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The news media recently reported the death of a man in a gaming café. He had been playing League of Legends for 23 hours. Police suspected that “a combination of tiredness, lack of movement and the cold weather could have caused blood clots and a heart attack.” He literally gamed himself to death. A high frequency of positive reinforcement and rewards is a critical feature of video game design. Player skill and advancement is shaped through progressively more challenging levels and a schedule of reinforcement so dense that it often can be measured in reinforcers-per-second. Not only was this man so absorbed by his gaming experience that it turned into a 23-hour gaming marathon and ultimately his death, but others were so absorbed that nearly 9 hours passed before anyone noticed he had died.
The café was full of gamers earning points and leveling up. Herrnstein’s matching law  helps explain this kind of persistence during intense gaming sessions: the rate of behavior in a situation is proportionate to the rate of reinforcement available for that behavior. The availability and density of reinforcement from his gaming were so great that other behaviors were shut out. The gamer who died couldn’t pull himself away from his game, and the other gamers were so focused on their games that they didn’t notice the corpse in the room. Aubrey summed it up in his book, Other People’s Habits when he said, “behavior goes where reinforcement flows.” This unfortunate story provides some reminders about positive reinforcement:
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