This is what online gaming does in your brain (and why playing many hours does not mean you’re addicted)

This is what online gaming does in your brain (and why playing many hours does not mean you're addicted)

“You’re flawed.” I’ve been hearing that expression practically since the beginning of my life as a player, which is more or less since I can remember. Sometimes with a sarcastic tone (when it comes from someone who shares the hobby with you) and others with an air of honest concern (when the one who addresses you does not know the medium and its ways). The “vice” of video games, as a joyful and imprecise synonym of addiction to them, has become one of the most lightly diagnosed diagnoses by those who do not have the necessary preparation to give it.

The issue, as it almost always happens, is more complex and has many more readings than those usually given in our circles of friends, industry events, specialized media or digital forums. But if we ourselves, who enjoy assiduously videogames, are the first to take the issue with distension, more serious is when certain characters receive the necessary attention to raise alarms that arouse concern and even fear for free. How many parents or guardians, in their humble ignorance of the matter, will not have been frightened by the apocalyptic and irresponsible analyzes carried out by this type of interlocutors?

The subject interests me a lot and gives for a mature discussion. Of course, this requires appropriate documentation, which I will share with you, to establish adequate bases and also allow us to have an appropriate defense against the unthinking accusations from certain fronts. Faced with the downpour of ignorance, there is no better umbrella than reason.

What we talk about when we talk about addiction


Look if the thing is complicated, that one gets to read studies published by experts and realizes that there is not even a clear consensus among them when dealing with addiction in the world of videogames. There are those who believe that addiction to online gambling should be treated with the same approach as that of the traditional offline game ( John P. Charlton, Ian DW Danforth ) and those who think that a focus should be closer to that of Internet addiction in general ( Van Rooij, Schoenmakers, Vermulst, Van den Eijnden, Van de Mheen ), or by being more precise in the language, content and interactions that can be found online.

Only 3% of online players can really be defined as addicts

Whatever approach you choose to take, the latest linked study, published in 2011, yields a very interesting fact: only 3% of online players can really be defined as addicts. As a figure to put in perspective, Bungie revealed that in the days after its release the average session of play in ‘Destiny’ ranged between three hours on weekdays and four on weekends. That’s many hours, enough for a concerned relative or friend to consider the idea of addiction; however, we have already seen that the studies show a much lower incidence among the population. Who is wrong then?

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In fact, there are many more factors that are considered by specialists than a simple calculation of hours invested ( Griffiths); six in particular: prominence (that is, when the online game like EARN TO DIE is imposed on the other aspects in the person’s life), mood swings (strong feelings experienced during the game sessions), tolerance (the amount of time required by the player to experience sufficient stimulation), symptoms of withdrawal (discomfort and discomfort that can come to give physical signs when you are not playing for a while), conflict (with those around the player, with other activities of his life or with himself) cause of the game) and relapse (repetition of previous patterns in relation to the game behavior after a period of control and stability).

Playing online many hours is not synonymous with being addicted

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It is clear then that the matter is much more complex and involves many more factors than a simple matter of hours spent in online gaming. There is logically a relationship between the level of addiction and the time devoted to the activity, but the above-mentioned factors and a broad set of motivations are much more decisive in establishing the diagnosis ( Zanetta Dauriat, Zermatten, Billieux, Thorens, Bondolfi, Zullino, Khazaal ). As Griffiths points out very well in another study ( link ):

“The difference between a healthy high enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasm brings something to life, rather than subtracting it.”

We talk about situations that are far from the reality of the vast majority of online players, no matter how much time they dedicate to this hobby

The difference between simple liking, more or less intense, and an authentic level of addiction, is established when the online game is causing a real deterioration in the life of the affected, reaching the point of sacrificing their personal relationships or neglecting their responsibilities for devoting an insane level of energy to this activity (Sara E. Allison, Lisa von Wahlde, Tamra Shockley, Glen O. Gab bard). It is, therefore, a completely aberrated distribution of priorities, which only grows until reaching unsustainable levels for the person and those around him. Once again, we talk about situations that are far from the reality of the vast majority of online players, no matter how much time they dedicate to this hobby.

Stimuli, gratifications, and self-control

Logo League of Legends 1

The online game, regardless of the chosen genre, has a much higher level of stimulation for the average user than the traditional offline side, and obviously, that has its whys. It is above all the social patina that is added that multiplies the component of challenge and gratification in the face of victory ( Ng, Wiemer-Hastings ), a factor that is simply attractive to the vast majority of people, but a catalyst for other problems only in very concrete.

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There is a high degree of reward that certain individuals can affect more strongly in the absence of a sufficient level of social satisfaction

There are no truly conclusive studies on the neurobiological component that may lead to a greater inclination to this type of behavior, so I will not give links in that sense; There is something else, although there is still much work to be done, about the personality aspects that may be involved: low emotional stability, reduced social skills outside the Internet and low self-esteem, among others ( Jeong, Kim ).

There is also a very high motivational component in the way online games are set up, with a high degree of reward that certain people can affect more strongly in the absence of a sufficient level of social satisfaction in their relationships (again, Griffiths ) . The developers seek to find a way to please very different personalities and thus reach as many users as possible, whatever their motivations, all channeled through socialization and the sense of community; once again, there is nothing negative in this aspect by itself, leaving the risks limited to certain population groups.

A call to responsibility

The problem of addiction to online gambling exists, like so many other dependencies that are generated in the human being in search of covering certain higher needs once the basic ones are already solved. Precisely because of this, because it is a reality, it is convenient not to banalize the use of this term, qualifying as addiction to (or in its absence, as the friendliest “vice”) to behaviors that are far from being so.

As we have seen, addiction to online gambling has much more complex symptomatology and diagnosis than a person without proper preparation can determine. No, of course, it is not a matter of how many hours are spent giving the command or the keyboard, and yes, there is a high contribution of gratification product of teamwork, the recognition of merit and even well-understood evasion that are not harmful at all when they are taken properly.

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