With an 89% surge in live streaming on Twitch since the pandemic changed the digital landscape forever, it’s no surprise that a large chunk of the population is curious about excessive gaming behaviors.
Amid social isolation and an irreversible shift toward cyberspace, millions worldwide turned to video games as a coping mechanism. However, gaming addictions are nothing new, even before Covid-19 forced people indoors.
So, what is it about our neurobiology that rewards us for diving headfirst into the immersive and infinite world of gaming? What causes our neural pathways to light up in response to the tantalizingly addictive visuals of this virtual landscape?
Why Do We Play Games?
In 2018, the International Classification of Diseases formally introduced “gaming disorder” as a behavioral issue, followed by the 2013 inclusion of an “Internet Gaming Disorder” in the DSM-V. But a plethora of problems followed and led up to these categorizations.
One of these problems was applying the criteria from substance and gambling addiction to video gaming, in addition to hyperfocus on violence and aggression based on the assumption that games are inherently bad.
While a preoccupation with substances or gambling can help diagnose such addictions, the purpose of a video game is to offer an immersive, emotional, and interactive experience for players to return to.
Another problematic belief is associated with the value of socializing online compared to in-person interaction; people could interact with wider networks online or even the same people, but online interaction is deemed less valuable.
Besides, differentiating between an inclination to play games and gaming’s negative effect on other parts of people’s lives remains significant in the addiction debate.
Is Gaming Truly Addictive?
While we can’t disregard recent evidence on gaming addictions, there isn’t enough data to make conclusive statements. For instance, there’s might be an association between gaming and drug addictions; brain areas involved with memory, decision-making, emotional regulation, reward processing, learning, cognitive control, and movement were activated for both substance addiction and gaming addiction, for lack of better phrase.
However, the conditions applicable to addictions were used to reinforce the existence of Internet Gaming disorders rather than defining them. The conditions were withdrawal, tolerance, loss of control, loss of interest in other activities, excessive usage despite resulting problems, deception, losing jobs and friends, using it to avoid feeling emotions, etc.
Several problems related to the misdiagnosis of a massive community come up, incredibly when the definition of addiction is often limited to spending most of your day gaming, even if you use it as a source of income. This leads us to why gaming is such an engaging activity.
Games appeal to our base instincts; the desire to compete among visually enticing aesthetics and reasons and platform for social interaction. They offer meaningful and enriching experiences, a claim supported by players finding unique ways of playing the games even the developers can’t foresee.
They create joy derived from a sense of control and competence from in-game achievements; gamers experience the freedom of making profound choices with tangible impacts. This experience is important in a world where we often control very little of what happens to us.
Gaming isn’t inherently evil; comparing them to regular addictions like substance abuse is unreliable. Research and perceptions need to catch up on their appeal, the potential of monetization, and the benefits they offer people instead of just violence, addiction, and aggression.
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Systematic literature review online gaming addiction among children and young adults: A framework and research agenda
Veronica Rosendo-Rios, Sangeeta Trott, Paurav Shukla, Systematic literature review online gaming addiction among children and young adults: A framework and research agenda, Addictive Behaviors, Volume 129, 2022.