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Flappy Bird was quite the gaming craze, but what about this super simple game appealed to our brains so much?
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Okay, it's pretty simple. There's a bird, you tap on the screen to make it go up, you don't tap on the screen to make it go down. There are pipes, if you hit the pipes or the ground, you lose. That's it. And yet people freaking love it, or maybe they hated it just the right way, because well it is maddening.   Top score 29 right here and not intending to ever beat it until, you know, that little spark of something occurs to me. Maybe, maybe I can beat that score. I mean 29 is just on away from 30, and 30 would be such a nice round number. And then I'm playing again, and I'm playing and playing until I hit 30. But then, then I can keep my streak alive and the thrill begins, I'm freaking out because every new gap is another step toward 40 or even 50. AHHH! Okay 36, that's good enough, that's as far as I need to go. Until the cycle starts again.   So why,  why do I keep doing this? Why do millions of people keep doing this? Why are our brains so dumb?! It's actually fairly well studied, not with Flappy Bird specifically, but with gaming, and more importantly with gambling. This turns out to be similar, though of course not as worrying as gambling addictions. Our bodies and brains are designed for achievement. What that achievement is defined as is partially innate, like finding a suitable mate, and partially cultural, like getting a great job or scoring touchdowns in football. Whatever those achievements are, our brains crave them, and when we achieve, our brains release chemicals that make us feel good, particularly dopamine.   We sometimes talk about dopamine like it's just the chemical that makes us feel good, but it is oh so much more than that. Feeling better when you achieve is nice and all, but what your brain really wants is to find the pattern that leads to the eventual achievement. So if you ascribe value to doing well in Flappy Bird, which of course is what games are designed to make you do, and then you do well, then you get that feeling of achievement. That pulse of dopamine. But your brain is also recording the actions that led up to that feeling, and it thinks 'how can I make this happen again?'. "Well last time all I had to do was play a little Flappy Bird for a little while, so let's try that out." Suddenly just turning on Flappy Bird, starting the game, gives you a little bit of dopamine, a precursor of what's to come, an encouragement to go for that achievement. Dopamine, it turns out, is one of the keys to habit formation. The rage? Well that's part of it too. It's your brain wanting the reward, following the pattern and not getting there. That rage is not designed to make you stop playing the game, it's designed to make you try again, try harder, to break through that wall and achieve your reward.   This is an excellent system for getting food and sex. Pleasure to make you enjoy it, habits to enforce the previous pathways that led to it, and blinding rage to make you incapable of accepting failure. Of course, it's all more complicated than  this, because your brain is extremely complicated. Your craving for Flappy Bird is certainly a 21st century addiction, but it's based on neurochemistry that is far older than our species, and that's pretty freaking weird.   Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow and thanks especially to all of our Subbable subscribers. If you have any questions or ideas for us, we're in the comments and on Facebook and Twitter, and if you want to keep getting smarter with us you can go to and subscribe.