Gah!!! Research! I thought our nights of pouring over studies and scholarly articles were over after graduating college. Apparently, you can’t just copy and paste the first thing you read about on some blog and take it as fact! Joking aside, we both had learned quite a bit in our research on this topic…we hope you do to.
We all know that video games have come a long way since the days of moving some blocky character around on a screen to save some pixelated princess from a barrel throwing monkey. Just check out the graphics of today’s games and you’ll see there is a push for realism in the characters and worlds they live in. There are also many different types of videos games that span all sorts of interests (meaning that anyone out there can become “addicted”). Genres are plentiful; sports, fantasy, shooter, science fiction, puzzle, platformer, racing, flight simulation, farming, life simulation, and zombie survival to name a few.
Why Do People Play Games?
Through our own experience and some of the experiences of others we have come to the conclusion that there are 4 primary reasons people play games. Sure there are probably more out there but we really didn’t want to scour the entire internet to find them all :).
1) Games are an escape.
Video games offer a way to zone out of situations that are sometimes hard to deal with. People who struggle with creating/maintaining relationships, experience poor performance in school, and who may have dysfunction in the family can find a means of escape in a video game world.
2) Games can be socially stimulating.
You can meet a lot of interesting folks when gaming online and that can be a reason to keep playing. Our own experience with this made it hard to quit at first. Our clan wasn’t just a bunch of teenagers wasting time in front of a screen while drinking Mountain Dew and eating Hot Pockets. They were factory workers, car enthusiasts, dentists, surgeons, IT professionals, ex-military, and even a really funny German guy. These were real people we met and had a blast sharing a hobby with.
3) Games offer constant satisfaction of accomplishment.
Similarly to the bright lights and noises of a casino, video games can snag us with the constant barrage of potential success. However, gamblers often know there is a very good chance that they’ll lose…while gamers are constantly rewarded for the amount of time and effort they put forward in a game. (Nick interjecting now) I loved the feeling of leveling up my Dark Elf in TES 3: Morrowind. Knowing that I’d be able to finally be able to take down King Helseth and his guards was extremely satisfying…but it still took me forever to finally do it. Oh, the werewolves were freaking crazy hard to kill as well.
4) They are just plain fun!
We can drone on about some of the underlying reasons that a person feels drawn to a game but in reality, they can be a really fun experience.
Are Games Really Addictive?
There are a lot of people who believe that video game addiction is a very real problem and there are others who believe that the act of gaming excessively is a sign of other underlying issues and is more of a symptom of a bigger problem. After reading these studies, Nick and I are more comfortable with the term “addict” to describe a person who games excessively.
The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse studied the release of dopamine in the brains of people who had a history of using ecstasy and found that there were similar levels of dopamine release as when they played a motorbike racing game. That’s crazy!
The fact that moderate gaming (less than 2 hours a day) is unlikely to cause any social or physical issues makes it harder to classify as an addictive “substance”. Gaming is seen as a normal hobby by most people and excessive gaming is often seen just as a person being lazy or stubborn. The difficulty in classifying it as an addictions is made worse by the fact that many people who play excessively rarely seek help. There isn’t a large enough recognition of a problem (who cares how they classify it) to be researched as much as other non-chemical addictions such as gambling or porn.
Just how bad are the effects of gaming addiction?
There are a plethora of negative effects that gaming can have on the mind and body of an “addict”.
- They often feel irritable or restless when they aren’t able to play.
- They fantasize and daydream about their next session or past accomplishments in their favorite games.
- They aren’t honest about how much time they spend on video games with loved ones.
- They find ways to isolate themselves to game longer.
- They aren’t honest about how much money they spend or lose track entirely.
- They are mentally drained and physically fatigued due to lack of sleep or healthy diet.
- Some players develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
Many of these effects contribute to deteriorating communication in the family and struggling relationships. Excessive gamers are often distracted to the point that it gets in the way of developing their careers and scholastic endeavors.
The Effects of Video Games on Minors
The above list is a general, non-exhaustive list of negative effects gaming addiction can have on the mind and body. However, when speaking about minors, we found that children who play video games in excess show increased signs of inattention and ADHD versus those who play less. Studies have already proven that children who struggle with attention disorders often struggle more in school…this is a scary connection.
Parents often focus on what foods their children are consuming and whose house they are attending for a sleepover…how often do we focus on what they are playing? Video games are slowly getting closer to realism…not only in terms of graphics but there are virtual reality systems that put you right in the middle of the action.
How Can I Address This Issue in my Family?
I’m just going to throw in my two cents after doing this research and also dealing with it in my own family. As always, the best way to prevent gaming “addiction” is to address it early on. You need to know what games your children are playing and who they are playing with online. You need to talk to them about some of the dangers of excessive gaming but you need to do it in a loving way that doesn’t seem like you are judging them.
If your children (or loved one) are already showing signs of excessive gaming you can do a lot with a healthy dialogue. Don’t just be on the attack when discussing it. Figure out why they are gaming so much and attempt to fill that need with another activity. Depression and isolation are a dangerous mix and you can’t afford to ignore the issue. There are many resources available to spark discussion and assist you with getting this problem in the past.
If you’re struggling with depression, or think you have a video game addiction please consult your general physician. If you have had suicidal thoughts please call or text 1-800-273-8255. *Please note we are not doctors, psychologists , or experts on depression or addiction. This is our research and should not be taken as medical advice.
Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Resources if you feel depressed to the point of breaking.
Help for Depression – You aren’t in this alone.