This post comes courtesy of the fantastic Trisha Miller of That Dang Vegan. In addition to being extremely passionate about animals and the vegan lifestyle, Trisha is also an avid gamer and I was thrilled when she approached me about writing a piece for Gamerwife.
There was a time not so long ago when video games were not so widely accepted by the mainstream audience. It used to be assumed that only “nerds” would enjoy playing games for 12 hours per day. Of course, this is no longer the case. Gamers come in all shapes and sizes as well as a large variant in casual or extreme players. The fact that video games have been created to fit almost every genre and art style imaginable entices endless amounts of people to start gaming everyday.
But what if I’m afraid that video games will take over my life? What makes a person want to play from dusk til dawn? And what will happen if I don’t want to do anything else anymore? How will I know that I’m addicted?
What Does the Word Addiction Mean?
When we think of an addiction, most of us think of drug addicts or alcoholics. We think of someone who is helpless to control their addiction because they are being controlled by the chemical substances they put into their bodies. Their bodies have learned to adapt to the abuse they are putting them through. Furthermore, their brains are being manipulated into sending out rewarding chemicals, which make the body feel good.
However, The word “addiction” is not necessarily a medical term. It’s more of a cultural and casual term we use to describe someone who does something too much. This word is thrown around an unfair amount in the media in order to provide a scare or shock value to certain stories. Yet, the term “addiction” does carry some weight to us. Of course, it truly does mean something when used in conjunction with alcohol or drugs, but if you really think about it, saying someone has an “addiction” doesn’t really mean anything.
For example, taking a friend to the doctor and telling them, “my friend is addicted to drugs” doesn’t give them any medical information. Yes, they understand that the person uses drugs to a dangerous extent, but what of the condition of their mind and body? A medical examination would need to be performed in order to determine such aspects of a person’s mental and physical health.
Put plainly, in theory a person off the street could snort, smoke, or inject drugs for the first time and become physically and chemically addicted to their drug of choice because their body now needs it. There is no injection for video games. It’s the rewarding feeling of completing a quest, chapter, challenge, or the entire game that makes us excited to play again and again.
So, what does it even mean to have an “addiction” to video games? It’s safe to assume that someone who says this phrase means, “this person plays video games an unhealthy amount”. Again, the term “unhealthy amount” varies quite a bit from person to person. Ergo, this is quite a hard thing to pin down and look at scientifically.
As such, in relation to video games, the term “addiction” doesn’t quite perfectly apply, but unfortunately there really isn’t a better term to use in its place.
What Makes Video Games So Addictive?
There isn’t one particular quality of a video game that makes a person unable to stop playing. There are many people on the planet who are just not interested or don’t enjoy playing video games whatsoever. However, those who do play usually play because video games make them feel good. In that regard, scientists do confirm that neurobiologically, video games can be a catalyst for a rise in dopamine and other chemicals in the brain, just like drugs and alcohol. Although, it should be noted that the levels of dopamine in the brain when playing video games comparatively to drugs and alcohol are astronomically different.
Video games have a plethora of different reward systems. Whether that means gaining coins at the end of a quest, leveling up your character’s stats after earning XP from battle, or purchasing new gadgets or weapons to defeat your foes. Each of these individual aspects of a video game could potentially be the reason that someone finds a video game addicting.
In all reality, we should be looking at the mental health of an individual who seems to play video games too much or begins to blur the lines of reality and fantasy. This individual will likely show signs of mental illness and not necessarily the inability to say no to a video game because the game itself is just so addicting.
How Often Does It Occur?
Sex, food, exercise, and work are all possibly pleasurable activities that people have been known to have problems regulating. Video games are similar to these types of activities that can become wrongly prioritized in a person’s life.
It’s important to distinguish casual gaming with a gaming problem. As a rule of thumb, let’s just use a general measurement and say, “If you’re activities are compromising your health, destroying your relationships, and are taking over every aspect of your life; then you have a problem”. With that being said, do we have statistics to back up claims that video games are addictive? Yes, there are studies that show anywhere between 1% and 6% of all gamers are addicted to the game that they play. Again, we should all keep in mind that this ecompases many facets of the word “addiction”. Some folks who become addicted to video games follow this path simply because they have an “addictive personality”, which really means that they have some type of mental disorder occurring within their brain. When someone becomes obsessed with things regularly, this can spill over into multiple areas of their lives, including gaming.
Of course, picking up a game for the first time could be rewarding enough to the individual that they become addicted the very first time that they play the game. But in my opinion, this is majorly due to an underlying mental condition. If we take a look at alcohol and drug addiction we find that those who are addicted to drugs are twice as likely to already suffer from mood and anxiety disorders. This information suggests, that there does appear to be some type of connection to those who are susceptible to addiction in any form and mental conditions in general.
In conclusion, any activity when not exercised in moderation can be very dangerous. In my opinion, taking video games off of the shelves won’t stop those with mental illnesses from becoming addicted to other activities that make them similarly feel good. Just as we would not ban other artistic mediums such as music, television, and painting; I do not feel that we should blame video games for a generation of addiction simply because technology is more accessible to us now more than ever. To sum it up in a single phrase, video games do not create addiction, mental illness does.