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  • Writer's pictureSanja Rozman

Why are video games addictive?

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

What makes a video game an addiction trap?

Our world depends increasingly on interaction with the internet and virtual worlds. There is no escaping it. Being comfortable in these worlds is a great advantage. It is already evident in the difference between younger and younger generations, who are born into this world and understand much better than older generations, who have yet to learn. Parents may therefore overestimate the benefits of mastering computer proficiency, but not every child who is passionate about video games will grow to become a computer expert or programmer. Some will slip down the slippery slope into addiction, wasting years of youth that are hard to make up for later. Where are the boundaries of safe gaming? And who is responsible for setting them?

Parents today are increasingly concerned as they see their kids spending more and more of their free time playing video games. They worry about the loss of time, interest in school and sports, the emotional effects of violent games and problems with concentration. But since the emergence of gaming addiction is so recent, they lack personal experience or reliable information about protecting their kids from the dangers of gaming addiction.

Are all video games equally addictive?

The most compelling games usually mimic the real world or a complex alternative world. They make them even more interesting by adding the possibility to create magical creatures, purchase various tools and weapons, group the players together, and enable chatting between them. Compared to the actual world, virtual gaming worlds offer quicker rewards, entice emotional engagement and teamwork without danger of social exposure, and rapid progress of social status in virtual reality. Thus, in the game, a shy youngster can become a respectable warrior or a king, and gain social prestige, respect, camaraderie and admiration from the masses that he cannot even dream of in their real life. The game helps them may vent their anger by shooting thousands of virtual enemies without danger of actually hurting anyone. All these characteristics can alter the neuronal pathways in the brain and thus have the potential to cause addiction.

Why are video games so attractive?

Gaming addiction

Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

The videogames are designed by the world's best experts who know how to make them appealing and irresistible to as many players as possible. They make huge profits from it. Just as people have always tried to escape the painful consequences of everyday life by binge drinking, drug abuse or non-chemical addictions of all kinds, video games can be an opportunity to escape reality. They are especially attractive to people who are dissatisfied with their lives, or have a reason to numb the pain they feel because of problems in the real world. Losing oneself in virtual worlds makes dreams come true at the touch of a button, while in the real world, that would be hard or even impossible to achieve with much more effort. They also offer the possibility to release emotions forbidden in the real world, such as aggression. Players can pretend they already are what they wish to become, and their teammates accept them as such.

Does playing aggressive and war games influence the development of aggressive personality?

Personality formation is influenced by many factors, most of which are related to the way a child is brought up and the potential traumatization of the primary family. The roots of personality are set and mostly fixed before the kids even go to school, and the educational style in the family of origin plays the mayor role. Growing up in a family also teaches children how to deal with certain emotions. But family guidance is not always the best and most appropriate. They often prohibit the expression of emotions (e. g. anger and sadness, aggressiveness, sexuality) without giving instructions on what to do about it. This can lead people to repress emotions, deny them, or associate them with certain means of self-medication, such as alcohol abuse or excessive gaming. Or it can lead them to act out their anger by hurting other people.

Some studies, however, have shown that video games may be linked to aggressive behavior. They may make it all to easy to pull a real trigger, having done it so many times in the virtual worlds.

From attraction to addiction:

In time, frequent repetition of activities that change brain chemistry and bring relief from unpleasant feelings leads to addictive changes that become more entrenched over time. There is a characteristic craving to keep repeating the activity; a desire that is stronger than ordinary desire and that has the characteristic of a need. (See How can people get addicted, when there’s no mind-altering substance involved?)

How to prevent gaming to become an addiction?

Parents will have to educate themselves and form their own views on how much is the right amount, and where too much breeds addiction, and then stick to them. To start with, we need to educate ourselves about the potential dangers of children entering virtual space, so that we can act like role models and teach the kids to behave safely.

Sanja Rozman - Nice to meet you!

Sanja Rozman is a medical doctor, psychotherapist and author of 8 books on behavioral addictions.

that is about to be published by Brandylane Publishers Inc., Belle Isle Books.

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