Quite simply they are designed to be addictive. There are literally millions of different games available. Video game designers have to make their game popular. Popularity occurs when players return to play on a regular basis. Designers achieve this by making their game challenging enough that very few people get to the finish. They also ensuring that there are incentives or wins along the way. We call this intermittent reinforcement. It fires up the pleasure areas of our brains and is a great way to ensure a person wants to return. This is the same type of reinforcement that makes gambling so addictive..
TThe diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM-5) used by clinicians now recognises video game addiction as a disorder. Some of the emotional symptoms include irritability when not able to play, preoccupation with the game when not playing, lying to friends and family about the time spent playing, and depression caused by isolation. Some of the physical signs include migraines, fatigue, and poor personal hygiene.
Like all addictions the long-term effects can be devastating. Someone addicted to video games will often play rather than sleep or eat. This can lead to sleeping disorders and dietary related health issues. They also isolate themselves from friends and family which exacerbates the issue. In more extreme cases, or if help is not sort, they may end up dropping out of school or become unemployed. Video game addiction has also been linked to both depression and substance abuse.
There is also a link between the videogame and gambling addiction. Given both use the same reinforcement schedules this is not surprising. The link is even stronger because both gaming and gambling can be accessed online. And many free games advertise gambling websites within the games. For example, Fortnite last year made an estimated $2.4 billion yet it is free to play. Some of this revenue was raised through in game purchases. Some of this vast sum is via selling advertising space. And guess which industry likes to advertise online to gamers?
Yes, that is correct, you can actually gamble on the outcome of videogames. Esportsbook for example, will allow you to bet on whole range of video game tournaments. Yes, the gaming and gambling industries are feeding off each other. It is a truly scary world.
If you are worried about somebody talk to them. Don’t text them. Sit them down and have a face to face chat. And if it seems like there might be an issue try to get them to seek help. Your GP is a great place to start and they should then refer you to a psychologist. Of course, the best solution is to insure addiction does not occur in first place. There are some fantastic apps now available that can monitor the amount of time spent on different devices etc. These apps can also be used to start a discussion about the time spent on a device or to restrict access to different games.