You may have considered the questions “Is there such thing as a video game addiction?” for either yourself or someone you love. They have been playing for many hours and seem more interested in the game than in what is going on in real life or their school studies.
The quick response is to such a question is “yes a person can become addicted to video games”. Although that is a quick answer, it does not explain many of the issues underlying the concerns of video game addiction. Some researchers are already labeling such behavior it as “Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)”. Although some researchers have a name for the phenomena, they do not have definitive data supporting the ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’ as a diagnosis. The research community is still debating the issue. The psychology field often views the behavior as connected with depressive or anxiety disorders, while downplaying the addiction aspect. Addiction experts look at the addictive behavior pattern and recognize what they see. The body of research that does exist that relates to video gaming has evolved using the criteria for gambling addictions. The two behaviors often share much in common.
Addiction experts know that a person can become addicted to many behaviors. Some behaviors have a higher addictive potential than others. Any behavior that can rapidly change our mood and mental state has a potential for addiction. Since playing video games often includes repetitive behavior routines to the degree that other areas of a persons life are suffering, it shares much in common with other addictions.
One of the factors that makes video games addictive is the action. Many video games have fast action. When action occurs quickly, it functions to reward the person playing the game. Much like gambling addictions the person is stimulated by the action occurring and wants more. Despite all the activity occurring on the screen, the real action is in their head. The person playing devises more ways to create more action. Despite all the activity observed at the control pad, the action going on in their head is even faster and more intensive. There is large scale planning and problem solving going on in their head. Those wanting the action are actually seeking stimulation of those parts of their brain involved in their game play. Each time the brain is stimulated, new brain cell connections are established. Those new connections are actually rewiring their brain and how it processes information. The more action and play, the more new neural connections are made. The person playing the video games is literally rewiring their brain.
If you could hook up a PET scan of a person’s brain while they are playing video games, it would become very apparent what parts of the brain are being stimulated. The PET scan would also show the extent of that stimulation. The amount of brain chemicals being released is staggering. The addictionology experts who view ‘video game addiction’ from this perspective often see little difference in the brain activity of heavy video game users with those of gambling addicts.
Since the neurotransmitters are more powerful than street drugs, the mood change can be very dramatic. In many cases, the problem for the video gamer is more often associated with depressed moods or anxiety, rather than the game play itself. It is suspected that the video gamers are using their play to ‘self-medicate’ or avoid unpleasant emotional mood states. If you watch a video game addict, you will see the mood altering aspects of video games. The release of the neurotransmitters creates a visible mood change, and change in their thinking. Much like a person can become addiction to a street drug, they do so with their own self-produced chemicals. You will also see the drug/addiction seeking behaviors as well. Instead of “jonesing” for street drugs, they actively seek out video games for their fix. It is not by accident that people refer to World of Warcraft as “World of War Crack”.
Unlike street drugs, drug screen will not provide indications of whether or not someone is addicted to video games. The addition of all the lights, sounds and vibrations add to the level of stimulation. With the improvements in 3-D technology, the level of stimulation provided by games has increased. Many gamers seek a total sensory experience. The more potential sources of stimulation the better. This desire for total sensory experience is part of what motivates vibrating controllers, three-dimensional effects and stereophonic sound. They want to ‘feel’ the experience in as many ways as they can. Rather than the lack of stimulation as found in sensory deprivation tanks, they are seeking stimulation at the opposite end of the sensory spectrum.
The problems arise when the amount of play becomes destructive. When the person neglects hygiene, daily activities, sleep, eating and other self-care, they are well on their way to addiction. Since video games are more acceptable stimulation than gambling or drugs, many addictive personalities often resort to this activity to hide or mask their addictions. Instead of overcoming their previous addiction, they have transferred it to another object. If you watch serious video game players you will see the many mood altering experiences they go through when playing their games.
Does this mean that anyone who plays video games is addicted? The answer to that is “no”. What it does mean is that when their activities of daily living are significantly impacted, they are playing too much. Before you assume that someone you know is addicted to video games, you will need to consider the big picture of their functioning. The real problem may be family related, loneliness, depressed mood or anxiety. The gaming is their way of dealing with it. When video gaming is identified as the problem, the underlying issues are often not addressed. It is often easier to blame ‘War Craft” or “Grand Theft Auto” as the problem rather than address what makes such games so attractive to the gamer, or what problems they are experiencing.