Dopamine, The Feel Good Relation to Video Game Addiction

Dopamine, The Feel Good Relation to Video Game Addiction

Dopamine, a complex chemical reaction simplified, is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure center and also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards but to take action to move toward them.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been playing a game, and have come across in-app purchases, tallying well over $50.00 or more! I think to myself, who is paying $50.00-$99.00 for small additions to mobile games? Turns out, a lot of people are, and it is these type of IAP’s that are generating the most revenue for game developers.

A 2014 study of freemium mobile games found that 67% of in-app purchases were between $1 and $5, but these purchases only made up 27% of total revenue, while 9% of revenue was from purchases of $50 or more. Overall, 50% of mobile gaming revenue came from the top 10% of mobile gamers making a large number of these purchases. 1

Why play video games at all? besides the entertainment value, playing video games can trigger the creation and elevated levels of Dopamine. Personally, my favorite type of games to play are open world and explorative in nature. The potential rewards that can be garnered from exploring, the hidden treasures waiting for me to discover, motivates me to play longer, all in the hopes of uncovering the secrets within. Each new stimuli gives me a little rush of motivation to explore because it makes me anticipate the reward.

“When we see something new, we see it has the potential for rewarding us in some way. This potential that lies in new things motivates us to explore our environment for rewards. The brain learns that the stimulus, once familiar, has no reward associated with it and so it loses its potential. -Dr. Düzel


Game developers have harnessed the power of potential rewards, via instant gratification. I know I’m guilty of thinking, “If I only had one more chance, or perhaps that stronger weapon, I could beat this level or area, and continue to explore.” By supplying our brains with a little boost of Dopamine, via a helpful in-app purchase, developers are able to tap into the gamers reward center portion of the brain, enabling the player to continue on their quest, until the next time a “hit” is needed.



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