Every gamer has experienced the thrill of winning and the agony of defeat. But what exactly is going on in our brains when we play, and why can’t we stop playing even the frustrating games like Super Mario Maker 2? The Daily Dot offers an explanation.
Writer Greg Stevens likens the focused feeling when playing addictive games to the concept of “flow“, as coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
It arises when there is a perfect balance between stress and reward. If the task that you’re engaged in is too hard and you don’t succeed, then your emotions swing in one direction: anxiety, anger, and frustration. If the task is too easy, you swing in the other: boredom and disinterest. When challenge and success are balanced, the result can be emotionally intoxicating.
Flow is the creative process behind many inventors’ and creative geniuses’ works. Video games can also induce flow if they have that perfect mix of challenge and success. Besides that, playing them also increases the dopamine and adrenaline in our brains, which is why they can be so addictive.
As Stevens says, however, while those chemical reactions are there to spur us to create or discover something new, games produce nothing at all.
Not that playing games is bad (some might even increase your grey matter), but if you find you can’t stop playing a game (or would pay $100,000 for one), remember that your brain chemistry is just being fooled into thinking you’re accomplishing something.
This article has been updated since its original publication.
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