Just signaling a reward makes us feel good? Oh no.

Dopamine neuron activation experiment

Kes Sampanthar recently discussed the effects of stimulus-reward conditioning (i.e. Pavlovian conditioning) from a neuroscientific standpoint. It turns out that your brain gets a dopamine burst whenever you receive the signal for a reward, not the reward itself. This presentation was not for the scientific community, however. It was part of last month’s Gamification Summit in San Francisco.

Though psychology and games dovetail naturally, it’s troubling to see them together for the explicit purpose of marketing, which is, after all, the aim of gamification. Increasingly, games are making their way into marketing, and marketing is making its way into games. Could the growing free-to-play model, whether it becomes the industry standard or not, lead to gameworlds that exist merely to peddle virtual goods to players more effectively? (Gulp — we’re already there, aren’t we?)