Games that Turn Humans into Rats in a Skinner Box

The box also taught us two fundamental lessons, one of which had ramifications that extended far beyond Skinner's experiments. Humans are hardwired to respond to primary reinforcers, just like any other animals. And while primary reinforcers have a diminishing effect once we're satiated, secondary reinforcers, like money or social status, exist outside our biological needs, and these never hit a satiation point. In other words, we are hardwired to seek approval from our peers, and we can never get enough of it.

Many people defend FarmVille as a harmless distraction, arguing that the thousands of hours spent playing the game would still have been wasted on other activities. But there's no question that the social game market, with its virtual currencies and unlimited stock of goods, is a huge cash cow. And it's also clear, when you look more closely at FarmVille, that it was engineered with one goal in mind: to coerce users into tending their virtual plots of land for as long as possible. Using our natural tendency to reciprocate gratitude from our peers, we end up pestering our friends to keep returning. And cleverly-timed crop cycles force players to return to their farms at all times of day. But what about the techniques employed in other games?


Games like Farmville and Angry Birds tap into the reward mechanisms in our brains, administering doses of dopamine to us for repetitive tasks.

Folksonomies: life conditioning time gaming

/business and industrial/agriculture and forestry/crops and seed (0.537645)
/pets/reptiles (0.464342)
/shopping/gifts (0.406090)

primary reinforcers (0.974837 (negative:-0.659622)), Skinner Box Games (0.844647 (neutral:0.000000)), Angry Birds tap (0.820278 (neutral:0.000000)), huge cash cow (0.708937 (neutral:0.000000)), cleverly-timed crop cycles (0.705357 (positive:0.384297)), social game market (0.694952 (neutral:0.000000)), secondary reinforcers (0.685496 (negative:-0.455196)), reward mechanisms (0.552433 (neutral:0.000000)), repetitive tasks (0.550342 (negative:-0.636298)), harmless distraction (0.537686 (negative:-0.841725)), diminishing effect (0.530239 (negative:-0.659622)), farmville (0.523338 (negative:-0.607100)), fundamental lessons (0.521804 (neutral:0.000000)), biological needs (0.493005 (negative:-0.446941)), satiation point (0.492057 (negative:-0.422868)), social status (0.486795 (negative:-0.206144)), virtual currencies (0.484999 (neutral:0.000000)), natural tendency (0.482237 (positive:0.584649)), unlimited stock (0.475807 (neutral:0.000000)), virtual plots (0.473126 (negative:-0.301827)), peers (0.352057 (positive:0.424439)), Humans (0.334571 (neutral:0.000000)), dopamine (0.292996 (negative:-0.636298)), ramifications (0.285699 (negative:-0.224091)), doses (0.284079 (negative:-0.636298)), brains (0.272152 (neutral:0.000000)), gratitude (0.268714 (positive:0.584649)), Rats (0.264729 (neutral:0.000000)), approval (0.261884 (positive:0.264229)), experiments (0.252609 (negative:-0.224091))

FarmVille:Company (0.841216 (negative:-0.303550)), Skinner:Person (0.438403 (negative:-0.224091)), dopamine:Drug (0.371325 (negative:-0.636298))

Reinforcement (0.985411): dbpedia | freebase
Game (0.846834): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
B. F. Skinner (0.709981): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Operant conditioning (0.675405): dbpedia | freebase
Reward system (0.626272): dbpedia | freebase
Experimental analysis of behavior (0.599573): dbpedia | freebase
Play (0.546226): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Games (0.525948): dbpedia

 The Zynga Abyss
Electronic/World Wide Web>Internet Article:  Jackson, Benjamin (01/24/2012), The Zynga Abyss, The Atlantic, Retrieved on 2012-01-26
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: technology conditioning time gaming