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Is Flappy Bird Really Addictive?

Some may find Flappy Bird's creator deciding to pull the game for being too addictive ridiculous, but studies have shown that behavioral addictions are just as real as substance addictions.

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By Bryan Le

02/20/14

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Just last week, Flappy Bird creator Dong Nguyen pulled his incredibly lucrative mobile game from online markets everywhere, turning his back on $50,000 a day because he feared it was too addictive. "Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed," Nguyen said in Forbes. "But it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it's best to take down Flappy Bird. It's gone forever."

But is it true that games like Flappy Bird - which has no direct chemical effects like drugs or alcohol and no one-in-a-million big payout like gambling - are as addictive as drugs and gambling? Turns out that the answer just might be yes.

Like more traditional addictions, playing video games stimulates the brain with dopamine and can over time have an adverse effect on players' every day lives. Gamers can begin developing signs of addiction, like constantly dwelling on a game, allowing the game to intrude on relationships, and becoming restless and irritable when not playing it.

Some may believe that behavioral addictions like gambling and video games aren't as addictive or represent a weaker form of addiction than substance abuse. But recent studies have suggested this is not true. A 2013 study showed that like drug addicts, highly addicted gamblers have fewer dopamine receptors than the general population. This means that both drug addicts and gamblers need more stimulation than a non-addict in order to feel good.

Video games, including mobile games like Flappy Bird, stimulate a lot of the same psychological traps as gambling. When a game is lost, so-called near-miss outcomes leave players so close to victory that they feel like they didn't lose and instead almost won. Then there's the "gambler's fallacy," the often false belief that if a player has been playing long enough, then they are bound to win soon or later, which results in people playing for much longer periods of time. Add in the social factor - like sharing on social media with Candy Crush or playing online with a community like World of Warcraft - and the gaming habit becomes even harder to kick.

Regardless of popular opinion, the reality of video game addiction has at least earned a mention in the DSM-V as needing "more clinical research" while inspiring the rise of video game rehabs all over the world, including in the United States.

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