By Dr Bharat Saluja
Qualification : MD Psychiatry
Wednesday September 06 2017 08:58 AM Comments 0
Link to the Specialist profile: https://www.healthymindonline.com/doctor/detail/77
Most people associate the term ‘addiction’ with substance abuse such as alcohol or drugs and certain behaviours are seldom counted as addiction. But there are many people who can spend a copious number of hours crushing candies or growing vegetables on virtual farms. While a reasonable amount of mobile gaming for fun is just fine, you will be surprised to know that the very things that make mobile gaming so much fun are the very things that cause us to get addicted to them. The projected revenues of mobile gaming for 2016 stand at USD $12.6 billion. While this means great business for the mobile gaming industry, the cause for alarm bells stems from the fact that 50% of this market revenue is expected to come from only 0.15% of the gamers! This huge imbalance in the numbers shows that we have reason to be worried as we witness the emergence of a new environment that, though seems harmless, is extremely addictive… and addiction in any form can cause no good.
Take a look at the latest ‘it’ game – Pokémon Go. This mobile game took the world by storm for its immersive capabilities and had the players searching for Pokémon characters and hunting down digital monsters that appear in their real surroundings through their smartphones. The immersive capabilities of this game have raised some serious concerns as the players get glued to their smartphone screen oblivious of their surroundings trying to catch a ‘Pokémon’. There have been many accidents because of this game – a couple fell off a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, two gamers crashed into a tree when playing this game while driving, a player backed his car into a police cruiser while playing the game, and a 15 year old getting hit by a car as she crossed a busy intersection immersed in the game. From crashing into things to running off the road altogether, the Pokémon craze is emerging to be as dangerous as texting while driving. What is even more astounding is that despite the obvious dangers, such as playing while driving, the players continue at their game oblivious or just ignoring the fact that they are putting their lives at risk.
So what makes these games so addictive? To begin with, mobile games offer short experiences that can be used to effectively kill boredom between routine tasks such as commuting or while taking a short break from work or studies. The games offer rewards and points that provide a feeling of gratification and a strong sense of satisfaction. This is enough to keep a user hooked to the game initially. In order to keep the players coming back, the wins start becoming more intermittent and the reward schedule starts becoming more unexpected making the game more enticing.
The other thing that boosts mobile gaming addiction is the concept of ‘freemium’. These apps are free to download so people ‘feel’ that it costs nothing to play the game. However, in order to unlock the better features or to progress in the game, you need to make an in-app purchase that cost a nominal amount (in 2014, the 67% of in-app purchases were between $1 and $5). At the same time, there are die-hard fans who are willing to spend as much as USD$50 or more on these purchases. This demographic is who the gaming industry is courting and keeps them motivated with rewards that they just cannot stop playing. The players get lulled into a false sense of security believing that it’s just a few dollars that they’ll be paying for power ups.
Mobile game developers also have a lot of data at their disposal to see at which stage the gamers get bored and issue new challenges at that precise moment keeping the gamers hooked for longer. The game becomes endless and the players continue to try to get better at beating the game while never actually doing so. The social connect offered by these games also provides a greater sense of satisfaction by providing external validation and gratification of their efforts.
Further, the bright colours, animations, and treats tap into the player's inner child making him/her feel happy by flooding the brain with dopamine and gradually makes the brain more dependent on the game.
When compared to substance abuse, the dangers of gaming seem relatively harmless. However, those who are addicted to gaming become disinterested with social interactions which can jeopardise jobs and relationships. So how can you identify if your mobile gaming has become an addiction? The Center for Online Addiction lists out these warning signs that signal gaming addiction:
In addition to this, physical symptoms such as difficulty in sleeping, migraines, neck and backaches, dry eyes etc. are all signals of too much gaming exposure.
Mobile gaming addiction can be just as addictive as substance abuse and thus, needs to be addressed by taking proper help. In order to ensure that you don’t fall prey to gaming addiction, limit the time that you spend gaming, consciously disconnect digitally at least once a week and monitor yourself by identifying if you are playing the game more than before, are you thinking about the game while doing other activities that you enjoyed, are you neglecting your life etc. Speak to your close ones from time to time to ask if they feel you are choosing the game over them. Consciously take a stock of your surroundings by identifying triggers that lead you to game to make sure that you don’t let a harmless and pleasurable activity take complete charge of your life and turn you into an addict. These concerns aside, just game on!
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