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The Addictive Nature of Online or Video Games

In his book Brandwashed, marketing guru turned consumer advocate Martin Lindstrom argues that online or video-based games can be "extraordinarily addictive." He writes:

Whether we're playing against our friends, a stranger in Tokyo, or even ourselves, and whether the objective is to beat the high score, unlock the most "badges," or build the biggest virtual farm, games are deliberately designed to be hard to quit; according to [a gaming trade publication], "extreme gamers" spend roughly two full days a week playing video games, and according to a recent Harris Interactive survey, the average eight- to twelve-year-old [gamer] plays fourteen hours of video games per week, while 8.5 percent of gamers between the ages of eight and eighteen can be classified as "pathological, or clinically 'addicted' to video games."
A true addiction is physiological, rewiring our brain in such a way that we need more and more of the substance to satisfy our craving or deliver that "high." Does playing a video or online game really qualify? According to a 1999 study, our brains do respond to game playing much the same way they do to drugs, alcohol, and fatty foods—by releasing more pleasure-inducing dopamine. In fact, the study found that any kind of repetitive activity that becomes increasingly more difficult to carry out—which is, as any gamer knows, the key to a successful game—increases the amount of dopamine in our brains. A new study [from 2010] in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that we actually get a surge of dopamine from playing games that we feel we've almost won but have lost by a small margin. When we play games … the authors of the study explain, near-miss outcomes stimulate the brain's reward system … the same thing that happens when we gamble …. And according to another study, [some games] "are designed to be filled with challenges that deliver powerfully articulated rewards, and seem engineered specifically to get a player's [dopamine] pathways (pathways that mediate interest, focus, and reward) activated and resonating" …. The thrill of the hunt! The joy of discovery! The satisfaction of scoring a deal! How could that not be addicting?

According to Lindstrom one fifteen-year-old video game addict was described this way:

He displays all the characteristics of a heroin addict. You haven't got someone putting a needle in their arm and having a high, but you've got all the telltale collateral damage of a heroin addict: withdrawal from his family, withdrawal from his friends, lies to cover his addiction. He'll do anything.

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