know the answer to this one! I’m a behavioral scientist!!
First, the culprits:
Candy Crush Saga. I blame my sister for getting me hooked on this one (though she will deny it). It’s one of those basic games where you have to clear items (in this case, candy) from a board by grouping similar items together. The game gets progressively harder and unless you want to pay crazy money for lives, you have to get your friends who are playing the game to give you lives. So basically, you are limited in how many rounds you can play at a given time. Then you have to wait for some friends to give you lives (or for your lives to refill based on time passed) before you can resume your quest to….yeah, well, your meaningless quest, basically, unless you count wasting more time!!
Happy Street. This one is even worse than Candy Crush Saga because it’s not even fun! I tried Happy Street as part of my usual app review responsibilities over at Balefire Labs. Happy Street doesn’t claim to be educational (or I’d be on a totally different rant right now) but it does claim to be fun. The idea is for you to build your own village, complete with characters, homes, businesses, etc. I tested this app about two weeks ago. I’ve been playing it ever since. I have no idea why. It’s making me crazy. I can see it being fun (maybe) for kids. But why am I, a grown adult woman, in there spending time collecting rocks, making a seagull poop on pedestrians’ heads and having a tailor make bizarre hats?? I clearly have some kind of problem.
So in the midst of berating myself I got to thinking about my behavior. I keep going back to these apps again and again. Why?
What I realized is that it’s all about the intermittent reinforcement, something that is basic Behavioral Psychology 101. What is intermittent reinforcement? It’s reinforcement that is delivered on an unpredictable schedule. The unpredictable piece of that is what’s key: we’re not sure which time we respond will produce the desired consequence. The classic example is the gambler playing the slot machine, but I bet you can think of other examples as well…continuously checking email when expecting correspondence, looking out the window for a friend to arrive. Oh, and, um, playing Candy Crush Saga and Happy Street. Heh.
So we know that intermittent reinforcement leads to more robust behavior. As far back as 1953, Skinner reported,
The resistance to extinction generated by intermittent reinforcement may be much greater than if the same number of reinforcements are given for consecutive responses. Thus if we only occasionally reinforce a child for good behavior, the behavior survives after we discontinue reinforcement much longer than if we had reinforced every instance up to the same total number of reinforcements. (p. 70)
In examining my own behavior, I have to think that I would have quit playing Candy Crush Saga and Happy Street if the reinforcement in those games was continuous. Surely they would have gotten boring by now? But dammit, they keep making me wait for consequences!!! And consequences that I don’t even care about! Oh, fine! You’re right, my behavior says that I must care about them! Grrr!!
So hey, educational app developers, what can you learn from these games?? And what can you incorporate in your ed apps that would make those games addictive too?? How can we leverage the effects of intermittent reinforcement for education?
MUST. DELETE. CANDY CRUSH SAGA. AND. HAPPY STREET.
Well, maybe just one more game….
What dumb games are you addicted to?? Please share!
References: Skinner, B.F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior, New York: The Free Press.
- Gaming and intermittent reinforcement as ways of countering dropout in online systems (vielmetti.typepad.com)
- Candy Crush Saga: Played By Every Seventh Person In Hong Kong Daily (games.com)
- Addiction Machines: How Slots are Designed for Compulsive Play (addiction-dirkh.blogspot.com)
- Candy Crush Addict!!!! (myquickhappiness.wordpress.com)