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Why are Video Games Addicting? Video Gaming Effects on the Brain

Video gaming has many effects on the brain, and these effects help explain why video games are addicting. Learn about them on HealthyPlace.

People often wonder why video games are addicting. Some argue that they aren’t addicting at all and that they have no impact on the brain. To be sure, gaming addiction and gaming disorder are controversial topics. That’s why researchers are studying gaming, the brain, and addiction. They’re discovering that people can indeed become addicted to video games and that video gaming effects on the brain are significant. They’re also discovering why video games are addicting.

Thanks in part to functional imaging studies, scientists can see that gaming affects the brain like substance addictions. When someone addicted to gaming sees images relating to the video games they play, the same areas of the brain activate as those of people addicted to substances and experiencing cravings.

It’s important to note that, while video games can be addicting, thus negatively affecting lives, these games aren’t all bad. Like everything in life, gaming isn’t all-or-nothing, either only good or only bad. The effects of gaming on the brain are significant and varying. Some effects are positive, and some are negative. Video game effects on the brain give clues as to why video games are addicting.

Video Gaming Effects on the Brain

Playing video games can boost the brain and its ability to think, reason and problem solve. Many video games are complex and get increasingly more difficult as the player progresses. Some involve interaction with others in collaboration toward a goal.

Video gaming has direct effects on the physical brain. “Gaming,” asserts Dr. Peter Gray, research professor at Boston College and author of books and articles on such topics as developmental and educational psychology, “can increase the volume of the right hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, which are involved in executive functioning, including the ability to solve problems and make reasoned decisions” (Gray, 2018).

In addition to sharpening executive functioning, positive effects of gaming on the brain include:

  • Strengthening of the visual activity centers of the brain
  • Increased ability to pay attention
  • Improved spatial memory
  • Enhanced hand-eye coordination
  • Improved ability to rapidly process information and choose a response
  • Heightened mental flexibility

Clearly, there are brain benefits to gaming. Unfortunately, there are also drawbacks, including addiction and negative effects of gaming on the brain.  Looking at these negative effects provides insight into why people can become addicted to gaming.  

Why Are Video Games Addicting?

Despite the positive aspects of gaming, video games can cause problems within the brain. This is because of the way addiction works within the brain (Am I Addicted to Video Games, Gaming?).

There are four big reasons why video games are addicting, all of which are direct video game effects on the brain:

  • Neurochemistry
  • Behavior reward system
  • High degree of immersion
  • Thrill-seeking nature of the games

Video games impact the brain on the neurochemical level. Gaming activates dopamine pathways in the brain. Dopamine is the feel-good hormone, associated with pleasure. The brain reacts favorably to activities that cause the release of dopamine.  Simply put, gaming feels good, so people do more of it to keep feeling good. Video games provide a dopamine fix, and people need to keep gaming to get more.

Video games stimulate the brain’s behavior reward system. When you make progress and earn rewards, you’re encouraged to keep going. The more you play, and the better you play, the more you’re rewarded by the game or by status among peers. The rewards you earn in video games must be earned, often with difficulty. When they’re withheld until you complete challenges, you get them sporadically. This sporadic or random reward pattern is very addicting. You keep playing because the next reward could be right around the corner.

The more fully you’re immersed in a game, the more real the experience. Many video games provide deep involvement in which you are the character. Role playing games are common. Some people are incredibly susceptible to high-immersion games, though, so that pathways in the brain are altered and addiction becomes likely.

Further, thrill-seekers are more vulnerable to video game addiction than non-thrill seekers. The nature of games is alluring, satisfying their inherent need for new and exciting experiences.

Video games impact the brain’s reward system and dopamine pathways as well as incentivize thrill-seekers. As researchers increasingly understand video gaming effects on the brain, they help everyone understand why video games are addicting. With understanding, people can learn to enjoy video games and avoid becoming addicted to them.

article references

Next: The 5 Most Addicting Games and How They Affect Your Mental Health
~All Gaming Disorder Articles
~All Addiction Articles

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2018, July 17). Why are Video Games Addicting? Video Gaming Effects on the Brain, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/addictions/gaming-disorder/why-are-video-games-addicting-video-gaming-effects-on-the-brain

Last Updated: April 24, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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