by Sean Clapp
Video games are one of humanity’s most incredible inventions. With the introduction of virtual reality headsets, and more powerful gaming hardware and software, games such as Call Of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Fallout have become more sophisticated than ever. It wasn’t long ago when the most popular video games were two-dimensional and only as interactive as a joystick would allow. With these advancements, should come cautionary steps to prevent harmful addictions.
Games, video or not, provide an escape from reality, and hopefully, are fun. Which is, of course, why so many people play them. A scientific perspective on what makes games “fun” can explain more logically why people enjoy playing, and why some people might develop an addiction to these video games. Usually, games have a goal or result that the game itself defines as success. For example, the goal of basketball is to get the ball through the basket. When you succeed by the game’s parameters, your brain releases serotonin, the chemical that is responsible for happiness and joy (Clark Buckner). Some people might want to succeed in the game once more, and want to play again. The feeling someone gets while playing again, the anticipation of success, is caused by the release of dopamine in your brain (Clark Buckner).
After repetition of serotonin-inducing games, serotonin receptors can become desensitized to the original levels of the chemical. After this, the same sensation requires a much higher level of serotonin. The serotonin-dopamine-serotonin reward cycle and the desensitization of serotonin receptors are what science has shown is the cause of addiction.
If someone habituated to the serotonin high from video games were to stop playing, they might experience depression because normal serotonin levels would not induce well being. This type of physical addiction occurs the same way as an addiction to hard substances as dangerous as methamphetamines, and heroin (Foundations Of Recovery).
The dictionary defines being addicted as being “physically and mentally dependent on a particular substance, and unable to stop taking it without incurring adverse effects” (Oxford Dictionary). With the research I have referenced above, you can see that video games can cause both a psychological dependence on the specific game and physical dependence on the game via the induction of serotonin and dopamine and the failure to satisfy these dependencies would result in adverse effects, such as sadness and depression. Therefore, video games can be argued to be addictive by definition.
With this scientific and logical understanding of addiction, you can label all sorts of natural and innocent human behaviors as “addictive.” We can undoubtedly label eating food for survival as addictive, but it is essential to recognize that addictions are only to be considered harmful if they negatively affect a person’s way of life. Therefore, continually eating fattening foods for temporary joy is negatively addictive. Video games might adversely affect someone’s life if they get in the way of their life’s functions and values, therefore, video games can be abused.
With the recent advancements in video game capabilities, game objectives have become more tailored to attract an addictive mindset. In Call Of Duty, you can play different game modes with different overall goals, but the underlying objective stays the same: eliminate other players and stay alive. As you eliminate other players, you are rewarded with a rise in serotonin levels and an increase in dopamine as you stay alive. With these basic biological reactions to these objectives and a natural appeal to the competitive aspect, one can find themselves very entrenched in Call Of Duty.
This advancement in video game plots can be argued to be a type of “target marketing” towards people with addictive tendencies and has made video games more and more addictive over time, with many more examples to show than just from the Call Of Duty franchise.
I address the addictive nature of modern video games with a sympathetic point of view. I, having grown up in the age of technology, have enjoyed playing video games for most of my life. Although I still enjoy playing video games, I know the harm they can cause. Once, when I was younger and unsupervised, I was playing a console video game, and as I was playing, I was procrastinating going to the kitchen to get food to eat. I ended up playing for over 7 hours without food, and I only stopped when I grew sick and vomited out of hunger.
This example, though extreme, can show how dangerous a video game addiction can be, and why I believe they should be considered a substance prone to abuse.
Clarity Way: Physical vs Mental Addiction
Technology Advice: 4 Chemicals That Activate Happiness – Clark Buckner
Foundations Recovery Network: The Effect Of Drugs On Serotonin