It has been a week since Pokémon GO was released in the UK, and it has taken the country by storm. People of all ages have been totally addicted to it, running around cities catching Pokémon. But why? What makes this game so additive to play. So addictive, that it even gets the laziest of people outside of the house for a few hours. As with most human behaviours, the answer lies within the brain and our natural tendency to get easily addicted to things.
- Dopamine is the neurotransmitter involved in pleasure and motivation. If you do something rewarding, such as eating or having sex, you get a shot of dopamine. This makes you feel good, and reinforces you to repeat the behaviour.
- Evolutionarily, this makes sense as our sole purpose is to survive, and reproduce. Therefore doing behaviours that promote these things (eating high calorie food and having sex) is rewarded.
- However in our complex modern society, other things play on this dopamine system. Some are heavily addictive and dangerous, like drugs or gambling. However, others are less dangerous like catching that Drowzee that finally lets you evolve into a Hypno on Pokémon GO.
So how does it work?
First we have to take into account that the brain not only wants the goal, but also wants to know how you go there so it can repeat the behaviour and get that buzz again. Having sex is great but if the processes leading up to it aren’t tracked, you’ll never repeat it. As for Pokémon GO, catching that Drowzee may give you a shot of dopamine making you feel good, but you also need to remember the path that lead to that increased dopamine in order to repeat the behaviour and keep playing.
Where is gets interesting
So you’ve caught the Drowzee and now you feel good. But the feeling subsides as you turn the app off, and the brain craves it again. So it thinks; “last time all I had to do was play Pokémon GO to feel good, so why don’t I do that again”. This time, just turning the game on gives you a little taster of dopamine. Not the full thing, but enough to keep you engaged for that full shot. The vibration you feel when a new Pokémon is near that gets you excited? Another taster of dopamine in your system keeping you hooked, ready for that time you catch another Pokémon. It is this process that leads to the capture of Pokémon resulting in people getting addicted to the game.
The anger people show while playing the game is also involved. Raging at the servers being down? Capturing a Pokémon, only for the game to freeze and you losing it? This is the brain screaming for dopamine; following the learnt path towards the goal and not reaching it. This only drives you further on to continue playing the game and get that eventual dopamine buzz.
This brief explanation of why Pokémon GO is so addictive doesn’t just explain it for this game. The manipulation of the dopamine system is the reason for nearly all additive games, and even plays a part in gambling and drug addiction. More than anything else, this flaw in our psychology demonstrates that despite living in a modern world, our brains are still wired up for a world of survival. This system works amazingly well to gain food and sex, however our modern day society has hijacked it.
Many thanks for taking the time to read my post. I hope you learned something,