Compulsion Loops

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Artificial incentive systems are part of our cyborg reality. The concept is called "intermittent reinforcement". It came out of Skinnerian experiments that found that rats who got irregular rewards from food-bar-pushing were far more driven to compulsively push the bar.[1] If all E-mail arrived in one's mailbox once per day, society would revolve around checking for mail once a day. Instead, E-mail can appear at any time, day or night. This intermittent reinforcement causes an increase in information addiction as more and people check their mail and social network inboxes more frequently.

Compulsion Loops in Games

Games can also contain compulsion loops revolving around virtual characters with intermittent actions and effects. The structure and obligations of Farmville are very similar to those of the Tamagotchi. Many mechanics involve caring for needy animals, crops, and plots of land. "The secret to Farmville's popularity is neither gameplay nor aesthetics", writes A. J. Liszkiewicz, "Farmville is popular because in entangles users in a web of social obligations. When users log into Facebook, they are reminded that their neighbors have sent them gifts, posted bonuses on their walls, and helped with each others' farms. In turn, they are obligated to return the courtesies. As the French sociologist Marcel Mauss tells us, gifts are never free: they bind the giver and receiver in a loop of reciprocity. It is rude to refuse a gift, and ruder still to not return the kindness.[2] "We play Farmville, then, because we are trying to be good to one another," says Liszkiewicz, "because we are polite, cultivated people".[3]


  1. Intermittent Reinforcement - Are You Addicted to Email and Smartphones? Author Unknown. Published Sep 1, 2010. Accessed Jun 2011.
  2. Mauss, Marcel. The Gift: forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies. W. W. Norton & Company. 1967. Accessed Aug 2010.
  3. Liszkiewicz, A. J. Patrick. Cultivated Play: Farmville. Media Commons. March 09, 2010. Accessed Jun 2011.