In my work with Gaming Addiction, I often hear parents struggling to understand how their child can continue to play video games in a repetitive manner and not ever get tired of the game. 

It seems ridiculous that they spend hours upon hours sitting in front of a screen, talking with online friends, and challenging themselves to win the battle or survive in a virtual world set out to beat them.

Outside of the fact that video games today are fully immersive, incredibly colourful and lifelike, and are highly social, what else is it that keeps a player to play seemingly non-stop? How are the game developers keeping up their consumer’s interest?

When we are not very good at an activity or skill and it seems impossible to achieve a high level, we can choose to avoid it or we can attempt it, practice often and with determination, and we can eventually master this skill. 

I have done this myself. I grew up slight in size, weak in muscular strength, believing I didn’t have a natural, athletic bone in my body. I was always that last student selected on a team in gym class. In my mid thirties I joined a gym and began a work-out routine that eventually gave me the confidence to give sports another chance. At age thirty-nine I bought a tennis racquet, I found a coach, and I began taking lessons. Of course, I was terrible, at first, and it was difficult to find my rhythm and timing on the court. But I stuck with it, I continued with years of lessons, I played with others, and eventually joined a team.

Now, I am no Wimbledon champ, but I love playing and continue to do so, into my early sixties. My brain told me to keep trying, that I would eventually succeed. 

So, I did. 

And I never tire of playing tennis or thinking about the next opportunity I can play.

Can you think of a time where you might have had a similar experience?

The same happens with playing video games. Gaming provides one the ability to take action and helps one to achieve a goal. And even if it’s difficult at first, when one stays with it and begins to get better, while gaining new skills, their brain learns that they have a good, long history of improving, so it wants them to keep trying. And eventually they get this euphoric high for their accomplishment. It feels empowering and satisfying! 

Just like tennis did and still does for me.

A good video game design is meant to have a player gain skills and eventually win. It teaches determination and tenacity, problem-solving, building support networks, teamwork and bonding. 

These abilities can then transfer to life outside of video games.

What’s important, in order to prevent a love of something to then become an addiction, is to make sure a healthy life balance is in place, and that enjoying something one loves and enjoys immensely isn’t a replacement for meeting other emotional needs.

Let’s look at the emotional needs met by gaming, and consider ways that these needs can be met to either prevent addiction from occurring, or to redirect a compulsive gamer to other areas of interest.

  1.     Gamers receive constant feedback for their progress. This can be very important for many gamers, as feedback in their regular daily life may be minimal and/or less visible. 

Are your children getting feedback for their good behaviour at home, school, or in their social circles?

  1.     Game designers focus heavily on the aspect of providing instant gratification to the gamer to keep them engaged. 

Are there other activities that can provide this same instant fulfillment?

  1.     In Gaming, there is a structured method for finding a sense of direction and purpose. Players always have a goal and a mission to work towards. This gives them a sense of accomplishment and measurable progress that they may not be reaching, especially if school or socializing is a challenge for a gamer. 

What other areas can this be achieved? (martial arts, sports leagues, dancing, art, music lessons)

  1.     Gamers can graduate from level to level which can provide a level of competition to compare themselves to other gamers. Here they can be “the best”. 

Where else can children feel they excel at something?

  1.     Gamers often “identify” with their Character in the games and feel they have power and control in how they are perceived by the other gamers. This is only based on skill rather than social status, which can be an enormous draw for those who are being bullied or do not feel like they fit in during their tangible interactions with peers. A Character can be modified to their liking and they can be whoever they wish in a virtual arena. 

How can we encourage our children to find friends with common interests?

  1.     Gaming instills the mindset of “Us vs Them”. Us are the Gamers. Them is society, a place where they are trying to escape from. 

Are you aware of any emotional issues your child has? Are you listening? Are you understanding their pain?

  1. Gaming is a safe arena for failure. The stakes of risk are low. Your character dies, you just start a new game. In life, failure can lead to job loss, school suspension, eviction from your home, and/or loss of relationships. 

How can we teach our children that failure can be a gift? 

For those who are using gaming as a source of learning and recreation, who are regulating their time spent playing and have the ability to take action, purely to achieve a goal and improve skills, they can benefit greatly from interacting with video games. They see gaming as “real” and understand how this can help them in their life. 

Those who turn to video gaming as escapism, as a way of ignoring personal problems, to push down negative self-talk and emotions, who have no other activities that give them a sense of achievement, who are bullied and looking for meaningful connection are at high risk of becoming compulsive and addicted. They bring an entirely different mindset to the activity of gaming. They are looking to have all of their emotional needs met by playing hours and hours of a game they love.

So, the question to ask yourself, as a parent, is, what is my child hungering for in their gaming addiction that is not being met elsewhere in their life?