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The Addictive Nature of Online Gaming

In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially recognized "internet gaming disorder" (IGD). Addicts play pathologically. They can't stop—they play even after their mental health and careers have suffered great harm. The WHO estimates that at least 60 million people worldwide suffer this condition. Fortnite, a combat, survival and violent online video game is the most played of all time, boasting over 500 million registered users.

Today, games are less expensive, more accessible, and more technically advanced than ever before. Psychology professor Jeffrey Derevensky, who advised the WHO panel, said, "Kids are walking around with a mini-console in their pockets. Gaming is a hidden addiction. You can't smell it on their breath and you can't see it in their eyes. And so parents are often totally unaware of what their children are doing."

Maclean's magazine writer and former addict Luc Rinaldi describes how playing, and especially winning, can meet basic needs:

I replayed Resident Evil 4 a dozen times because there's something endlessly satisfying about blowing up a zombie's head. But my favorite games were the ones that offered something my real life lacked. Exploring the fantasy world of Skyrim, I wasn't just some kid in the suburbs of Toronto; I was a noble swordsman on an epic quest to save the realm. In a video game, even a loner can feel like a king … The high was intoxicating.

The obsession runs deep. One North Carolina boy kept playing as a tornado was leveling his town. A study published in Nature showed that gaming can more than double a player's baseline dopamine levels. Stanford neuroscientist Andrew Huberman claims that, for some players, “gaming can increase dopamine levels as much as having sex or snorting cocaine. Our brains are programmed to seek out more of these hits, which is what drives gamers to keep gaming.”

Like all addictions, there comes the inevitable crash. The trouble is that the euphoric feelings don't last. Gamers develop tolerances. They need to play more to achieve the same rush. After overloading their brains with happy signals, an equal and opposite reaction occurs. Their baseline dopamine level drops. They get angry, sad, and apathetic.

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