Is Video Game Addiction A Real Thing?
Much like gamers themselves, instances of gaming addiction are often stigmatized.
While stories of deaths stemming from three-day gaming binges in internet cafes are hyped in media coverage, gaming addiction in the United States is more often characterized by someone sacrificing their work, school and social life in order to progress in the digital space.
Psychologists such as Douglas Gentile at Iowa State University have studied video game addiction for decades and asserts that our access to broadband internet and the spread of technology have only increased addiction numbers.
Gentile believes that the global gaming addiction rate falls somewhere between 4 and 10 percent of gamers.
Who is and isn’t addicted is often hard to determine, as researchers offer contrasting definitions of what constitutes addiction.
In an interview with CNN, Gentile says games become compelling because they satiate our basic human needs for autonomy, belonging and competence.
Games put you in control, they can offer a sense of community and most games have skill curves that allow players to feel successful while playing.
Recent additions to modern games include systems designed to keep the player engaged through unpredictable reward systems.
Games such as Destiny have been called out for their random number generator (RNG) loot systems that randomize the rewards dropped for players after completing a mission or objective.
Titles boasting millions of players such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Rocket League and Overwatch feature cosmetic items that are unlocked through a system that most closely resembles a slot machine.
In Call of Duty, items that bear a significant impact on gameplay are obtained through this same RNG system, giving an edge to players able to obtain higher-tier items.
Those unable to secure the best rewards are encouraged to keep playing or spend even more money on a micro-transaction system to gain an edge over others or secure coveted in-game items that hold little to no value outside of the digital game space.
Through these examples, one can assume that not only are modern games hooking players with feelings of empowerment and belonging, but the addition of systems that closely mirrors gambling has created a dual threat of addiction for gamers young and old.
But statistics and insights from psychologists only go so far in explaining the real-world impact gaming addiction can have on an individual.
Speaking from personal experience, I can recall how detrimental my teenage gaming binges were when I would sometimes spend more than 24 hours at a time playing a single game.
I would ignore school work, reject spending time with family and not leave my house for days.
The concept of these marathon sessions weren’t taboo in my friends group.
We would boast about having more than 1,000 hours logged in a game.
It wasn’t uncommon for us to lose literal days of our lives to these online experiences.
I’ve met people well into college with close to 3,000 hours played in an online multiplayer game.
They commonly have the propensity to brush off criticism about their time invested with explanations like “It’s the only game I play,” and “I still get my work done”.
But life isn’t a game, and too much time spent in the digital world can be detrimental to your health, work and social life.
This is all coming from someone who runs his own gaming website, who hosts a gaming and tech talk show at his college and has poured months, if not years of his life into video games and the culture encompassing them.
I’ve seen how gaming can foster creativity, establish connections between generations and empower the physically disabled.
But I’ve also witnessed the impact being too deeply enveloped in a particular game can have on a person.
I’ve seen friends fail classes, fracture relationships and miss out on amazing opportunities, all because they couldn’t pull themselves away from the TV or computer screen.
Although gaming addiction has no fixed definition, its credibility as a real issue in the present day should be undisputed.
The complications gaming addiction creates may originate from time spent in a digital space, but the effects are tangibly existent in reality.
There’s no reset button for the real world.
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