The Myth of Video Game Addiction

Binged a season of your favourite Netflix show in a day?  Spent hours on end trying to clear the hardest raid boss in the latest expansion? Found yourself having too much fun and lost track of time?

In the current climate, it’s fairly likely you’d be labelled an addict for any of those things.

It doesn’t help there was a period when video games – the most recent in a lineup of misunderstood pop culture – were branded as somehow damaging to the health of every single player on the globe.

Although this attitude has dropped significantly over the last half-decade, the myth of video game addiction is still paraded around far too much.

From one group of addicts to another, let’s be real: there is no such thing as video game addiction. That’s not to say that an individual cannot abuse video games – far from it. But video games in themselves are not inherently addictive.

Here’s where the lines become blurry: video games are designed to produce as much enjoyment as possible, as such, they employ psychological tools from appealing characters to top-notch UI design to get you to use them repeatedly. Yet, that alone does not make them addictive.

Before we denounce them as dangerously addictive materials, we should investigate just why people are investing so much time in them to begin with.

Perhaps our default reality is begging for some tuning. One of the primary reasons that people flock to video games is because they are finely tuned to our psychology.

We, as humans, are wired for feedback. Positive feedback reinforces behaviour where negative feedback removes it. Example: eating a delicious meal gives us the thought that we should repeat it in the future, whereas the pain of placing our hand on a scalding-hot stovetop teaches us to never do it again. A gross simplification, but the point is easy to comprehend.

We’re wired to do what feels good. And that reason alone is precisely why so many fall prey to our programming in our modern society – and descend into addiction. Sex, drugs, wanton spending of funds – anything that gives us a pleasurable rush can be traced to our desire for pleasure over pain.

Regardless of the target to acquire, the underlying psychology remains the same: not only do want the positive reinforcement, we want the positive feedback that comes along with it. If there is one class of consumable content that is riddled with positive – and continuous – feedback, it’s video games.

What do we say when we play a video game that gives the player little to no feedback and leaves them bereft of any clue as to where to go and what to do? That it’s poorly designed. Our very metrics by which we appreciate or lambast a game are proportional to how they handle positive and negative feedback.

It’s no wonder then, that our default reality is very poorly structured in comparison. We can toil away endlessly for months on end in the hopes that the fruit of our efforts will come to bear, only to see them fall away into nothing before our eyes.

Video games are designed to combat that phenomenon entirely. Their entire lifeblood runs on the concept of player empowerment, achievement, and accomplishment. A game that leaves you without a sense of satisfaction, in the end, is hardly one that people will want to pick up again and again.

It seems, then, that the “addiction” many speak of, is merely a desperate desire to feel accomplished, satisfied, and on track to progress toward your goals. Which, in the end, shows us more about our current state of culture than it does about any supposed digital addiction. We need to fix our reality – not seek to escape from it.

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