I am not here to advocate for video games, nor am I here to say that video games are bad or addictive. My stance on it is a neutral one. I think that we have a lot to learn from the world of video games because they are everywhere. Video games exist on a range of devices, from smartphones; to tablets; to consoles; to desktop and laptop computers. It is highly likely that today’s younger generation of school students play video games, and that they are choosing video games over other activities (like reading or playing outside with their friends). Rather than seeing video games as the antichrist, a better position to take would be an informed one. It is worth investigating why these games are so immersive, and why so many school-aged children are choosing games over books, toys or company with friends.
So are video games addictive? Short answer yes. Long answer: addiction is a loaded word. In everyday language what classifies as ‘addictive’ can range from binge watching the latest season of Game of Thrones, to the intense craving of wanting to smoke a cigarette. In the realm of psychiatry, video games are acknowledged to be a form of behavioural addiction – similar to gambling. However, addiction exists on a continuum and at the extreme end of the continuum, a truly addicted person wouldn’t enjoy playing video games, rather their lives would solely revolve around the game, to the extent that other facets of their lives (family, friends, relationships, work and studies) would be neglected, or even non-existent. That is the ‘true’ clinical sense of the word addiction. In terms of video games, the empirical evidence seems to suggest that Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs – which are games like World of Warcraft or Guild Wars) are the most addictive. One of the biggest reasons for this is the social community/obligation that a player feels when they carry a certain level of responsibility in the virtual world. The social aspect is heightened when a person forms an identity in the virtual world. A person who doesn’t fit into society could actually very much fit in, and find his tribe in the virtual world.
Having said all that, in a recent book I read by Scott Rigby and Richard M. Ryan (2012), I was captivated by the point that the game system in itself is not to be blamed, at least not entirely. When a person appears to be addicted to video games, the easiest thing to do would be to blame the game. However, it is better to ask: What does the game-world offer that reality does not offer? Moreover, why is the person playing the game, what is the appeal? For some people, a big reason why they continue to play their favourite games is stability. Unlike reality, video games are stable and predictable, a player knows what is going to happen, and he understands what is required to succeed in the game. He knows that with sustained effort, he will level up and earn points. If the game doesn’t offer this, or if the game is poorly designed, to the extent that the mechanics frustrate him (and make him want to throw his controller against the wall) then he can opt out of the game and play a different one (also known as rage-quitting). In the real world, the situation is different – that raise that he was anticipating could go to somebody else, the efforts he put into getting his eight year old to eat vegetables could be extremely futile when he finds out that this kid decided to hide them inside her pockets. There is a level of convenience when it comes to playing video games. Once upon a time, in order to play a game of dodge-ball, it took effort to round up the kids around the block and play a game. Nowadays, you can play virtual dodge-ball with anybody who might be online. Video games are convenient, predictable and social – and these are a few reasons why you may find people lost in a virtual world.
The end advice (in the book) was simple: play more video games. Play games to understand that world (rather than to bicker about how ‘addictive’ video games are from a distance).
Stuff I enjoyed reading (and referencing)
Bourgonjon, J., Valcke, M., Soetaert, R., de Wever, B., & Schellens, T. (2011). Parental acceptance of digital game-based learning. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1434-1444. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.12.012
Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). Internet Gaming Addiction: A Systematic Review of Empirical Research. International Journal of Mental Health Addiction, 10, 278-296.
Rigby, S., & Ryan, R. M. (2011). Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us in and Hold Us Spellbound. Westport: Praeger Publishers Inc.