The Perils of “2048”

Ayla Safran, ‘15

Many BHSEC students have found a new procrastination method during the last few weeks: a phone application and Internet game called “2048.” Janna Adelstein, ’15, complains that the game “takes up too much time; I just can’t stop playing.” Simply put, this puzzle game requires the sliding of tiles on a board in order to add squares of the same number together. When the board fills up with tiles, the game is over. The ultimate goal is to combine the tiles (which are all multiples of two) into one tile that has a value of 2048 – hence the name of the game. However, this simple premise leaves any outsider wondering: what could possibly make this game so addictive?

There is no question that this game, like many, such as “Candy Crush” and “Flappy Bird”, before it, has a quality that makes it hard to put down. One student admitted that she has stayed up until one in the morning, not doing homework (as would be expected of a BHSEC student), but rather playing 2048, over and over again. The game has also inspired a variety of spin-offs, from a version that combines 2048 with Tetris, to one that has NYC private schools instead of numerical tiles, all of which are largely played and discussed.

Any game like 2048, which has been described as easy to play but hard to win, is mainly fun because it provides an opportunity for the player to achieve something (albeit a pretty insignificant accomplishment), but has very low stakes and virtually no consequences for failure. This can be extremely rewarding, whether or not one achieves the ultimate purpose of the game. In fact, there seems to be no end point. Once the 2048 tile is created, the goal is to create a 4096 tile. Presumably, there is no reachable end to the game; there is always the possibility of reaching a higher score. In addition, playing a number game has the ability to seem cerebral, while actually being as mind numbing as any other video game. One student said jokingly, “I really like this game because it matches my intellectual abilities. I like games with numbers because they make me feel smart.”

The excitement that many are used to feeling from playing such a game actually comes from a release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that sends messages to other nerve cells, and it helps to control the sensations of reward and pleasure. Judy Willis, a neurologist, explained that games like 2048 are engineered specifically to be an “achievable challenge.” This essentially means that while the brain is stimulated enough for the game to keep it interested, it is also possible to get the satisfaction of reaching the goal. In addition, the fact that the brain is constantly trying to predict what will happen, consciously or unconsciously, (for example whether the tile that appears on the board will be a two or a four, or where it will appear on the board) is extremely enticing, and the brain actually releases dopamine each time that the prediction comes true.

For those who have not yet played 2048, be warned: once downloaded, it will take up many hours of your lives. However, Ellie Safran, ’17, explained, “2048 may seem like a waste of time, but people would be wasting their time in other ways anyways, and the game is relaxing and not stressful, unlike other games.” An outlet for stress is something that BHSEC students really need, so maybe it is not so bad after all that they are spending their subway rides staring at their phones rather than doing their reading. 

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