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MassDebate avatar 1:38 PM on 08.03.2011  (server time)
MassDebate: Are videogames addictive?

Welcome to MassDebate! We take a controversial topic, form a proposition, and set two contenders the challenge of stating their case in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. After which, users may vote to decide which contender they support. Rules for voting are at the bottom of the blog, but it is recommended that you read the contenders' cases before you cast your vote.

The proposition: Videogames are addictive

ManWithNoName argues in favor of the proposition:

The American Society of Addiction Medicine has this definition for addiction:

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in the individual pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. The addiction is characterized by impairment in behavioral control, craving, inability to consistently abstain, and diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can involve cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

The key words here are the reward, motivation and memory ones. Videogames play a Pavlovian effect on gamers. Take CoD as an example. You kill some people in the multiplayer and are rewarded with a new gun, with a music fanfare and imagery in the screen. That is your reward in the game. The more you play, the better guns and perks you have. That is your motivation, have better guns. The memory of the reward and improvement make you go forward, in hopes of getting more rewards and improvements.

Multiplayer games especially love to create an addiction to their games, as more people addicted to it, means more people paying monthly subscriptions and DLC. Cracked have an incredible article with all the mechanics used to create the addiction in detail, which I will not enter here. But it makes sense commercially speaking. How will you keep players doing the same things over and over again (paying for doing it)? You hard-wire their brains to keep playing.

Arcades did it in their time with the high score tables and points system. You get some points, get a life or credits to keep playing and putting quarters in the machine. Now games like World of Warcraft keep their players by offering occasional rewards. You are compelled to keep playing and paying for it.

We all know horrible cases of addicted players who died because they keep playing for days and not feeding themselves or gaming parents who let their children die because they were too busy with their games. But that is the more extreme cases.

Take the PSN outage for example. How many gamers became enraged because they could not play on-line for a few weeks? Many treated the problem as a life and death situation. This is sign of addiction. Or the achievements/trophies system? Many of us get out of our way to receive this meaningless reward. I mean, most achievements are not linked to a new unlock, it is just a pop-up image and a chime. And yet many of us actively seek for them. Reward, motivation, memory.

Caiters argues against the proposition:

There are two ways to look at addiction: a physical, chemical addiction or more of a behavioral addiction.

Let’s take a look at the physical side of things:

You release “happy” chemicals, like dopamine, into your brain when performing rewarding activities. This is your brain’s way of saying that you’re having fun and that you’ve done something right – and a feeling of elation usually ensues. This is the feeling that you get when you play video games, or participate in a form of entertainment that excites you. It’s also a feeling you can achieve via drugs – which is partially the reason why so many are addictive.

Addiction plays a role when a person is able to achieve a higher amount of dopamine in the brain compared with other “normal” activities. However, research has yet to prove that video games can cause the release of abnormal amounts of dopamine into the brain compared with activities, or even drug use. In fact, in 2007 the American Medical Association could not definitively say that playing video games can cause a psychiatric addiction. They stated that there is insufficient evidence to label the effects of gaming as an official disorder.

Are video games addictive from a physical standpoint? Research says no, for now.

Now let’s take a look at the other form of addiction, behavioral:

Behavioral addiction is usually attributed based on the mannerisms or characteristics displayed while performing a typically “addictive” activity that does not rely on drug use. These activities typically include sex and gambling, as well as shopping and some other everyday events. Based on history and personality type, some people are more susceptible to becoming addicted to an activity than others. For example, someone could be addicted to pruning their garden to perfection for whatever reason – due to a general feeling of excitement or perhaps some back-story in their history. But gardening is not an addictive activity – there is no proof that gardening makes you physically become addicted to the task of digging in the dirt.

I believe the same can be said for gaming, or sex, or any other amusing activity. The reason why we usually choose these activities over others is because they’re simply more fun, entertaining, or profitable than other tasks. Not everyone is created the same but a large majority of people would choose something entertaining like playing a video game over dusting, or having sex over sitting in a rocking chair, etc. This is also why parents are concerned about their children spending too much time with video games – because they are more likely to choose it over important (but boring) tasks like homework.

However, this does not mean that video games are responsible for addiction. People can become behaviorally addicted to anything based on their personality, background, or if they simply choose to. Gaming is not responsible for the addiction.

Are videogames addictive from a behavioral standpoint? No – only if you choose so.

Videogames are not addictive from either a physical or a behavioral standpoint. Just like any other recreational or entertaining activity, there is fun – and fun is just a feeling that we all want to achieve. There is no physical or behavioral trigger that is associated with the press of a start button. Videogames are simply pleasurable – and those who display “addict” behaviors are either susceptible or choose to do so of their own volition.


Many thanks to ManWithNoName and Caiters for their contributions.

Now, the ground rules for voting:

1. The users that set out the MassDebate (ManWithNoName and Caiters) are not eligible to vote. (we can guess where their allegiances lie)

2. Feel free to comment at any point before, during or after you have voted.

3. To vote, begin your comment MANWITH or CAITERS depending on whether you support the proposition (MANWITH) or you oppose the proposition (CAITERS). The rest of your comment can be used to, you know, comment.

4. Only comments that begin with WANWITH or CAITERS may be considered in the voting process. Ensure you are spelling your vote correctly and placing it in capitals.

5. One vote per user. Only your first vote will count; there are no do-overs. Do not spam the comments. Don’t bully other users into voting your way. Let’s keep it clean. Don’t be a wang.

6. Your voting should be based on the strength of the arguments set out by the contenders. Though your opinion may go some way towards forming your decision, do try to be as impartial as you can muster.

7. Any failure to undertake these rules or any ambiguity surrounding your vote may damage the chance of your vote counting. Whether or not your vote ultimately counts is at MassDebate's discretion. Maximise your chances by voting correctly.

8. The vote total will be accumulated and the results given on Mon 8th August. Ensure you get your vote in by Sun 7th August for your vote to count.

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