The Psychology of Game Design: Why Arcade Games Are Addictive


video game addiction

The Psychology of Game Design: Why Arcade Games Are Addictive

Arcade games, video games, mobile games—they’re all incredibly fun and entertaining, but they are also potentially addictive. Some of the simplest games just keep players coming back for more. any games are designed to be addictive on some level, from arcade classics like Pac-Man to modern video games. Wintrust Sports Complex knows the psychology behind games, but we also know the importance of balance. That’s why our facility is so much more than an arcade. 

The Controversy of Addiction and Games 

addiction and games

We’ve all heard the familiar arguments that “video games cause violence,” similar to “television is rotting our brains.” The controversy has never been limited to games. Throughout history, there have been arguments that reading books leads to poor posture and eyesight. We’re addicted to screens and smartphones. Every hobby, theory, or idea has some opposition, even a very small amount.

Addiction is defined as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity, despite detrimental consequences.” Some addictions are more obvious, alcoholism and drug addiction being the most commonly talked about. Other addictions have less of a negative perception, either because they are widely accepted or involve something seen as good. For example, while caffeine is the most used drug in the world, a compulsion to start every day with a cup of coffee is hardly controversial. Exercise addiction can start as a way to get healthy, but the line can be crossed into dangerous territory. 

While the first argument that alcoholism is a disease that should be treated was in the 18th century, video game addiction is a much more recent concern. In 1982, three psychiatrists warned of a new concern named Space Invaders Obsession. The World Health Organization added “Gaming Disorder” to the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases in 2019. The official definition includes digital and video gaming, which would include different types of arcade games. 

Arcade games may be addicting, but similar to other potentially addicting hobbies, balance is key. 

Feedback Loops 

Feedback looks are a key component of games, from early arcade games in the 1970s to modern video games. Feedback loops keep players interested and engaged. Early arcade games featured simple feedback loops: a Game Over screen and displaying a high score. Knowing where your score ranks and how close you may be to beating someone else’s score fuels the native competitiveness enough to play again. And again. 

Different types of arcade games now have different, more advanced feedback loops. There may be rewards for progress and passing levels, including unlocking new features, tools, and boosters. Knowing about the upcoming rewards is often enough to encourage someone to continue playing. This feedback loop is popular in arcade games, online games, and mobile games. 

Games Designed for Addiction 

video games designed for addiction

Games are designed for addiction. Especially in mobile games, addictive play is how the developers make their profits. Games play off a desire for dopamine, the chemical messenger in the brain that is released when we do something enjoyable. Passing a new level, earning in-game rewards, and beating a high score can all release dopamine. The feelings of joy and pleasure serve as a motivator to repeat the behavior. In this case, to keep playing. 

Early levels that are easier to beat mean frequent dopamine. By the time the game levels are more challenging, the competitive edge takes over. Arcade games are designed for fun and entertainment, but there is psychology behind them to keep people returning for more. 

The reward systems, points, and in-game prizes provide immediate gratification and encourage players to continue playing. Wintrust’s Chicago arcade is a redemption arcade, so there are more than virtual prizes to earn. One reason to keep playing is trying to save up for a bigger prize. 

The visual design of games is also part of why they are addicting. Colorful graphics, lights, catchy music, and creative environments are captivating. The game design draws players into an immersive world that they might not want to leave. 

Competition and Challenge 

All different types of arcade games generally feature simple yet engaging gameplay. The rules and controls are easy to understand but challenging to master. The challenge and the desire for accomplishment keep players coming back. 

There is the challenge of mastering a game or getting to a higher level, plus elements of competition. Classic arcade games offered competition to other players in the same arcade, playing on the same machines. The internet allows the competition to be more widespread. Players can try to beat the high scores of players from all over, compete in multiplayer settings, and compete against the computer. The competitive aspect of arcade games motivates players to improve their skills and beat others. 

The Arcade at Wintrust 

The Chicago arcade at Wintrust Sports Complex is open to all gamers, from amateurs to addicts. One benefit of cool arcade games over mobile games or computer games is that the arcade closes. We know that video games of all kinds have some benefits, from cognitive skills to stress relief. We also know that, like with most things, it is important to take a break. It can be a challenge to step away from a game, especially if you’re trying to “just beat this next level.” The arcade at Wintrust is open seven days a week, from 5-9 pm on weekdays and 11 am to 9 pm on weekends. You don’t need to wait for closing time to take a break. Wintrust Sports Complex is much more than an arcade. Take a break from gameplay to check out our basketball, volleyball, or pickleball courts. Grab a bite at the Station Grille restaurant on site, or just get some energy out! 

Wintrust Sports Complex is the best place for arcade games, sports, and overall family or corporate fun. 

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