To some people, it’s more than just a game
Published: Monday, March 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, July 5, 2012 15:07
A new study from Charité University Medicine in Berlin has managed to link time spent playing video games with enlarged reward centres in player’s brains.
The study, published in Translational Psychiatry, tested both frequent and non-frequent video game players, and determined that the frequent video game players had larger reward centres — specifically within the left ventral striatum — than those who played less frequently. They also observed that even if the participants failed in a game, they were still experiencing related stimulation.
This correlation with pleasure centres of the brain is also frequent in people with gambling issues. Although the link has yet to be proved as causal — the video games don’t show statistically significant evidence of causing the larger pleasure centres, they just correlate with them — further research could improve understanding of the cognitive effects of video gaming and how it can cause over-immersion in games.
Although one may be tempted to use the phrase “video game addiction” to refer to the over-immersion that video games can cause, Brock Professor Dan Malleck warned that the term “addiction” can be problematic, as some scientists would restrict its use to a “biological, neurochemical idea”. Although Malleck also said that many scientists — especially those in the social sciences — have been expanding the term to a broader sense, he warns that it is still a problematic term.
“The notion of addiction is very loaded,” he said. “It implies a kind of dysfunction […] you’re saying ‘I need someone else to help me get through this […] I’m giving up my own ability to do this’.”
Regardless of the term used to describe the issue, over-immersion in games can be a serious problem, and this study has helped to shed more light on the causes and potential solutions. Megan Seabrook, owner of Escapist Fashion Jewellery, explained how becoming too immersed in the online game World of Warcraft had caused issues in her past.
“I had dropped out of school for personal reasons, and spent nearly the entirety of each day in the game,” she said. “Even when I eventually went and sought employment, I was scheduling my preferred hours around my guild’s raiding schedule. Most of my social interaction was either in, or about the game […] I suppose looking back, financially I was planning my paycheques around my game subscription and purchasing peripherals to play with.”
Seabrook has since decided to quit playing the game — due to the amount of power it had over her life — and refocus her priorities. She explained that most of her life was focused around the game, and she had even stopped interacting with people who did not play.
“I did have a close relationship with all of my gaming friends, and I did make friends within the game, but I was definitely neglecting the people in my life who weren’t connected to the game world,” she said. “I didn’t really interact with my old friends outside the ones I was playing with.”
Although Seabrook managed to overcome her prioritizing of the game, she also relayed a story of one of her friends whose reliance on digital gaming has yet to end. His story demonstrates how extreme situations can get, and therefore how useful the results of this study can be.
“He’s been out of highschool nearly two years now, and in that time has done nothing but Warcraft,” she said. “He’s never had a job […] doesn’t really leave the house ever […] He’s blown off most of his close friends in real life in favour of those in game […] he’s a super intelligent guy, and he squandered his potential because he’d rather live in that world than this one.”