Are Video Games Really Addictive?

As much as people enjoy playing video games, there is a negative stigma attached to them.  According to some critics, they are a waste of time, they can lead to obesity, they cause violent behavior. Perhaps the most frequent attack made against video games is that they are addictive. Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health.

So, are video games addictive? It depends on how you interpret the word “addiction”. Physical addiction is a biological state in which the body adapts to the presence of a substance so that the substance no longer has the same effect, otherwise known as a tolerance. Another form of physical addiction is the phenomenon of overreaction by the brain to drugs (or to cues associated with the drugs). Video games are not physically addictive.

However, most addictive behavior is not related to either physical tolerance or exposure to cues. People can compulsively do an activity in reaction to being emotionally stressed, whether or not they have a physical addiction. For some people, playing video games is one such activity they may engage in compulsively when they are stressed.

Yet many players do spend a great deal of time playing video games without suffering from either of these two types of addictions. They play games to avoid or put off less pleasurable activities or chores, or they just can’t resist the lure of playing “just one more turn”.

This phenomenon is called “flow”. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. When players experience flow, time stops, nothing else matters and when they finally come out of it, they have no concept of how long they have been playing.

Video games are indeed designed to be sufficiently engaging to create a state of flow for players, and players can become so engaged in video games that they ignore their other responsibilities. But players can become engaged in an activity, even to the extent that it may be harmful to other aspects of their lives, without games being addictive in a psychological or physiological sense. In such cases, players may say that they are “addicted” to games, whereas “obsessed” is a more accurate term.

When someone is so obsessed with video games (or anything else for that matter), that their relationships with family or friends, obligations at home or work, opportunities for growth or self-fulfillment, or health begins to suffer, that’s when it’s time to put down that controller or push back that keyboard and spend your time doing other things.  There is nothing inherently wrong with playing video games, but too much of anything can be bad for for you.




About David Mullich

I am a video game producer who has worked at Activision, Disney, Cyberdreams, EduWare, The 3DO Company and the Spin Master toy company. I am currently a game design and production consultant, a game design instructor at ArtCenter College of Design, and co-creator of the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge. At the 2014 Gamification World Congress in Barcelona, I was rated the 14th ranking "Gamification Guru" in social media.

Posted on October 23, 2017, in Games and Society and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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