Things have been going well for me. I dominate the homepage because the writing just happens. Also, my gaming life has been going well.


Well, I recently completed my game, got the credit screen, and sat back. About a day later, no gaming plan in my life, I sat in front of the computer with dead fingers and a line of drool coming from my mouth.

That’s no good. So I fired up a couple of game options. Viva Pinata? I love Viva. But my save file had all kinds of perfect gardens; really, what was left for me to grow and/or breed? I gave a new game on Dishonored a shot. A fresh game I’d never played before but really wanted to own and try seemed like just the thing. It’s a good game; strategizing how to slip by without killing anyone was a great challenge . . . but I couldn’t get into it.

And then my daily web surfing brought me to this article.

[quote]Some research also has found that introverts, who are more withdrawn in nature, will feel a greater sense of happiness if they act extroverted.[/quote]

As a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I take offense at this suggestion.

The article continues on. Extroverts are amazing, introverts are paranoid, blah, blah, blah. At least that’s how I, the paranoid introvert, read it. However, I’m not crazy when I say that the thrust of the article is to make introverts change their behavior. Is being “happier” really so all-fired important?

All right, the whole thing is silly and so am I. The salient point in all this is the article’s mention of dopamine, “a neurotransmitter that plays a big role in behavior driven by rewards”. Now, folks, you’ve got my attention.

Dopamine is the juice, baby.

[quote] Every type of reward that has been studied increases the level of dopamine in the brain, and a variety of addictive drugs, including stimulants such as cocaineamphetamine, and methamphetamine, act by amplifying the effects of dopamine.[/quote]

Dopamine gets you moving. (Even if you don’t use illegal substances to magnify the process.) Let’s say you’re feeling a bit sluggish, like maybe you don’t have the energy to write. A little dopamine will fix that. And how do you get your hit of dopamine? Well, you achieve a reward.

Can anyone think of an activity that is designed to give you achievements? Could it be . . . gaming?

Really, all of gaming is achievements. Different genres (shooter, action, platformer) deliver the goods in different ways, but it’s all the same dopamine ride. For me, the thrill comes from an RPG. Specifically, when my character levels up and I have a chance to upgrade the skill tree, I love it. The twinkly noise a game makes to let you know you’ve achieved level up is “the happiest sound in the world”, as I say.

And I never know exactly when the game will make that sound. You can see your XP rising, getting closer to the magic number, but the moment of level up will always be slightly unpredictable.


[quote]A substantial body of evidence suggests that dopamine encodes not reward itself, but rather reward prediction error, that is, the degree to which reward is surprising.[/quote]

The more unexpected the achievement, the greater the dopamine high.

Did I just successfully present the argument that everyone should game every day? Because if I didn’t, someone will. The facts are there.

All of which brings me back to Dragon’s Dogma, the game I finished that sent me into a tailspin. Its achievement system is very well-balanced. Rewards come at just the right pace. More than that, though, the game has an online co-op mode that lends it that “extrovert” feeling of interacting with others. This game may be the largest dopamine stimulator the world has ever seen.


So, assuming all of the above is accurate, I can come to only one conclusion: the more I game, the more I write. Science says so.

But which game do I play? I would play Dogma day after day, except that when you overplay a game, the rewards disappear. Achievement still comes, but it doesn’t feel as exciting. The surprise is less. I can rotate in other games, such as the powerhouse Skyrim, but eventually even a monster-sized game like that can be overplayed.

Clearly, humans need more games.

I hope someone besides me discovers the science evident here so that game developers get the feedback, support and respect they deserve. They have the job that could power the world, if only they knew.

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