For decades, video games have been a huge part of our lives and have evolved significantly since they first arrived. We have watched them grow from simplistic, relatively innocent arcade games to a highly immersive virtual experience that often sucks in players and leaves many players addicted to video games.
Game designers are behavioural psychologists who know how to keep players engaged and entertained. The goal is to keep children engaged with the game, even after they have finished playing. When someone enjoys playing video games, the reward center in their brain releases dopamine. This pleasure encourages them to want to game even more.
Video game addiction, and the reason it’s becoming more and more of a problem, is a complex issue. To bring to light the addictiveness of gaming, we will walk you through everything you need to know to understand this disorder.
Why are video games addictive?
Video games can be addictive because they activate the brain’s reward system, providing a sense of accomplishment and pleasure. They also offer a constant flow of challenges, increasing the player’s engagement and motivation. Additionally, social aspects, like competition or collaboration, can further reinforce the desire to continue playing.
What are signs of video game addiction?
Signs of video game addiction in children include neglecting schoolwork, social activities, or chores, losing interest in other hobbies or activities, becoming irritable or agitated when not playing, and excessive gaming for extended periods, especially at night. Physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or carpal tunnel syndrome may also be present.
Video Game Addiction Causes
The truth is, video games are addictive, they have always been and are designed to be addictive. In fact, the WHO (World Health Organization) has recognized video game addiction as a legitimate disorder in the international classification of diseases and has validated it as a medical condition.
As technology develops, the developers have become more intricate in their designs and capable of greater sensory immersion. The technology behind gaming is continuously undergoing rapid growth to make the gaming experience as engaging as possible, drawing more and more players in.
With that said, the following are some of the primary factors that for some gamers are video game addiction causes.
Video Game Design
While many game developers are designing their products out of some level of passion, the ultimate goal of every company is to make a profit. This leads many developers to make lengthy games or even send their players down a rabbit hole of continuous gameplay.
This can be better understood by understanding the types of games generally being played and how developers reward gamers for playing:
Single-Player Video Games
Single-player games are the classic platform on which games originated before the internet came into play. While they follow a more original gaming format, their popularity has not decreased over the years.
Single-player games are generally less addictive, as they rarely combine the use of the internet to their gameplay and feature a playthrough that has an end goal. Games like these tend to attract recreational gamers and people whose external lives are not so dissatisfying that they feel compelled to seek escapism via games.
With that being said, addictive characteristics can be apparent on a short term scale with single-player games. People may feel driven to reach the end goal of completing the game on a compulsive scale.
Multiplayer Video Games
The addictiveness of multiplayer games is quite complex and far more severe than single-player gaming. The gratification one feels from playing with friends or online can vary from player to player.
The internet has revolutionized multiplayer gaming, providing players with a platform to completely escape from reality in a social and interactive world. This becomes increasingly problematic for individuals who struggle with insecurities in the real world and seek to fill this void by associating themselves with an online character. (More on this later.)
We mostly see video game addiction become problematic in multiplayer games that follow an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Play Game) format. These games feature a highly expansive world with many online players and generally have no end. This leaves many players glued to the screen for years.
The popularity of this game style is among the leading video game addiction causes and why it has become so problematic.
Video Game Reward Systems
Almost every video game features some sort of a reward system in the design to give players a sense of accomplishment when completing tasks or advancing in the game. Developers use this reward system to manipulate players to keep them interested in the game and continue playing.
Here are some common reward strategies used by game designers:
- Achievements: It’s common to find game achievements that aren’t directly related to the main campaign; as a result, players are led into pursuing time consuming tasks and objectives.
- Sound and Visual Immersion: Much like Pavlov’s dogs, game developers have created a reward system by triggering our senses with an immersive sonic or visual experience for advancing in the game.
- Unlocking Features: The advancement in or completion of a game, whether it be a single-player or multiplayer one. Typically accompanied by additional features, more challenging levels, and bonus downloads to encourage further play or replaying the game entirely.
These tactics implemented by game developers often push gamers’ original motives with video gaming and leads them to invest more time and energy than initially intended, which pushes the potential for addiction.
The effects video games have on our psyche can vary. For the majority, playing video games is a relatively harmless pastime they engage in after school or work. For others, it can become an exclusive source for social interactions, social status, and relationships.
To better understand the psychological addiction tied to video games, we should reflect on players’ different personalities and their ultimate goals when playing a game. Whether a person plays casually or is a full-on video game junkie, each personality’s tendencies can be quite transparent and self-evident. These are the common personality types of gamers:
|Types of Gamers||Symptoms|
|Recreational Gamer||A person who plays video games recreationally for just an hour or two per day, generally has high self-esteem in the real world, is not as impulsive when it comes to playing, and can find satisfaction in other activities.|
This type of player has a relatively low addiction to video games and mainly engages with them as a hobby.
|Social Gamer||A social gamer enjoys the act of role-playing and is likely an avid gamer. They usually do not have compulsive tendencies when it comes to picking up the controller.|
Video games are a hobby and a habit, but not one that is destructively interfering with a healthy lifestyle outside of gaming.
|Escape Gamer||Gamers that are unsatisfied with their external live. The term “escaper” refers to gamers who are unhappy with their lives and are seeking to escape them through video games.|
While they are not obsessed with the full immersion of video games, their impulsivity to escape from underlying issues or avoidance to face their real-life problems is what fuels their addiction to games.
|Achievement Gamer||The achievement gamer is not as focused on gaming’s social aspects, as they have relatively high self-esteem. As a result, their experience of addiction stems from the pleasure they get from completing a game, and it often drives them to master it.|
This personality has low self-control and succumbs to gaming compulsively.
|Hardcore Gamer||The hardcore gamer is the most identified with the personality they play in the game and the world associated with it.|
As the name implies, this type of gamer shows the most addictive traits when it comes to problematic gaming. They can often have low self-esteem, and will generally exhibit a combination of the above-listed gamer personality types.
Note: It can be common to see multiple gamer personalities in one individual without sharing the severe traits of being a hardcore gamer.
The only manner of social interaction many people had before online gaming was physical – with friends, at school, or work. This has proven extremely challenging for those who lack confidence in communicating and being social. This has led to many people finding comfort and acceptance in the world of online gaming.
As opposed to reality, where it can be unfair based on someone’s physical appearance or behavior, the gaming world allows everyone to excel based solely on their skills.
Ultimately, the addiction driven by the online social life found in video games is a significant reason gamers have a hard time spending less time gaming. When done in moderation, it can be relatively harmless. However, becoming dependent on this platform for socializing can prove destructive for maintaining healthy relationships in real life.
Here are some ways gamers become addicted by finding refuge and solidarity in their social lives when playing online:
For the majority of gamers, simply having someone to interact with casually is what drives them to spend a lot of time gaming. When people lack the courage to say something in real life, they find the confidence to embrace social interactions through online in-game chats.
However, becoming dependent on communicating exclusively through video games is often an inhibition to pursuing socialization in reality, which could be damaging for a child’s development of social skills.
Gamers who find themselves playing MMORPGs are immersed in an entire world of online players that are simple to interact with in clans. Much like with communication, a group of friends may be the very thing a person is seeking in reality and lacking, yet finds them in the games they play.
It is becoming more common for gamers to build actual long-lasting digital friendships and intimate relationships with fellow players. The line on whether such relationships are healthy in the long run for players will vary depending on whether they are encouraged to pursue physical relationships as a result.
Appearance and Behavior
For many gamers, escaping their physical appearance and presumed behavior are major influencers of their video game addiction. Players can find comfort in effortlessly changing everything about themselves simply by logging into an online game or playing a single-player game.
It may come as a surprise to you that video games trigger similar reactions in the brain as alcohol and other hard drugs.
To reward us and reinforce our behavior, our brain releases dopamine as a response. This is one of the prime chemicals released by our brains that fuels all addictions—including video games. The “high” experienced by video game addicts, followed by the irritability they experience when they are not playing, are warning signs of addictive behavior.
Note: The signs of addiction we associate with substance abuse have been apparent when observing a presumed video game addict. However, the lack of study, recognition of this disorder and treatment options by institutions and medical practitioners have left many suffering from this ailment in the dark without an official diagnosis or avenue for relief.
Other Underlying Factors
Unfortunately, the risk of video game addiction becomes even more prevalent with individuals who have underlying conditions, which gaming helps escape from or cope with. Using video games to cope in a healthy and balanced way should not have any adverse side effects. However, using them as a means of escapism can lead to negative effects aside from video game addiction.
Some notable conditions associated with video game addiction are:
Individuals with underlying conditions who find themselves becoming addicted to video games generally form an abusive relationship with gaming due to finding a way of staying occupied or simply escaping their current state of mind.
Symptoms of Video Game Addiction
The symptoms of a video game addict can either be subtle or extremely apparent. While addiction traits can be masqueraded depending on the person’s gamer personality (as mentioned above), the symptoms they experience will be quite transparent across the board.
Let’s take a look at the indicating symptoms of video game addiction:
Video game addiction occurs when a gamer has difficulty focusing on external events in life and is preoccupied primarily with video games. It can be a critical addiction symptom. The gamer will likely have constant thoughts about video games that are invasive in their day to day life.
If a person seems withdrawn because of a direct correlation of video games, video game addiction can be eminent. When not behind a screen gaming, addicted gamers can seem incredibly irritable and stressed out. However, screen time or internet addiction could also be causing these symptoms.
The same as with substances or illegal drugs or gambling, excessive video game use will build tolerance. This can be seen in the amount of immersion and sensory stimulation needed to feel satisfied with a games, as well as the duration of time spent playing.
Lack of Control of their gaming
A sign of introductory addiction to video games, is when a gamer loses the ability to control their playing habits. This inability to self-control can be especially evident when a person has attempted to stop repeatedly without successfully doing so.
Loss of Interest
Many video game addicts lose interest in external pastimes such as hobbies and sports. A gamer’s lack of interest in the real world can be directly inhibiting their ability to exercise and eat healthily. This can be extremely destructive to their physical health and mental health.
If a person feels the negative consequences of their gaming on their social life and relationships, it is generally due to reclusive behavior fueled by addiction. This can be extremely harmful for younger players in their developmental stages.
To hide and justify their addiction, many gamers will go out of their way to deny their problem to their friends, family, and even themselves by concealing their gaming habits and falsifying their problematic nature of their gaming disorder.
One of the key reasons people end up suffering from video game addiction is the easy escape associated with them. As an unhealthy solution to their external problems, players that use video games as means of escape are setting themself on a dwindling path. (This symptom is common enough to have a whole gamer personality revolved around it, as mentioned above.)
Loss of Opportunities
The addiction and abuse created by video games may lead to many losing opportunities in their lives, such as jobs, relationships, and even marriages. The destructive nature of video game addiction becomes dangerously ingrained when the gamer cannot stop playing, even after losing important opportunities in their life.
It is worth noting that just because an individual may have one or even multiple of these symptoms, it does not mean that they are a video game addict. The best way to determine the legitimacy and severity of the video game addition is to observe whether gaming has a destructive impact on their life and well-being.
If the video game addiction is severe, we encourage seeking professional care, before further health issues arise.
Video games have been around for a long time. While they are predominantly harmless, the addiction associated with video games is becoming more prominent as game developers continue to make more immersive games that trigger our psyche and biology. This ultimately amounts to them being used as a substitute for pursuing external goals and social interactions in reality.
Since video games are not going anywhere anytime soon, we developed Limit Launcher as a way to help parents mitigate the potential harm done by video games to their children. Limit Launcher gives parents more control over their kids’ gaming, online and screen time habits.
When using Limit Launcher, parents are given full control over the amount of time their kids play computer games. It can automatically limit and shutdown games that are being played without ever needing to turn off the internet. Start your Limit Launcher free trial today!
Or head over to our Gaming Addiction Test to find you if you or your love ones are a victim of video game addiction.