Why Do We Play Video Games Too Much?
As a registered clinical counsellor, I have seen the impact that video game addiction can have on those addicted, and how it impacts those around them. Video games are very attractive to a lot of people, but it is not always easy to find out the reasons for why people continue to keep playing games. There are various reasons why people play games - and they can be different for any individual - but there are several core reasons why people continue to play. It usually consists of the following four qualities: (1) gaming makes up for our failures; (2) gaming as an escape; (3) gaming can help us to make new friends or socialize; and (4) lastly games can be stimulating. When playing games feels less like fun, and more of a chore, the above can all contribute to becoming addicted to video games. I will take you through each reason to explore more deeply.
Gaming Can Make Up For Our Failures
Facing failures or challenges in life is natural for everyone. We all experience let downs from time to time, and will find ways to make ourselves feel better. For example, if you failed an exam, you could examine why you failed and find new ways to improve. But gaming could also be a way to deal with this or keep your mind off the exam. Most modern video games are designed with the intention of having players “grow” their characters or achieve certain goals/objectives in the game. And for some - when you are not achieving or growing in real life - games can feel like a way to do so. This achievement-driven experience has been discussed by others (see Cam Adair @ www.gamequitters.com).
The ability to keep developing or finding a new item or grind to the next level can be very attractive, and even lead people to keep playing without thinking about the consequences outside of getting that new thing. And as a result, we keep coming back to play — this creates what is called a positive feedback loop, as the individual grows within the game world, and feels competent and this in-turn increases the desire to play.
Gaming Can Act As An Escape
Similar to the previous point, gaming can be a great way to avoid dealing with the difficulties of life. Outside of the achievement qualities of games, we can just play games to not think about our failures or difficulties. It is much more easier to start up a game than begin writing that final paper for your university course. And it becomes a big issue when people prioritize playing the games over studying, as some researchers have suggested that video game playing will negatively impact academic performance (Haghbin et al., 2013). School is not the only area of life that can be impacted, but also our work, social commitments, or relationships with partners, friends, and family — if a struggle or conflict arises within these areas, people can use gaming as a way to “self-medicate.”
Gaming Can Be A Way To Socialize
People are social creatures, and video games can be tailored to this. Video games, and online or multiplayer games in particular, can be a way to meet new people. Multiplayer games often require the team-work of others in order to “win” or meet some objective, and these experiences can lead to friendships. Another effect can occur in showing off your “status” in games, especially in MMORPGs, where you can display your hard-work to others. This form of social comparison can be very attractive to some in being able to “brag” about their achievements in the game. Either way, gaming can become a bridge for making new friends or socializing in the game-world. For some, playing video games with others might make it easier to socialize, and they may have troubles doing so in real-life. Although long-lasting friendships can occur, most social interactions within games are short-lived or fairly shallow, and the main issue surrounds using video games as the only source of socialization.
Gaming Can Be Stimulating
Video games can be incredibly fun and challenging, and this often is what initially draws people into playing games. Games can transport the player into new worlds, or in situations or time-periods the player would not otherwise have a chance of exploring. And for many, playing new and different games can be a way to have new types of experience. Video game developers create these experiences to be engaging and compelling, so that people want to return. The stimulating or “buzz” that comes from playing games is often reported by people who have trouble turning them off as well. Even though games can be fun, it is unfortunate to focus solely on playing games as the world offers many activities to become engaged with. This "one-sidedness" as discussed by Jung (1964), can lead a person to become off-balance with their long-term goals. If people become consumed with video games, then they lose the chance to grow and learn, and that brings future challenges.
These are the four factors that can contribute to the reasons why we play video games. Even if these are issues for yourself, there is hope and change can occur - speaking with loved ones or a professional can do a lot. Lastly, there are potentially other factors that can play into what draws and keeps us playing video games. What factors do you think kept you playing video games? Share your thoughts below.
Haghbin, M., Shaterian, F., Hosseinzadeh, D., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). A brief report on the relationship between self-control, video game addiction and academic achievement in normal and ADHD students. Journal of Behavioral Addictions 2(4), 239-243.
Jung, C. G. (1964). Man and his symbols. New York: Dell Pub. Co.