Is Gaming Addiction Real?

While growing up, I was what you would call a “video game nerd.” I spent most of my free time playing video games, which back in the 80’s and 90’s were limited. I remember making my first video game, on the Commodore 64 when I was seven years old. Well, I did not make a game as much as copy code line by line into the computer. I remember in the 90’s while I was in high school making levels in Doom and Doom II with my friend Ryan well into the night. I remember connecting with my friends over a dial-up modem, often angering my parents by taking over the phone line.

Once I entered my senior year of high school I was introduced to online games. This was in 1997, almost two decades ago, when online gaming consisted of MUDS. MUDS were text based games with no graphics, where you read everything and typed in commands. Because Internet speeds were extremely slow, graphics would take too long to load. One day while on AOL, I found a MUD with thousands of live real time players. I had never played a game with more than 5-10 players before, and the idea of playing with thousands of players was intriguing. I created an account and started to play. Little did I know, by gaming, addiction was born. For the next six years, I would spend 10-14 hours a day online playing this game while spending thousands of dollars. I would ignore friends, responsibilities and halt my development into adulthood, all because of an online game.

For me, gaming addiction is not only real but a threat I have to guard myself against. I can become sucked into a game easily, finding ways to justify my time. With the advancement of technology, we have games in our pockets we can play and interact with 24 hours a day. On a personal and professional level. Gaming addiction is just as dangerous as drugs and alcohol, and I have seen it destroy lives and relationships. In a recent poll of 1,200 teenagers, 50% reported they felt they were addicted to their mobile devices.

Anything Can Be Addictive

In the early days of psychology, addiction was mostly discussed in relationship with drugs and alcohol. While I was in college, I had a professor once tell me addiction can only be chemical, and that addictions to gambling or sex were not addictions at all. This is a view that many still hold. The problem with this theory is behavioral addictions are chemical in nature, as the brain uses chemicals in all activities. All actions produce chemicals, called neurotransmitters, which allow our brains to communicate and function. When I perform a task that feels good, chemicals are released in my brain giving me feelings of pleasure. This task could be a chemical I ingested or activity I performed. My brain does not care the source; it only cares about the chemicals produced. While this is a simplistic way to describe how the brain works, the brain uses chemicals to communicate and operate.

To answer the main question: is gaming addiction real, the answer is a resounding yes. To be specific, the chemicals our brains release and the stimulation provided by games is the addictive element. Our brains do not care what the activity is, but that the activity is pleasurable. Over time, the brain will develop pathways that make it easier for activities to be performed. The more we game, the more our brains will expect it. If I did not play my game 10-12 hours a day, I was in a bad mood and cranky and would obsess of what I would do when I played later. I entered into a sort of withdrawal period, which does exist for behavioral addictions.

It’s All About Stimulation

Our brains are not designed to function without stimulation. Stimulation comes from our five senses, some stronger than others. Our brains need stimulation to function and survive. Experiments have been done in sensory deprivation, where subjects were placed in sensory deprivation tanks for hours at a time. Over time subjects would begin to hallucinate, as their brains would begin to create stimulation. In truth, all addiction is about stimulation of the brain. Without the stimulation, addiction cannot exist.

As a society, we are overstimulated. Most people always have to be doing something, either talking, listening to music, or looking at their smartphones. Over time, our brains are becoming addicted to the continuous state of stimulation. As we can now communicate anywhere and play games anywhere, addiction rates for gaming and the Internet are skyrocketing. As most people are becoming addicted to stimulation, it is becoming normal to be overstimulated.

As a result, most will not realize they are addicted to gaming or the Internet, as they will see their experience as a normal one that most share. If everyone does it, why must I stop? Most of us are dependent on technology to the point of feeling anxious or uneasy if we cannot access the Internet. AT&T’s new motto, “Keep Calm, Your Internet Is On” is a good benchmark on how important the Internet is to us. Without the Internet and continuous stimulation, we are lost.

Why Are Games Addictive?

The games we have today are much more involved than in the past. Realistic graphics helped pave the way for near realistic games. With the advancement of virtual reality, we will see gaming addiction increase dramatically. While realistic graphics are a part of gaming addiction, immersion is more important.

What is immersion? Immersion is entering into the game in a way the user feels they matter. Becoming part of a world is key in creating an addictive game. Players who feel their decisions matter, who feel they are important within the game will be more likely to come back. Some of the most addictive games are MMORPG’s where users enter into a virtual world with thousands of players, who form groups of players. These games are highly immersive as the player’s actions matter to the group and the game in general. When I was addicted to my online game, I greatly influenced the events of the world. The creators of the game themselves hated me as I often defeated them. I was important in the world, and these feelings transferred to my real life. By feeling important in a game, I feel important overall. Gaming today often includes being immersed into a world, with real life people you can interact with.

How Do We Stop Gaming Addiction?

To be honest, this is a difficult question to answer, as each addiction is unique to the person experiencing it. In a general sense, if you are addicted to games, or if your children are, you have to determine what you gain from the addiction. While simulation and immersion are important, there are needs behind driving the addiction. Often social interaction is a need, as many people are lonely in real life and have turned to the Internet to fill the void. Social anxiety is often present as many do not know how to communicate well with others in real life. Depression often exists where gaming and the Internet are coping skills to distract from the feelings of depression.

There is something behind the addiction driving it. This must be found and dealt with, or the addiction will return, or change into something else. This is why it is important to determine what is gained from the addiction, to determine what is missing. When I was addicted to my online game, I was lonely and had low self-esteem. The game allowed me to interact and to become important, so I felt that I mattered. Over time, my low self-esteem and needs for control were satisfied by the game.

Finding a therapist that can help you in this will significantly improve your chances of beating the addiction. A therapist can help you determine what you are missing in your life and help you deal with problems you have that influence your addiction. Therapy, however, is not an easy or quick solution. Therapy will take months, possibly years, to be dealt with. A good therapist can help you create a plan to fight your addiction.

In Conclusion

Gaming addiction exists, and it is extremely common. Many of the people you meet in real life are addicted without even knowing it. If you feel you are addicted or know someone who may be, finding someone to help, you will significantly improve your chances of success. If you are in the Houston / Cypress area, I can assist you in battle this addiction. If you have any questions, please feel free to Contact Me. If you are not in the Houston area and need help, contact me as well, I can help you find someone who will help you. Also, joining my newsletter will help you become more informed on gaming addiction and other important issues. Do not ignore gaming addiction, without help it will not get better.

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Nathan Driskell

Hello, my name is Nathan Driskell and I am a Licensed Professional Counselor – Supervisor in the Houston / Cypress area specializing in the treatment of Internet Addiction & Asperger’s / Autism. I work with children, adolescents, adults, couples & families.

You can reach me at my website or call me directly at 832-559-3520 if you have any questions. Thank You!
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