Digital Addiction: The Gaming Industry Knows How To Keep Teens Constantly Connected

Laynee Hall, Staff Writer

The sound of clashing radiates from the exploding tower in the distance. Looking around, chaos is visible in every direction. Rubble lines the ground as the journey onto the next tower begins. Clash, clash, clash. The sound becomes louder and louder as advances toward the structure continues. Sword in hand and hand raised high, the charge towards destruction commences.

It’s amazing that a battle this intense can be waged while the warriors are simultaneously solving quadratics.

Because of technology, gamers can get lost in a virtual reality almost anywhere — on the bus, at lunch, and even in the classroom. Many gamers pounce on any chance to jump online when a teacher gives free time or isn’t paying attention. The behavior appears compulsive but is it truly an addition or could a bigger collaboration of causes be at fault?

Being obsessed with video games and the outlet they provide to many is becoming less and less of a rare character trait. Many argue that the term “video game addiction” takes a bad habit too far by categorizing it as an addiction. Others state that video game addiction is a true illness that should be medically diagnosed by professionals. This controversy has created a new sense of urgency in people who study the influence gaming has on the mind, especially as they discuss the important question of whether or not video games are truly addictive.

It was not until recently that the idea of video game addiction was accepted as a term in part of the medical world. Definitively speaking, the idea of an addiction can be defined in a textbook rendition as a “biopsychosocial disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences.” To put it in more fundamental terms, an addiction is a habit or activity one partakes in even if it has negative consequences linked to it. For something to be considered an addiction the activity has to reach a point in which it starts to have significant negative impacts on other areas of an individual’s life.

It is also, however, important to recognize the difference between recreational activity and addiction. When a person partakes in an activity in a recreational way, they do this as a way to have fun and experience the activity in a positive way. When somebody partakes in an activity in an addictive way, it is most likely coming from a place of coping. The idea of addiction is oftentimes connected with the concept of using an addictive habit to escape another part of life.

According to PhD addiction counselor Steve Rose, when using a substance or behavior to cope, a person is coming from a place where they feel like they are not whole. This idea of addiction can be found in many different facets of behavior but has recently been linked to the pull video games have on the minds of many.

As the term has become more and more popular within communities and society as a whole, questions regarding the term have been asked, many of which being within the realms of whether or not video games themselves are truly addictive, or if it’s the lure and industry behind them that captures the attention of players and refuses to let them go.

“I think that they could probably be [addicting] for some people,” Highland student Jeremiah Jimoh said.

Looking at video games and their presence on a screen from a chemical standpoint has been a popular form of investigation for some researchers working on the question of whether or not these games of virtual reality have the ability to be considered addictive from a standpoint of brain chemistry.

When somebody is playing a video game, they are experiencing a situation in which their brain is being coerced into believing that the actions on the screen are what is happening to the actual body of the gamer. During the process of completing levels and winning in the context of the game, a gamer also experiences the reward center of the brain sending out signals of dopamine to the rest of the body.

Dopamine is oftentimes referred to as the “feel-good” chemical the brain sends out in instances of excitement, but, scientifically speaking, dopamine is a very powerful neurotransmitter within the brain that holds onto interest and curiosity for specific amounts of time. According to doctors at MAYO, [Dopamine] can be self-reinforcing, making it hard for a person to turn away from an activity when they know it to be linked with a likeable feeling that has already been experienced.

This idea of a dopamine release into ones brain during an activity within the realms of video games contributes to the ongoing possibility that chemically speaking it is possible for video games to be addicting, but also creates opportunity to consider what other aspects of video games are responsible for making individuals stay with them after they’ve experienced the release of chemicals within their brains from a standpoint of longevity because dopamine can only hold a person for as long as their brain can sustain to release it, making it the first connection to a possible addiction.

Aside from the idea that video games hold a chemical hold over a users’ brains, the industry this world is built on maintains a complex multi-billion-dollar economy that is responsible for marketing products. Flashy advertising and products created specifically to fit every gamer’s possible need is one piece of the industry pie, but the other part is the money that goes into creating games that are specifically designed from a psychological standpoint to encourage gamers to game and spend money on world building within these virtual realities.

According to a study recorded in the Psychiatric Times, video game designers approach their game designs with what would be the most interesting to the consumer, meaning that designers create games that encourage gamers to continue playing, level after level. Oftentimes, video games are designed to create small rewards in players’ minds. A player keeps coming back to the game because this system rewards them with small victories that encourage them.

“I probably play like three hours a day,” Jimoh said. “If I have something better to do, I’m not going to play, but if I’m sitting at my house and not doing anything, I’ll play.”

On the other side of the spectrum, the industry responsible for the marketing of video games themselves and commodities to go along with them also creates an encouraging environment for a widespread collection of gamers. From chairs designed specifically for gaming to headsets that allow communication with people from around the world, the possibilities and motivation of starting and staying on games are endless. Who needs to see and experience the world around them when they have an infinite number of worlds within a screen located four feet away? As of right now, the only thing truly stopping people from experiencing a perfect world of gaming is that PS5s and the newest edition of Xboxs have been impossible to locate without a magical touch on Amazon.

Video games have also become a new way to communicate with others and feel like a part of a specific community. They voice the idea of isolated togetherness because while playing, each member of a team is on their own in their own space, but feel as though they are a part of something larger because of the social outlet that video games are advertising that they provide. People from all over the world have the ability to be connected with each other through the virtual world of video games, made possible once again by the multi-billion-dollar industry responsible for the popularity of playing video games.

But does this mean people are addicted? Is the pull of virtual reality more enticing than actual reality?

Most instances of people playing video games falls under the label of recreation, and the idea of addiction only truly comes into play in serious cases of people choosing to play even when it means that they therefore are experiencing extreme and destructive habits and consequences.

That’s a question gamers must ask themselves.