Game On or Game Over? Understanding the Addictive Nature of Video Games

Many parents are concerned about their teens’ video game habits.  So many teenagers struggle with video game addiction. Video games can be a fun and engaging way to spend time, but they can also be incredibly addictive, especially for young people with developing brains. In this post, we want to explore why video games are so addicting for teenagers and provide some strategies to address this issue.

Let’s talk about the brain science behind addiction. When we engage in activities that we enjoy, such as playing video games, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and reward. Over time, our brains can become accustomed to this rush of dopamine, and we may begin to crave it. This is why activities that trigger the release of dopamine, such as playing video games, can be so addictive.   For teenagers, video games can be particularly addictive because their brains are still developing. The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control, is not fully developed until the mid-20s. This means that teenagers may have a harder time regulating their behavior and may be more susceptible to addictive activities like video gaming.

In addition to brain science, there are other reasons why video games can be so addicting for teenagers. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Reward System: Many video games have a reward system that offers players tangible or intangible rewards for completing tasks or achieving certain milestones. These rewards can include points, levels, new abilities or items, or unlocking new content. When a player earns a reward, their brain releases dopamine, a chemical that plays a role in pleasure and motivation. This release of dopamine can create a positive feedback loop, where the player seeks more rewards and continues to play the game to achieve them.

  • Escapism: For many people, video games can provide a temporary escape from reality. They can immerse themselves in a virtual world where they have control over their actions and can forget about their problems and responsibilities in the real world. This can be especially appealing to people who are dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression, as video games can provide a sense of relief and distraction.
  • Social Connection: Video games can provide a sense of social connection and belonging, especially through online multiplayer modes. Players can interact with other people from around the world, form friendships, and work together to achieve a common goal. For some people, this sense of social connection can be especially important if they struggle to form connections in the real world.
  • Challenge: Many video games are designed to be challenging, and overcoming those challenges can provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This can be particularly appealing to people who enjoy problem-solving and strategic thinking. When a player successfully completes a difficult task or overcomes a tough opponent, their brain releases dopamine, which can create a sense of pleasure and encourage them to continue playing.
  • Habit-forming: Video games can be habit-forming, especially if they are played regularly over a long period of time. The repetition and routine of playing a game can create a sense of familiarity and comfort, and players may feel a sense of dependence on the game to feel good. This can make it difficult for players to stop playing, even if they want to.

These factors are not necessarily negative on their own, and many people are able to enjoy playing video games without becoming addicted. However, for some people, these factors can contribute to problematic gaming behavior and addiction.  It’s important for parents to be aware of these factors and to monitor their teen’s gaming habits.  Not everyone who plays video games will become addicted, and addiction can vary in severity. If you are concerned about your video game use, it’s a good idea to talk to a mental health professional.  A therapist can help your teen develop healthier habits and coping strategies and address any underlying issues that may be contributing to the addiction.  Video game addiction is a real and growing problem for many teenagers. By understanding the factors that make video games addicting and taking steps to address them, parents can help their teens develop healthy habits and avoid the pitfalls of excessive gaming.

Please check out our Hub’s resources for a handout on different ways or things to put in place, depending on one of the five items listed above.