How Games Inspire Breakthrough Thinking—And How Publishing Can Benefit
Do me a favor. Peer at the game-like iconography of your iPhone. If you do you might recognize it as reminiscent of old video games like "Pac-Man" and "Space Invaders." Notice that when you poke an icon with your finger the program gradually fills up the screen with a dash of color. That's a game mechanic. It offers a sense of anticipation - Voila! Email! - and triggers the release of dopamine, a hormone in the brain that encourages us to explore and try new things, and rewards us when we learn. Since we like the feeling we get when our brains are awash in it, we'll do whatever it takes to get it, over and over. We also miss it in the event we run low. That's when our cravings are dashed and we experience disappointment. You find out you didn't make the swim team, your boss didn't approve your raise, or your local bakery ran out of your favorite chocolate chip muffin. Video and computer games, as well as slot machines, are particularly good dopamine generators. In fact, video games uncork almost double the levels experienced by humans at rest. They provide "threshold effects," in which prizes or level changes are dribbled out to keep us hooked. It's the same system that drives compulsive gamblers and cocaine addicts.
What's more, good game design offers a user constant learning. You didn't receive a manual with your iPhone did you? Instead, you probably could use it right out of the box. It's intuitive. Just by looking at it you knew what to do. That's good design, and has become a trend in consumer electronics. But the reason it works is because it owes a lot to games. Video game players don't receive manuals with Grand Theft Auto or Sim City either. They start playing and as part of the playing process they learn as they go.