Why is Angry Birds such an addictive game? According to University of San Francisco psychology professor Mel Joseph Ciena, it's a combination of repetition and a "false impression you're competitive and achieving something." Oh come on, we're saving eggs!
Joe Eskenazi of SF Weekly queried two experts for their opinion on why Rovio's physics-based bird-flinging game had some many people glued to their mobile devices. First up was Seppo Helava, the co-founder of Self Aware Games. Helava suggested that the game's cuteness factor had something to do with its appeal, but once you start playing it's the slot machine-like nature of the gameplay that keeps you hooked.
Probing deeper, however, the videogame designer notes that the repetitive motion of shooting the birds followed by the collapse of the piggies' castles is akin to pulling on the handle of a slot machine — another notoriously addictive activity. "Whereas with the slot machines there's no pattern, in Angry Birds there is — but it's very hard to figure out," says Helava. In order to solve that pattern, we are compelled to "pull the trigger over and over again."
Eskenazi then turned to Mel Joseph Ciena, a psychology professor specializing in development, who agreed with Helava about the importance of repetitive actions. Then he proceeds to make us all feel bad about playing video games.
"It gives you the false impression you're competitive and achieving something, but, really, you're achieving at things that are relatively safe and anonymous," he says. "It becomes addictive because you get the false impression you are improving as a person. But you are improving at the wrong thing — you're just becoming an expert at a frickin' game."
There is absolutely nothing wrong with becoming an expert at a video game. Ciena is probably just jealous as he has never played a video game himself. He should give it a try. After all, in his own words, "people can convince each other something is fun and then they're part of the in-group when they play it."
Come on, Professor Ciena. Join the in-group! We've got cookies, and they are delicious. Even NPR is doing it!