The video game industry has just experienced its best year in 2019, with overall video game sales exceeding $49 billion and the industry as a whole exceeding $100 billion in gross revenues. This the same year that the World Health Organization has officially declared Video Gaming Disorder and official mental health diagnosis.
Recent statistics show that over 164 million Americans play video games. Why wouldn’t they? Video games can be a great form of entertainment and have even been known to improve cognitive ability and problem-solving skills. The main issue is that for some the addictive nature of these games and many people that have damaged their everyday lives in order to maintain a lifestyle that involves gaming.
So, how do you actually become addicted to a video game? Truthfully, you don’t. You get addicted to the effects of elevated dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a pleasure chemical that’s evolved for our survival, but sometimes our brain gets highjacked by addictive substances and behaviors like video games. Each time you do well or something new on a video game, a small dose of dopamine is delivered to your brain. And what makes it particularly addictive is that there is variability in when and how you receive rewards on the game, and that makes the video game similar to a slot machine. This is essentially what makes playing the game and achieving new goals within the game entertaining and desirable. Your brain’s dopamine receptors can become accustomed to this dose of dopamine over time which we call tolerance. This is the same case for people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction. Your brain does not care what substance or behavior is providing the dopamine, it just knows that it wants it again and the more variable and novel it is the stronger that additive pull will be.