Introduction

We’ve all heard someone say ‘just one more game’, or ‘just one more minute’ when playing a game or scrolling through an app. What seem like innocent comments — one more minute can’t hurt, right? — are usually the result of a multitude of addiction-inciting behavioural patterns. Say you’re scrolling through your Twitter timeline on your phone. What’s one more swipe? What’s checking out one more profile or leaving one more nagging comment under some wit’s tweet? This is where the problem starts to show.

One more swipe

Humans like you and me are great at relativising information. We’re able to quickly and effortlessly compare matters and see how much they affect us. In the grand scheme of things, scrolling through Instagram for a little too long does not kill you. “Duh”, you say, “a scroll takes a mere second. What’s the issue?”. I’ll tell you. Our mental modal of time and effort, weighed against the personal gain of that extra swipe, post, video, or game is skewed.

We keep telling ourselves one more swipe can’t hurt, one more post isn’t a problem and one more game is just one more round of fun. However, if you look a bit more closely, you’ll see most apps and games nowadays try to influence your behaviour by adding ‘juice’. Juice is a term that, in its simplest form, means: ‘extra bells and whistles’. Look at most mobile games. They all feature a reward system. They all offer some harder-to-get rewards that either take a lot of time to wait or grind, or can be bought with some made-up currency that costs real money.

Non-rational advertising

A child staring at a laptop screen with a captured expression at night while parents read a regular newspaper

Most of these games are especially tailored to kids, because they have little to no concept of the value (or lack thereof) of these in-game items. To them, it seems like a big shiny treasure chest must be worth a lot. So they spend a lot of time glaring at their phones, doing nearly nothing. According to a study done in 2016, another large group of kids ask their parents to buy in-game items to speed things up. These items usually

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