Video Game Addiction
Video games encompass a wide variety of interests. Cartoon-like games for children, card games such as solitaire, puzzle games, and interactive role-playing games make video games a temptation for all ages.
Some games require a one-time purchase, some can be accessed for free, and others require a monthly fee to play. Apart from games on the Internet, video game systems such as Nintendo, Xbox, and now Wii can be purchased to use in conjunction with a television screen.
Solitaire addiction was cited as a problem costing millions of dollars in state government in 2005. North Carolina State Senator Austin Allran proposed anti-solitaire legislation claiming that state government employees were spending too much time playing solitaire and neglecting their work. His request was that all games be erased from computers used by the state.
There is no question that playing games can be fun and entertaining, a release from the stresses of life. When does playing video games become a problem? Asking these questions may help evaluate whether playing video games is problematic:
How many hours a day do you spend gaming? Are necessary daily functions falling by the wayside because of excessive time spent gaming?
Do thoughts about the video game dominate your mind when involved in other activities such as work or school?
Do you pretend to go to bed, then get up to play a video game after others are asleep?
Are you skipping school or work to play video games?
Does gaming “language” start to become part of your real-life conversations?
Do you have an over-identification with one's gaming character? Do you consistently try to think and behave as you believe the gaming character would?
Do you lose whole nights of sleep because of gaming?
Do you have more of a connection with online gaming friends than real-life relationships?
Have you made multiple attempts to cut back or stop playing video games without success? Do you feel guilty about the failures to control time spent gaming?
If the answer to several of these questions is yes, you may begin to question whether a serious problem is developing. Addiction to gaming is real and can take over a person's life. Is video game addiction just a behavioral problem or a failure to manage one's priorities, or are there physiological components as well? For many, this is the criteria for whether a substance or behavior is truly an addiction.
Other mental disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders may coexist with technology addictions. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one such disorder that puts a potential addict at risk. Video games in particular provide immediate gratification and tremendous stimulation to one's brain. A person with ADHD finds this stimulation and reinforcement hard to resist.
Research is demonstrating that, once again, brain chemistry is involved. Excessive game playing has been shown to increase the release of dopamine in the brain just as with other addictive substances and behaviors. Once this occurs, there is the same resulting feelings of euphoria. Memory becomes involved and the brain remembers the pleasure experienced while playing games, reinforcing the desire to play again and again.
Hazards of Video Games
Video games have an additional effect on the brain that other addictions do not. Brain waves have been shown to be negatively affected by video games, specifically alpha and beta waves. Alpha waves are involved in imagery and relaxation or rest. Beta waves indicate increased activity in the prefrontal lobe of the brain, which is the center of emotion and creativity.
Alpha waves can be artificially produced through exposure to radiant light emanating from computer monitors or televisions. This can begin to happen within 30 seconds of focusing on the screen. Typically, alpha waves are present when one's eyes are closed, such as when a person is daydreaming.
A person's brain does not function as intended when alpha waves occur during wakefulness with eyes opened. This condition tends to put a person in an unfocused, receptive state similar to that induced through hypnosis.
Parents need to monitor what children see on video games. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides video game ratings to give consumers information about the content of the game and recommendations on age-appropriateness. Rating categories include Early Childhood (EC), Everyone (E), Teen (T), Mature (M), Adults Only (AO), and Rating Pending. Every rating category except EC may contain violent material.
Beta waves are present when the mind is fully engaged in active mental processes. Individuals who play few to no video games generally have much stronger beta waves than alpha waves. However, excessive gamers who spend several hours per day playing video games, may display little to no beta wave activity.
The startling fact is that this absence of beta wave activity persists even when the person has stopped playing. It has been noted that when this occurs, a person exhibits difficulty concentrating, irritability, and problems socializing with real-life people.
Another hazard with video games relates to one's exposure to violence. Many video games, particularly those involving role-playing, contain violent content. For a video game addict who experiences excessive exposure to violence, the danger of becoming desensitized to real-life violence is of genuine concern.
Research has demonstrated that someone who has played a violent video game for even 20 minutes will have significantly reduced physiological responses to real-life violence. Typically, a person's heart rate will increase and her skin's responses will increase when exposed to violence.
It appears that playing violent video games causes a person to become physiologically numb with lowered heart rate and skin responses. It has also been demonstrated that a person playing violent video games has less activity in the prefrontal area of the brain, which is involved in concentration, self-control, and inhibition. Instead, the amygdala is stimulated leading to increased emotional arousal. With the numbers of individuals playing video games in our society, this information is of great concern socially.