The line between enthusiasm for video games and addiction is fuzzy. Someone can spend a lot of time playing video games without suffering negative consequences. Some studies even show that video games might have some cognitive benefits, such as improved visual memory, better peripheral awareness, and better spatial reasoning. Someone might spend just as much time painting or playing music, think about those activities a lot, and have a preference for them over other things, but you never hear someone say, “Oh no, Betty is addicted to painting!” Why should video games be fundamentally different?

One problem is that video games are new in human history. You enter an interactive virtual environment that someone else has designed. What’s more, the designers want it to be fun and engaging so you’ll want to spend a lot of time there. It certainly bears some superficial similarities to addictive substances, gambling, and social media apps. While confection-based games you play on your phone may be little more than elaborate slot machines that only pay out in next levels, real video games only become popular when they’re complex and challenging. The best games are cognitively demanding and sometimes frustrating. Getting repeatedly killed by a boss isn’t the most addictive activity imaginable.

While parents love to complain their kids are addicted to video games, actual addiction is relatively rare. It is characterized by letting excessive gaming damage other areas of your life, such as school, work, family, health, and other responsibilities. You may skip sleep. Some gaming addicts have famously died from playing for several days straight, consuming nothing but energy drinks. When games interfere with your life and you are aware of it but still unable to stop playing, then gaming has become an addiction.

Video game addiction has been shown to correlate with depression and anxiety, although as with other addictions, it’s not clear which comes first. Video game addiction seems most likely to be a problem when people use video games to avoid problems in their lives rather than just playing for fun. That is, people who are reasonably happy with a decent social life tend not to get addicted even if they play a lot. On the other hand, people who are anxious, who can’t cope with social life or other problems may escape into video games.

As with other addictions, the problem is not so much the games themselves but the players’ relation to the game. Video game addiction is a symptom of avoidant behavior, not just a cause of other problems. Treating the addiction requires treating the underlying issue.

Located in downtown Midland, The Springboard Center’s mission is to offer programs and services to treat alcohol and drug addiction treatment using an evidence based curriculum, 12 step programs, diet, nutrition, exercise, emotional, mental and spiritual development for a long recovery. For more information, please call us at 432-620-0255 as we are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.