While video games can be addictive, they are not the same as other addictions. They are not inherently evil.
They are indeed designed to be addictive. Many large game developers invest a lot of money into making these games addictive. Some employ game mechanics such as loot boxes and in-app purchases to manufacture an addictive experience, similar to gambling. While the problems that video games create are getting worse, they do not create a biological dependence, and therefore, they are fundamentally different from other addictions.
Let’s try to understand how video games affect our minds.
What Makes Video Games Addictive?
Games Stimulate Our Brain’s Pleasure Centres
Dopamine is the chemical that regulates pleasure in the brain. Video games cause the secretion of dopamine because of the way we engage with games — they are fun. Over time, we get used to a certain level of dopamine, and we need to play more video games to achieve the same level of enjoyment.
As a result, every other activity feels less fun, because it does not deliver the same level of enjoyment as a video game. That prevents us from being motivated to do anything else and reinforces the gaming habit over engaging in other activities.
Games Engage the Triumph Circuit
We have a circuit in our brain that correlates the amount of challenge we face with the amount of triumph we feel. That is called the triumph circuit. Video games have successfully figured out the optimal relationship between difficulty and reward to create a sense of triumph.
Video games are addictive because they present a challenge, which is followed by a sense of achievement.
Imagine that you are playing a particularly difficult game, and you have died six times trying to beat an enemy. You end up feeling fantastic when you defeat that enemy on the seventh try.
Where does that rush come from? Why do human beings enjoy challenges, followed by success?
In evolutionary biology, there is a strong story about venturing into the unknown, finding something rare or overcoming a challenge, and then bringing it back to society. That has shaped our psychology — we, as human beings, value people who overcome odds.
Dr. Alok Kanojia goes more into the details of the Triumph Circuit and game addiction in this video:
Why Do People Get Addicted to Video Games?
Games Suppress Negative Emotion
Our brains are wired to learn from negative emotions and experiences. Video games can be addictive partly because they suppress negative emotions, and therefore inhibit our learning circuitry.
As a result, even though gamers understand that their gaming habit is a problem, they are unable to change their behavior. They stay addicted to video games.
They Give Us a Feeling of Pride and Accomplishment
Games have found a way to give us the psychological rewards that we often crave in the real world. Moreover, they allow us to obtain these rewards on our terms.
Video games artificially hijack the triumph circuit and make us feel victorious. However, the problem is that a real-world reward does not accompany that sense of achievement. The triumph circuit is what causes us to work hard in life. If we use games to trigger without working hard, then it becomes hard to activate it when we do end up working hard towards something in real life.
As a result, the brain chooses an efficient path and relies on using video games to achieve a sense of triumph.
Gamers Are Smarter Than the Average Person
Video games select and filter for people with higher fluid intelligence because games intellectually challenge us. For some kids, school does not pose enough of a challenge, so they turn to video games to experience a greater challenge.
Some studies suggest that children crave challenge and mastery, and video games provide this for them. That creates a feedback loop, and they end up getting addicted to video games.
Dr. Alok Kanojia explains the correlation between intelligence and video game addiction in this video:
Video Games Become a Friendlier Alternative to the Real World
A lot of gamers turn to video games to escape the pain that they face in the real world. That could be bullying, abusive parents, feeling like a failure, and several other unpleasant situations.
If someone gets bullied in school on Monday, they have to wake up and face the bully again on Tuesday. However, if someone is mean to you online, you can simply block them and ignore them. As a result, gaming and online communities become a safe space for people who feel rejected by society.
Letting go of this safe space is extremely difficult for children, teenagers, and even adults who were dealt a bad hand in life. They turn to video games to forget the pain, and because they do not find a way to address their problems, they remain stuck in life and stay addicted to video games.
Are Some People More Likely to Get Addicted to Video Games Than Others?
A surprising number of people are addicted to video games. Check out some video game addiction statistics here.
Some people are more likely to get addicted to video games because there is a part of them that feels unfulfilled, so they turn to certain behaviors to fill that void. Video games end up becoming an efficient way to curb that sense of unfulfillment.
A gamer could feel lonely and feel rejected by society and, as a result, turn to online communities. It becomes difficult for them to quit gaming because that is the only place where they feel a sense of belonging.
They could also feel like a failure in life. However, when they turn to video games and find that they are good at them, they feel competent in a way that they never felt before.
That makes them want to keep playing them.
Also, since gamers tend to be smarter than the average person, they turn to video games to feel the same sense of being challenged that they do not get from school. That makes them more likely to get addicted to video games.
The only way to resolve these kinds of addictions is to find a way to fill that void healthily without being addicted to something.
Video games are not inherently addictive, but they have a lot of addictive properties that can be dangerous if one does not engage with them properly. Some people are more prone to get addicted to video games due to their circumstances, but recognizing the cause of one’s addiction can go a long way towards prevention and recovery.
If you feel that you are addicted to video games, perhaps we can help! Sign up to work with a HealthyGamer Coach, trained by Dr. Alok Kanojia himself.