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Near-Misses: The Hidden Force Behind Gaming Addiction

Xiaohan Zhan

“Argh! I was SO CLOSE...AGAIN!!! I’ll definitely win next time!” Have you ever thought something along these lines while playing an online or phone game? You were just 2 moves short of that next level, or 15 seconds away from beating that boss monster. These near-misses are even more frustrating than a complete loss, where you are expecting to lose in the end. You think, “If only I had…” and you believe that another go at it will assure your win because “practice makes perfect,” right? Wrong. Sometimes you find yourself repeatedly just short of that big win, and it irks you to no end.

Some games, like Candy Crush, even make a point of emphasizing your near-misses because the developers of the game realize that this further aggravates you and pushes you to keep playing.

So, why is it that you keep playing and playing despite the constant failure and frustration? Since there is no reward, no big win, is it not more logical to think that these near-misses would discourage you from continuing to play?

A study was conducted in 2016 on 60 students at the University of Waterloo in an attempt to investigate this effect of near misses by asking them to play Candy Crush games. The researchers used both objective tests to measure the participants’ physiological reactions and subjective surveys to measure how they felt. The results reflected that near-misses were more arousing, were the most frustrating, and caused the greatest urges to keep playing when compared with normal losses. The arousal and anticipation of a win, followed by the frustration of the near-miss is great enough to urge players to continue playing the game even in the absence of reward. The greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment, and thereby, the greater the desire to keep playing.

In games like Candy Crush, this great urge to play despite constant failure may not seem to be too great a problem, until this vicious cycle of near-misses and more playing causes you to develop an addiction to games . These games also often have options to buy more lives or materials—micro-transactions.

With a design so similar to gambling games, these seemingly harmless online games could potentially lead you down the road to gambling, which is an even more severe issue.

In fact, Candy Crush shares a number of similarities to slot machines: their rewards are connected to food like fruits and candies, there are colorful animations when leveling up, and they highlight the near-misses that give these games their addictive qualities.

Perhaps if people were made aware of the effect that near-misses have on their behavior, it would help them control their behaviors and prevent them from developing an addiction to a game, or worse, to gambling.

References:

1. Larche, C. J., Musielak, N., & Dixon, M. J. (2016). The Candy Crush Sweet Tooth: How 'Near-misses' in Candy Crush Increase Frustration, and the Urge to Continue Gameplay. Journal of gambling studies, 33(2), 599-615.

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