As video games become more advanced, more stories about their addictive nature are featured in the news. In some cases, gamers have actually died from complications related to playing video games non-stop for several days in a row. These are extreme cases, of course, but we all know people who just can't seem to get enough video games. The gaming habits of most players are healthier than drugs and alcohol, but evidence is emerging that suggests that video games can be just as addictive as substances. Here's a look at why these games really can be addictive.
Rewards in The BrainWhen we accomplish something in real life, dopamine is released in the brain, making us feel satisfied. Drugs also cause this release, and so do video games, which offer in-game goals that trigger the release of dopamine upon completion. First-person shooter games are especially rich in opportunities to get this dopamine fix. Online first-person shooter games that pit human players against each other in an intense environment make winning seem significant and relevant to the real world, reinforcing the feelings of reward that players get. The adrenaline rush players receive from these games also leaves them wanting more after playing. When real life fails to give them the same level of stimulation, they are left bored and unsatisfied. Interestingly, researchers have observed that video game addiction strongly resembles compulsive gambling.
Social ConnectionsIn the past, video games were mostly a solitary activity associated with loners. Most people who played for extended periods were left craving social interaction, which wasn't available through video games. With newer games, such as massively multiplayer online role-playing games, also known as MMORPGs, players are immersed in a huge online environment filled with other human players. In these games, communication between players is an integral part of the experience, so players have little need to look elsewhere to satisfy their need for social interaction. The immersive nature of these games also enhances the level of escapism they offer, enabling players to easily ignore their day-to-day stress and responsibilities. This can lead to players using the games as a crutch, similar to alcohol or heroin, that relieves them from having to address and resolve problems they face in the real world. In some very extreme cases, people have neglected their children to the point of serious harm or even death while playing these games. This is clear evidence of these games' addictive potential.
As video games become more immersive, they will become more addictive as well. As games become more realistic, players will be able to depend on them even more as substitutes for participation in real life endeavors. This is uncharted territory, and we will have plenty to learn about human behavior from how we respond.