Game Controller: A Look at Gaming Disorder and Video Game Addiction

With fast-paced action, carrot-dangling reward systems and social components, modern video games can tap into addictive tendencies in children.

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  • | 10:25 a.m. October 23, 2019
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Video games are designed to be fun — but are they also triggers for addiction?

Jesse Radloff, a licensed mental-health counselor and care coordinator at Orlando Health South Seminole Hospital, said research exists that explores that assertion.

Gaming disorder — recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition as “an area worthwhile for further study” — is mentioned in studies coming out of Europe, though the research is sparse, Radloff said.

The brains of children — especially males — aren’t completely developed in the areas of impulse control, higher-level thinking and decision-making, Radloff said. 

This makes a child a prime candidate to become addicted to something such as gaming, but many games are intentionally designed to take advantage of this, Radloff said.

“By having fast-paced action and a reward coming is huge,” he said. “Whether it’s succeeding in first-person shooters — it’s killing your enemy — or in some games it’s collecting treasure or getting a new card. In phone-based card games — like Clash Royale or Clash of Clans — each day they have some free rewards, but if you want the really good one, you’ll spend a couple of dollars of real money to get the elite pack or whatever. It’s having mechanisms in-game where they can get a one-up on someone else, whether it’s better equipment or more money.”

Games such as Fortnite, where players enter a battle royale-style arena and try to be the last player standing, are another example, Radloff said. If a player loses, he or she can immediately jump into a new game to try again.

“One of the studies that I read said that preliminary neuroimaging research shows that people that are developing gaming disorder symptoms and such … their brains show a diminished response to loss and an increased response to winning,” Radloff said. “When you win, you get a huge jolt. And when you lose, you don’t feel it as much.”

Another aspect of gaming that can make it even more addictive is the social aspect, Radloff said.

“The most popular games that tend to breed the most addictive playing or pathological playing tend to be ones where it’s either team-based, first-person shooters (or) massive, multiplayer, online role-playing games,” Radloff said. “You have the social component of friends you actually know or maybe people that you met on Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram or were just randomly assigned in the matchmaking system. … What matters in the real world bleeds into the online experience. That can reinforce it, because you feel like you have a responsibility to someone to show up for a clan war or something like that.”

Although gaming can be addictive, Radloff said it is important for parents to not read too far into it at first.

“It’s a good idea to have a little restraint and not over-pathologize internet gaming behaviors,” Radloff said. “It could also just be it’s the cool, new, shiny thing that all their friends are playing. It could go on for six or eight months of compulsive behavior, and then there’s a new, bright, shiny thing that they move to.”

Although it likely won’t be the case for most children, some can even turn gaming into a career, Radloff said. 

“With the rise of actual professional gaming, it’s a good idea for parents to keep in mind that it’s possible — if their kid is really good at it — it’s more and more being treated as a sport,” he said. “Orlando Health sponsors (an NBA) e-gaming team with the Orlando Magic, so it’s not necessarily just a silly pastime.”

Like many other activities that produce a reward and a burst of dopamine, gaming should be enjoyed in moderation.

“As with pretty much anything when you’re rearing kids, (set) healthy boundaries and (talk) about it ahead of time — starting the conversations early,” Radloff said. 



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