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What Makes Video Games So Addictive?

Video games even in their infancy of simple platformers or puzzles still possessed the ability to hook players in for hours at a time. As we are in a golden age of gaming thanks to the billions of dollars and technological advancements, the addictive qualities are becoming much more clear to leading healthcare organizations.

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This is not an attempt to vilify video game designers as their job is to create an immersive experience that keeps players wanting more. However, their video games ability to play on the human psyche makes it, in some cases, too effective.
In this article, we are going to run down some of the main reasons why video games are so addictive to help you understand what’s happening when you can’t seem to put down the controller.

Measurable Growth 

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Human beings by nature love to see measurable growth and most of the reasons why we have come so far as a society can be attributed to this. Studying, working, training and practising are all a means to an end. But a key part of the satisfaction is improving at what we are doing. Many of you might have seen progression videos of people learning an instrument or practising a skill, and the reason it is so impressive is because we are resonating with the idea of measurable growth.

So, some might see where we are going with this. Video games have mastered the art of creating learning curves that walk the fine line of frustration and satisfaction. The investment of time to get better at movement, aiming, click accuracy you name it. Usually results in the player getting better at the game and seeing better results.
Take the fighting game Tekken 7 for instance. When starting the game as a complete beginner your chances of winning against other players is largely based on luck as you mash buttons randomly. However, as you invest time into learning combos and the basic mechanics of the game, you can begin to outsmart and outplay your opponents. Ultimately you win more, climb the ranks and feel good. So good in fact, that you want to keep playing.

Social Interaction 

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Gaming these days is seldomly done alone. Even when playing single-player games there are numerous communities on discord, forums and such. Again video games incorporate a core part of human lives and that is socialising with others. Be it team-based competitive games, one on one fighting or cooperative survival. The concept of working together with your friends to beat a raid boss, gain experience and new gear is just one example of how millions of gamers spend their time.

These games are made for us to interact so much so that it takes precedence over real-life interactions. For many people who are shy or suffer from social anxiety the anonymity and freedom of engaging in online games is much easier than the outside world. So it’s a no-brainer for them to stay inside and talk to their online friends, neglecting their need for socialisation elsewhere.

Of course, interacting online isn’t just reserved for those of us who are shy. Many people with children or young siblings might see them rush home from school to play video games and catch up online. This is becoming an important part of creating and maintaining friendships for the younger generations, with this in mind we are still to see some of the negative effects it could have on the development of their social skills.

Instant Gratification 

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This is slightly rooted in the idea of measurable growth but more focused on the reward we get for improving and investing time into the game. Video games do a great job of handsomely rewarding our progression be it through ranking up for winning, cosmetic rewards for levelling up, or better gear that improves the quality of life within the game.

One great example of this is Runescape. Avid players understand that investing time into levelling up is usually rewarded by gear that makes these skills easier, faster and more profitable. This usually sets the players sights on completing this across all skills, imaging how fun and free the game will be then. The term for this is an endgame fantasy, which is an addictive component of many games these days.

The problem with gaming rewarding us so much and providing us with this instant gratification is that it messes with our motivation and desire to achieve long term goals outside of gaming. Because someone addicted to video games sees so much success when they play, it shortcuts our inbuilt desire to work and be stimulated.

A major symptom of video game addiction is lack of motivation and many sufferers find it difficult to get things done. Through little fault of their own, even the most productive of us, the likes of successful comedian and podcast host Joe Rogan struggled to accomplish anything when they suffered from video game addiction.

Escapism 

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Immersion, role play servers. Another extremely addictive feature of video games comes from their immersive experience. When we play video games we can be extraordinarily focused and stimulated. Our attention is invested in the gaming experience as adrenaline and dopamine are being released into our bodies. They really do a great job of taking us away from reality.

MMORPG’s are designed for individuals to play as virtual characters. Games such as World Of Warcraft have dedicated servers for role-playing, where players can interact and live life vicariously through their avatars eyes.

However, in the long term, this can lead to negative effects especially in developing children and teenagers. Recent studies have shown that video games suppress negative emotions in the brain such as sadness, anger and fear. For young people, these emotions are essential for their development in identifying and healthily dealing with them. When they continually suppress them it can result in a condition known as alexithymia where the person cannot identify what they are feeling. The implications of this disorder suggest problems with communication and connection to others.

Many gamers use video games to escape their traumatic situations and emotions. Hence it is not uncommon for video game addiction to be a byproduct of a comorbid mental health condition such as depression and anxiety.

Running from emotions can exacerbate video game addiction as when we fail to experience and accept these emotions they can be overwhelming when they do come along. Ultimately it causes the individual to resort to the one main way they know how to get away and that is more video games.

Competition 

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Finally the aspect of gaming that has made esports possible. For those with a competitive nature online gaming tends to be a match made in heaven. All competitive games nowadays come with a well established ranked system that creates a hierarchy amongst the players.

The drive to be better than their opponents and win will make people invest hours a day into practising their desired game until they are good enough to climb the ladder. Competition in the real world is often met with a great deal of physical and emotional risk. For instance, competing in a boxing tournament. Losing can have significant consequences on a fighter’s confidence and with an added risk of injury. Whereas losing in a video game generally costs nothing but a little bit of frustration. So, with a low barrier for entry and very little risk, many find gaming a safe way to compete.

When we look at some of the most successful competitive video games out there like CSGO, League of Legends and Rocket League they encompass at least one or more of these addictive features we mentioned. Knowledge is power and with this information in mind, we can be more vigilant when it comes to the addictive features of video games.

If you’d like to know more on how to diagnose and overcome video game addiction, The Mindful Gamer is always here to help.