Phat Loot and Neurotransmitters

"The Psychology of Video Games" blog has published a short article on the science behind the euphoria we experience whenever we loot a crazy nice item within a role-playing game. The article is primarily focused on World of Warcraft, though other games are referenced, too.
Borderlands gives you random guns from drops or chests, which compels us to check EVERY container, vending machine, and item dropped by felled enemies. Torchlight essentially uses the WoW system, and you can bet your thumbs that the upcoming Diablo III will push it even farther. But why are gamers so susceptible to the loot hunting addiction found in these games? Why is this gameplay mechanic so incredibly effective in getting us to keep playing?

To answer that question, let's consider slot machines and a type of brain cell called (dopamine neurons.) The latter are the bits of your gray matter responsible for monitoring levels of the pleasure-inducing chemical dopamine in order to regulate behavior and figure out how to get more of a good thing. It's these cells that light up when something nice happens in your life (say a delicious Hot Pocket or a fuzzy puppy belly) and triggers a gush of the neurotransmitter dopamine. But what's more, dopamine neurons play the role of trying to predict the rush from nice things, and they may fire before you actually encounter them. Given a couple of chances, they'll learn to light up when you hear the microwave timer beep that precedes your delicious Hot Pocket. This is a pretty useful thing as far as evolutionary advantages go, since it clues you in ahead of time that something good is in the vicinity.
Developers are nothing more than dopamine peddlers, as it turns out.