Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Video Gaming Activates Pleasure Centers

A study by Simone Kuhn of Ghent, Belgium suggests that playing video games changes the brain and activates the same pleasure centers that light up when gambling. Even when losing, a player is hooked by the payoffs of hormones and deep neural centers.

But I think that puts video games in an unfair light. I'll bet that a lot of the things we love to do, such as sketching, probably activate the same "reward hub." For me, laying in a watercolor wash feels like pulling a slot machine handle. More times than not, I lose my quarter and come up empty. But something in my brain says, "Pull the handle one more time!"
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7 comments:

Janet Oliver said...

Well said, James! If one wanted to get all behavioral about it, one could say that selective reinforcement is the reason we keep trying even through failure or disappointment. One could say that the effort is it's own reward. It's what professional, positive-reinforcement based dog trainers call seeking, or searching, behavior. The very act of looking for food stimulates the pleasure center in the canine brain. Playing games with the dog that activate this seeking behavior helps to keep the dog happy even through stressful times. Making drawings when I should be packing for my upcoming move does the same thing for me!

Audran Guerard said...

Ahah, i feel obliged to respond, being in the VG industry AND doing watercolors. This post is no surprise. I would even say, the brain is actually wired to provide pleasure when an acquired skill is used successfully. This is how mankind learned to survive... by learning new tricks, and applying them successfully. Mastering a game system has tremendous appeal because the brain feel obliged to master it, and "force" you to play by rewarding you with pleasure. Many gamers feel depressed when they've beat a game. They will quickly seek a new one or hope for a sequel. Same in art, boy I feel good when one of my painting turn out nice. When done... well I'm looking out for my next subject.

daylily fan said...

When I was working on my BFA I did most of my works in watercolor because, for me at least, it was the most challenging media. Having to be aware of the variable transparency of each different pigment, how they interacted with other colors on the palette, which ones could be successfully washed over and which ones might be lifted by a wash over the top. I worked hard to master the different effects and there was a definite pleasure in working an area and knowing in advance that this was how the pigments and paper would interact. That emotional high was one of the reasons I loved the media.

These days I do a lot of graphics in Photoshop for web pages. There's a similar high when you master techniques and can draw on your grab bag of acquired skills to pull off something that a is challenging.

I suspect that mastering a video game's controls and level challenges and mastering a software tool, or a painting media all give positive reenforcement to the pleasure centers in a similar manner.

And, Audran's right, you get addicted to finding the next challenge and conquering that as well.

JC said...

Hey James! Much like Audran, I work in games and use watercolor's among other mediums as a personal means of skill betterment and to enjoy myself. The one thing this article is not addressing is that in most popular video games, but not all, there is a progression based on some kind of mastered skill. With gambling, it's mostly chance (unless you are a card counter). I believe it is this chance factor in gambling that makes one "feel good". Therefore, I would suggest that a skill game is much different than a chance game. Chance is an addiction that, in all likelihood, will not help the person playing out in the real world. But desiring to one-up your last skill or technique in order to reach another goal will at least provide a momentum of passion that can move a human forward in life. Maybe this is a good addiction? However, if video-game playing is all one does in life then I guess the point of skill "transfer" from a video game to the real world is a moot point. Either way the human race seems destined to live in the virtual world. Lonely? Very great discussion.

Dan Gurney said...

For me, it's the ukulele.

dfa said...

This is good news, considering the US congress wants to slap labels on games similar to ciggarettes.

James Gurney said...

Thanks for all these great insights. It's especially interesting to hear from gamers and developers. I think risk and rewards are tied together in all sorts of meaningful enterprises. Among painting media, I think watercolor is especially challenging -- and rewarding -- because of the level of commitment required at each stage. The painting is a kind of record of those moments of commitment.