For Science: How gaming addiction is influenced by emotion and pride

I can stop any time I want.

Video game addiction isn’t as easy to treat as heroin addiction. That’s one of the big takeaways from a recent Reddit AMA with a Harvard-trained psychiatrist focusing on the field of game addiction, in which psychiatrist Alok Kanojia discusses the practice and the cultural hangups about the addiction. For example, he notes that it’s different from substance-based addictions because of the sense of pride and accomplishment many gamers have, leading to many addicts who are proud of their behavior; by contrast, most substance addicts are ashamed and remorseful about their actions.

He also notes that one of his theories for the reason that it’s more common among male subjects is due to culture; as men are trained to not discuss their emotional states, they associate video games with “destressing” without actually treating the underlying issues causing the stress in the first place. This makes addiction a retreat that provides an easy solution but doesn’t actually solve the core problem. It’s a fascinating look at a field of mental health that is still poorly understood, but pretty relevant to our shared hobby.

Source: Reddit via PCGamesN

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… … ………… … Yeah, I’ll just show myself out.


Maybe it is harder to treat because it isn’t actually an addiction.

I’m not a Harvard trained psychiatrist specializing in videogame addiction, but this still sets off my bullshit meter:

Regarding #2, there is ample data (fMRI studies) that suggest different substances trigger dopamine reward circuitry for different people. Some people’s brain’s are just wired to light up like a christmas tree when drinking, others when doing heroin, others when doing pot (but marijuana is a bit more complex). There is strong evidence that this substance-dopamine circuit interaction is at least partially hereditary, given that alcoholism tends to run in some families, whereas opiate addiction runs in others.

That’s because you’re ingesting substances that have addictive properties. It isn’t the act of picking up beer after beer until you vomit in a toilet bowl that’s addictive, or the “complex” act of smoking marijuana.

Trying to fit what is at best a behavioral issue into the mold of substance abuse (either because that’s what you’re trained in or that’s where the addiction/recovery field is at) is going to lead you down the wrong road. He also seems to see a problem with using escapism as a means of winding down, when what you really need is to lie down on a couch and tell the psychologist your problems.

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Thanks for posting this – that really was a fascinating read and I’m not even a fraction of the way into the comments!

Maybe this is my defensiveness coming out, but I’m not sure I agree with pathologising problem gaming into a disorder. I do agree that excessive time spent on playing/investing in MMOs can detract from a well-rounded and fulfilling life, but so can chasing the dopamine hits of work success, love life success, or even ‘spiritual’ fulfilment. Making bad decisions about immediate enjoyment over future hardship is definitely something that people might need help to overcome, but is it a ‘gaming addiction’, or is gaming just one of many possible pleasure buttons?

Surely there’s a big difference too between the gamer who is utterly invested in her MMO character because she has grown to think of it as more her ‘true self’ than the ‘real’ identity she portrays, as opposed to the gamer who can’t stop raiding bosses because the next one might just drop that uber rare loot. I don’t know if gaming addiction is the problem, or just the vehicle of an underlying complexity.

I don’t know – either way it’s interesting to think about!