Video Game Addiction

Video Game Addiction

Fortnite stole my teenagers brain…


“I’m addicted to that show!” – This kind of phrase is fairly common, it’s often applied to TV shows but also increasingly games. We usually understand it as an exaggeration or a temporary experience (binge watching a particular show but eventually you will run out of episodes!) – but what if for some of us are ACTUALLY addicted to these things. Let’s consider video games.

Last year (2018) the World Health Organisation (WHO) made huge progress in recognising the addictive nature of video games by including ‘gaming disorder’ as a classified condition. For many of us this of comes comes as no surprise as we are likely aware of young people who demonstrate addictive symptoms based on their gaming, some statistics suggest that 1 in 10 gamers demonstrate these symptoms. Susan Greenfield writes,

“The craving for online gaming and the craving for substance dependance could well share the same neurobiological mechanism… Teenagers play for longer, prioritise their time in thinking about games, game to escape emotional problems, have difficulties with academic work and socialising, and conceal gaming activities from their family” (Greenfield, 2015). 

Why then are games so addictive? Well the simple answer is that its because they are designed that way! Their addictive nature is not accidental, game designers learn from psychology about what hooks people and then using that knowledge build ‘hooks’ into their games. Perhaps one of the most addictive games has been World of Warcraft (WOW) (although not as popular now as it once was), this is known as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMO RPG). 

Here are three reasons why this particular game is so addictive:

  1. It is never completed! You can spend your whole life playing WOW and never complete it because there is no end. Instead you spend your time journeying the map and looking for new adventures, items and collect treasure to boost your score.
  2. Rewards – everyone like receiving praise and feeling rewarded for their work. This is an experience felt constantly when playing WOW. All the time you are being rewarded! Everywhere you go there is treasure to be found and victories to be had which boosts your score – this is difficult to miss as points flash up on your screen throughout.
  3. You create the character you play (called an Avatar) and quickly form an attachment to this character. Greenfield suggests that ‘happy people create avatars just like themselves. However, research shows that, when people are unhappy or dissatisfied with their lives, they create avatars that are very different to themselves. They are literally exploring a new identity for themselves in this game world that is better, faster, fitter, stronger, thinner, taller, prettier and smarter than they are or probably ever can be’ (Greenfield, 2015).

These three areas are not limited only to World of Warcraft but are key factors in any game and are exemplified in those that seem to be more addictive. Finally I want to just briefly highlight why these three areas can trigger addiction – its all to do with what they trigger in the brain.

An experiment was undertaken with two groups. The first group had a history of having taken a lot of ecstasy in their lifetime, the second group had never taken drugs. Both groups had to play video games and then their brains were scanned. The group that had never taken drugs before showed a lot of activity in the reward circuitry of their brain. However, the group with a history of drug use – little to none activity – that part of the brain had already been worn out because of excessive drug use. It was concluded then that whether whether we’re talking about addiction to drugs or video games, both conditions are linked to excessive use of the reward circuitry of the brain. This is this part of the brain where the chemical dopamine is released, this chemical is released during sex, or when biting into a big slice of chocolate cake, it makes us feel good – it is the brains primitive mechanism for rewarding the body for the kind of activities that will help us to survive. Game designers are managing to cause a dopamine rush in teenagers brain, creating an experience similar to drug use or the excessive watching of pornography.

But this is only part of the picture. Another reason for their addictive nature is to be found in the idea that video games might actually be meeting our genuine human needs better than reality is. We will explore this idea next, and with it, an approach to pastoring young people who are stuck in the virtual.

Next Up:


I found this video a really helpful overview:


**Referenced above**
Susan Greenfield, Mind Change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains, Rider: London, 2015.


Reality is Broken – Jane McGonigal

Super Better – Jane McGonigal

The Teenage Brain – Frances E. Jensen

Left to their own devices – Katharine Hill

Getting Gamers – Jamie Madigan

Unplugged – Ryan G. Van Cleave. PH.D.




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