Whilst recently playing an app game I noticed myself saying, ‘just one more time’ over and over again. Within this particular game, ‘SimsCity BuildIt’ you are required to wait for building materials to be created before you can improve your city. Unless you have the sufficient funds (which is unlikely because you have already spent them), you will have to wait anything between 30 seconds to 20 minutes for your supplies to be ready. There are many games that follow a similar notion and at first glance you can wonder why anyone would choose to play a game that forces you to wait to get what you want. However, when you do play these games you find yourself drawn into waiting, just a few more minutes, whilst the necessary materials are ‘produced’ for you, so that you can further yourself in the game and feel good about yourself. It becomes addictive and you persuade yourself that the reason you’re willing to wait so long to progress in the game is because it is fun and all good things come to those who wait!
According to Arsonson and Mills (1959) this type of game is using a technique known as ‘effort justification’. This is where, because you have to put a lot of effort into something, you are more likely to view it positively since this justifies why you put so much effort into it. In their famous experiment they set up 3 conditions; the severe initiation condition had participants read out sexually crude words and vivid descriptions of sexual activities from contemporary novels, the mild condition the material read was sexual, but not crude, and the control condition had no material to read. Participants were told they were to sit silently in a group discussion (which was actually a recording), participants were informed that they must stay silent because they had not done the reading necessary to take part. The discussion was designed to be as boring as possible, to see whether those who had experienced the initiations would say the discussion, justifying their actions in the incitation. After the discussion was over, participants filled out a questionnaire regarding the discussion.
|Figure 1: Mean attractiveness ratings of discussion and participants after 3 levels of initiation|
Results indicated that those in the severe condition rated the discussion as significantly more interesting than the mild and control conditions. In Figure 1, you can see that the severe condition’s mean ratings of both the discussion and the participants within the discussion is higher than the other conditions. These differences were concluded to be caused by the embarrassment felt during the severe initiation; those who undergo an unpleasant experience to become a member of a group have to justify why they go through such a painful ordeal if the discussion was so boring. Therefore they had to change their cognitions to believe that the discussion was interesting. This experience is known as cognitive dissonance, whereby you hold two opposing concepts in your mind. In this case it would be the severe initiation and the boring discussion. Cognitive dissonance is unpleasant and therefore changing how one feels about the discussion reduces the dissonance and the individual feels justified in their actions during the severe initiation. There was no significant difference between the mild and control conditions, suggesting that the mild condition was lacking unpleasantness, so they did not feel any cognitive dissonance and that was why they still rated the discussion as boring.
To conclude, in the context of SimCity BuildIt, you feel like the game is worthwhile because you have had to put so much time and effort into it, when in fact, you are actually justifying to yourself the many hours you wasted waiting around for building supplies when you could have been doing something more worthwhile with your life. You experience cognitive dissonance because the outcomes do not outweigh the effort you put in, but you change your beliefs so that there is no dissonance and this is why you think you enjoy playing the game.
Aronson, E., & Mills, J. (1959). The effect of severity of initiation on liking for a group. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59, 177-181.