I was listening to Jonathan Storment yesterday, and something that he said really caught my attention. He talked about how we can spend hours of our day, months of our lives, pursuing things that in the end have no value. He gave the example of his obsession with the Rat on a Skateboard game on his smart phone. Jonathan was so proud when he figured out that he was ranked number 37 in the world on Rat on a Skateboard, but the more he thought about that, the more uncomfortable he became in realizing how much time he must have spent on this silly game. On thinking over our tendency to be distracted from worthy pursuits by trivial ones, Jonathan said, “The worst thing that you can do with your life is not to fail, but to succeed at something that doesn’t matter.”

– from Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

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A hypothetical situation for you: Say you downloaded a game app for free, got a good hour’s worth of play out of it, accrued lots of points, then something happens within the world of the game and you’re about to lose everything you ever played for. (Well, the last one hour’s worth.) But you have an option: Via a simple in-app purchase, you can keep all your points for  just 99c.

Of course you wouldn’t do that, right? Nobody does that. That’s blatant manipulation. You throw the phone down and get on with your day, right after you delete the app from your phone forever.

Except people do pay the 99c. I’m guessing such people walk among us. Because there are app companies out there specialising in creating addictive games, manipulating a certain percentage of consumers into paying for imaginary pixels with their expert understanding of human psychology.

Here is some required reading for the young gamers in your life.

How Puzzle & Dragons Coerces Players To Pay Big Bucks, a heart-sinking read from Games Beat

4 Design Secrets Behind Dots, the Insanely Addicting iPhone Game from Wired

How F2P Games Exploit Your Brain from Games Radar