In recent years, video gaming has evolved from a mere pastime to a captivating and immersive experience. For many gamers, it provides an escape from the pressures and anxieties of daily life, offering a world where they can become the heroes of their own adventures. However, for some individuals, this form of entertainment can take a darker turn, leading to a profound emotional hunger and a painful void that addictive video gaming appears to fill. In this virtual world, a gamer numbs out to not only their internal suffering, but also to their immediate surroundings.

Video games offer a unique appeal, transporting players to fantastical worlds where they can temporarily forget their real-life struggles. The excitement of completing quests, overcoming challenges, and achieving in-game rewards can induce a temporary sense of accomplishment and self-worth. 

In the midst of our increasingly fast-paced and interconnected world, feelings of loneliness, isolation, and alienation have become more prevalent. People are seeking emotional connections, validation, and a sense of belonging. This is where addictive video gaming comes into play. For some individuals, playing video games becomes a means of filling the emotional void, offering a semblance of camaraderie, purpose, and achievement that may be lacking in their real lives.

Multiplayer online games have opened up new avenues for social interaction, allowing gamers to form communities and bonds with like-minded individuals. These virtual friendships can be particularly appealing to those who struggle with forming connections in the physical world. In this digital space, they can create an identity, be accepted for who they are, and experience a sense of social belonging.

However, addiction also leads to isolation. The ultimate subconscious goal of any addict is to be left alone with their addiction and its consequent high. They don’t want anyone around who can make them feel bad about their compulsion or to expect them to create change. Online friendships help to keep the addicted gamer disappearing in their room, behind a screen, never seeking outside interaction with family, a job or school environment, or in-person peers. 

Addictive video gaming’s allure lies in its ability to offer a temporary escape from reality. For individuals facing stress, anxiety, or depression, diving into a virtual world can provide a respite from their emotional pain. The game’s challenges and goals offer a structured framework, providing a sense of purpose and control that may be lacking in their daily lives. However, this temporary escape can lead to a vicious cycle, as the real-world issues remain unresolved and may often exacerbate with neglect.

Addictive video games are often designed to trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Completing quests, acquiring loot, and progressing in the game triggers this dopamine rush, making players want more of these positive feelings. As a result, they become increasingly invested in the virtual world to sustain those pleasurable sensations. The more dopamine the brain receives, the more it needs to sustain the high.

Game designer and author, Jane McGonigal discusses why video games fulfil genuine human needs that the real world is not satisfying, in her book, Reality Is Broken; Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. “She takes the reader back three thousand years to the history of games, when Atys, King of Lydia in Asia Minor, looked to remedy a time of great famine for his people. To distract his kingdom from cravings for food, King Atys introduced games such as dice, knuckle-bones, and ball. These games were played for an entire day while people abstained from food. The next day, they could abstain from games and eat. This immersive play was a purposeful, thoughtful, helpful escape from difficult conditions for the next eighteen years. Engaging in these games, life seemed bearable.” 

Today, Ms. McGonigal believes, “we are hungry for more and better engagement in the world around us. Video games provide the user with a feeling of power when they are feeling powerless and provide a sense of structure when their environment and circumstances are chaotic.” 

While playing video games might initially seem like a solution to emotional, and sometimes physical hunger, it ultimately takes a toll on an individual’s well-being. Excessive gaming can lead to neglect of personal relationships, academic or professional responsibilities, physical health, and emotional stability. As the addiction deepens, the painful void that the gaming was meant to fill only grows larger, perpetuating a destructive cycle

Recognizing and addressing gaming addiction is crucial for both the individual and society at large. Addiction is a symptom of something much deeper. Seeking the core of this emotional emptiness or immense stress the player is experiencing is important to moving towards recovery.

Encouraging a balanced approach to gaming, where it remains an enjoyable pastime rather than an all-consuming obsession, is essential. The first step is to halt the isolation the gamer has created. Moving gaming equipment to a centralized location, not allowing your gamer to eat meals in front of their console, and temporarily restricting multi-player games or communication can lead the gamer to spending time with others, in-person.

In severe addictions, complete withdrawal may be necessary. 

Seeking professional help, such as counseling or therapy, can be instrumental in identifying and addressing the underlying emotional issues that drive addictive behaviours. Striking a balance between virtual and real-life experiences is vital for maintaining emotional well-being and preventing gaming from becoming a crutch to escape from the challenges of life. 

Seeking support and healthy coping mechanisms are crucial steps in finding genuine fulfilment and happiness outside the virtual world.




McGonigal, Jane. “Introduction: Reality Is Broken.” Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Penguin Books, 2011, pp. 1–15.