Cracked has a surprisingly interesting article on the psychology of rewards and how it’s applied to game design:
Do you like your job?
Considering half of you are reading this at work, I’m going to guess no. And that brings us to the one thing that makes gaming addiction–and addiction in general–so incredibly hard to beat.
As shocking as this sounds, a whole lot of the “guy who failed all of his classes because he was playing WoW all the time” horror stories are really just about a dude who simply didn’t like his classes very much. This was never some dystopian mind control scheme by Blizzard. The games just filled a void.
Why do so many of us have that void? Because according to everything expert Malcolm Gladwell, to be satisfied with your job you need three things, and I bet most of you don’t even have two of them:
Autonomy (that is, you have some say in what you do day to day);
Complexity (so it’s not mind-numbing repetition);
Connection Between Effort and Reward (i.e. you actually see the awesome results of your hard work).
Most people, particularly in the young gamer demographics, don’t have this in their jobs or in any aspect of their everyday lives. But the most addictive video games are specifically geared to give us all three… or at least the illusion of all three.
(via Social Physicist)