Two weeks ago, Reddit released a new game, “The Button,” as an April Fool’s Day joke. The game has taken on a life of its own, with users caving to temptation to play the game even though they have no idea what the button is. This strange game may provide clues into the psychology of addiction.
The Button: A Game Without a Point
The game is deceptively simple. A button is positioned next to a 60-second countdown timer, and users can press the button at any time during the 60 seconds, but only once. Thousands of people may be watching the clock at any given time, and the timer will reset for everyone when any user pushes it.
After users push the button, a color appears corresponding with the time users waited prior to clicking. Longer wait times correspond to less common colors. After a color appears, nothing else happens and the timer resets itself. The color a user gets, though, becomes a part of his or her Reddit user name, making longer wait times a sort of Internet status symbol. As of this writing, the lowest time achieved was 19 seconds; it is unknown what will happen when the timer hits zero. Since the game started, nearly a million people have clicked the button. Only users who registered with the site prior to April Fool’s Day can compete.
Why Do People Play the Game?
“The Button” might not seem like a game at all, but the Reddit forum in which it is situated has become a hotbed of philosophical discussion. Many users highlight the game’s ability to test impulse control, but discussions also veer into mortality, the nature of being, and the meaning of existence.
Discussion of the game itself often relies on religious terms, with users questioning whether not playing is “blasphemy” and referring to the game as “the word.” Others say they’re addicted to watching the timer and have no idea why they are compelled to do so.
Darren Haber, MA, MFT, of West Los Angeles, California, told GoodTherapy.org that when people become fixated on an addiction such as an Internet game, there’s usually a reason. “One person’s fun distraction is another’s compulsion,” he said. “It really varies. The key is that an addiction usually serves some essential self-regulating or emotional function that becomes highly ritualized or compulsively essential to the person’s self-organization. Is ‘The Button’ a psychological symbol of control over one’s destiny or a compulsion that has taken on a life of its own? It depends.”
- Dewey, C. (2015, April 13). The addicting, apocalyptic psychology of ‘The Button,’ the Reddit game that ate the Internet. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2015/04/13/the-addicting-apocalyptic-psychology-of-the-button-the-reddit-game-that-ate-the-internet/
- Woollaston, V. (2015, April 14). Can YOU resist the Reddit button? Online experiment that tests your self control is driving the web to distraction. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3038293/Can-resist-Reddit-button-Online-experiment-tests-self-control-driving-web-distraction.html
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