Video Game Addiction

Video games have been gaining in popularity for some time.

What was once a sporadic entanglement has quickly become a multibillion-dollar industry.

There are many arguments about the pros and cons of video games and what they do to a developing brain or a developed brain.

Some say video games help channel their aggression, and teach them how to deal with complex emotions like anxiety. Video games can simulate scenarios so well that players will feel the same level of anxiety during a game as they would in real life.

Others say it creates aggression, stunts social ability, wastes time, and produces the same type of neuro-addictive state as many other addictions.

Like with most things, there is not a black or white answer.

What it really comes down to is are all games made the same? And how and when are kids using them?

How does it actually affect kids?

An activity that increases dopamine production means the brain is stimulated. So just because the same pathways are activated that drugs are activated doesn’t mean it has the same effect of drugs.

While drugs will release large doses of neurotransmitters like dopamine – dopamine releasing activities will release a fraction of the amount of a chemical substance.

And as a bonus, video games that take cognitive skill to play can activate visual or spatial processing centers. Meaning, well-designed games, can be brain training activities.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some pretty real repercussions.

Let’s get into that.

What are some of the Repercussions?

Most of the bad effects of video games are blamed on the violence they contain.

This is still a massive debate, but the theory goes: children who play more violent video games are more likely to have increased aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and decreased prosocial helping, according to a scientific study.

It can also increase immunity and desensitization to violence.

Kids are also rewarded in violent video games, so that is a causing factor of why it is training their brains that violence is how to handle situations the right way. This is one way that fantasy gets confused with reality.

The World Health Organization in June 2018 declared gaming addiction as a mental health disorder.

A study by the Minneapolis-based National Institute for Media and the Family suggests that video games can be addictive increasing their depression and anxiety levels.

Kids that spend too many hours playing video games also exhibit social phobias due to the isolated nature of the games.

They often will experience their work in school decline, as well as impulsivity and immediate gratification decision-making skills, go up.

Certain action video games like Call of Duty may actually harm the brain’s ability to learn. These players navigate through the game terrain using in-system navigation tools or on-screen GPS, relying on navigational “habit” instead of active learning.

It appears that this causes an increase in the amount of gray matter in their caudate nucleus, while it decreases in the hippocampus.

Reduced gray matter in the hippocampus has previously been linked to higher risks of brain illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, and Alzheimer’s disease.

On top of all of this, many parents will give their children video games during long drives because it quiets them and simultaneously entertains them. The downside to this is it takes time away from processing their anxiety and talking through what they are feeling.

A “convenient” child does not mean a healthy child.

What about the pros?

Despite the numerous reasons to be cautious of video game addiction, this article would be incomplete if we didn’t mention some of the benefits when done correctly.

Depending on the game. Some games have been shown to increase decision-making skills because they are under pressure to be able to adapt fast to changing scenarios. This can increase the processing speed as well.

Video games that have storylines for the user to follow with reading directions and figuring out problems can increase reading and mathematical skills.

Situational awareness is another huge bonus. The player must know what is going on the environment at all times and because the brain is fully engaged, it learns to tune into the details also linked to improving concentration.

Emotional control. Video games can often affect a person the way real life does teaching them how to deal with their frustrations, their anxiety, etc.

And in the same way video games can be isolating, they can also increase bonding time between you and your kid.  Some games are attractive to both kids and adults, the games could be something you have in common.

As a kid continues to master ability and see their results go up, they may also experience their self-esteem rise. This can attribute a sense of autonomy over their environment and is correlated to an increased feeling of well-being and security.

Some research has shown that video gamers have an advantage at learning compared to non-gamers. In a test, video gamers performed significantly better than non-gamers in a learning competition, and gamers showed increased activity in the brain areas relevant for learning – especially in situations with high uncertainties.

There are even suggestions that playing some video games may even overcome the cognitive skills affected by poverty like focus, self-control, and memory, and may help reduce the achievement gaps related to poverty that are seen in school.

Considering all these, be reminded again that the type of genre affects the brain differently, and one should not generalize that all video games have the same effect or benefit.

How can parents optimize video game usage for a child?

Before you let a child play a video game, check it out. What is the theme? Is it violent, or is it strategic?

Play the games with your child, so that you can answer questions and talk about what they see.

Think about your child’s age and choose the types of things that you want him to see, learn, and imitate.

Model good video game playing habits.

Remember that children often imitate their parents’ behavior.

Children who live in homes in which parents and other family members play a lot of video games are likely to spend their time in the same way.

Children who live in homes in which parents and other family members have “quiet” time away from the digital world, when they read, talk to each other, play games or engage in other activities tend to do the same.