For most teens, using the internet and playing video games is just a regular part of the day. Most teens are able to juggle the multiple demands of school, chores and family life. For many, however, what starts as curiosity in technology or innocent recreation and entertainment, may develop into a serious behavioural disorder.
Teens who often feel powerless in their daily lives suddenly have the ability to command armies, drive and crash cars and wreak havoc in a virtual world, with no real-life consequences. All this can be thrilling and seductive.
Why does one get addicted?
As with other addictions, gaming addiction is thought to be more prevalent among teens trying to cope with disorders such as low self-image, and self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Among teens who get hooked on to online massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs), the likelihood of addiction may be greater because these games never end.
With new quests and adventures continually being added to the games, the player never reaches the end and is enticed to return for more.
There was a shocking case of a 15-year-old boy from the U.K. who collapsed after playing World of Warcraft for 24 hours non-stop! He went into convulsions caused by sleep deprivation, lack of food and prolonged period of concentration and died.
The Blue Whale Challenge, a game in which the player is given various tasks by an administrator over a 50-day period, ranging from isolation to self-harm and ultimately suicide, is said to have claimed over a hundred lives in different countries.
The rush of playing these games triggers a release of endorphins that mimic what occurs in the brain of individuals who are addicted to alcohol, drugs and gambling. For teens who are struggling with other behavioural challenges, and who have difficulty with real-life social situations, the power, sense of community, and adrenaline rush of online games can be extremely enticing.
Recent studies show that boys have more activity in the mesocorticolimbic centre — the region of the brain associated with reward and addiction. Girls do play video games and play them well but boys are more attracted to and are more likely to get hooked onto video games.
What makes a game addictive?
A combination of intentional programming by designers and the predisposition of some teens to addictive behaviour leads to gaming addiction.
First of all these games are designed to be addictive, in the sense that game designers always look for ways to make the games more and more interesting, enticing you to spend more and more time playing them. Games are designed also to be just difficult enough to be truly challenging while allowing you to score small victories that compel you to keep playing almost like the gambling games in casinos.
Teens who are easily bored, have poor relationships with family members, feel left out in school, or are inclined toward sensation-seeking, easily fall victims to addiction. It is because video games fill the void within and satisfy the needs that are not met elsewhere.
Gratian Vas is a former teacher, headmaster, principal and resource person for educational institutions. In a career spanning 50 years, he has written over 150 educational and general books for young readers.