January 5, 2011
I read this a couple weeks ago and it changed the way I thought about games.
I usually distinguish between Fun and Compulsion, when talking about gameplay. World of Warcraft and other RPGs have a lot of innate Compulsion mechanisms, but usually also give you some Fun to balance it out. Most games have a mix between Fun and Compulsion, but games that keep you playing for 60 hours and have a strong collection element are usually heavy on the Compulsion side, with varying success on the Fun side.
I personally think that Compulsion taps into some hardwired reptile-brain behavior in people, which came about because covering all the territory or collecting all the [valuable stuff] was beneficial to survival at some point in human history.
You can usually tell if you’ve been the victim of Compulsion without Fun, if you end a game much later than you intended, and promptly feel kind of stupid for not turning it off 3 hours earlier.
And besides video games, the power of compulsion surrounds us in everyday life: Frequent flier miles, retail rewards programs, collecting stamps. Not that it's bad or anything (Although I do admit to enjoying an Adbusters mag every once in awhile). It's just useful to step back every once in awhile and realize that "stuff" is not likely to be what happiness is made of, whether it be virtual or otherwise. [LINK to a Google Document]