As an omnipresent part of modern culture, video games hold a fascination for both researchers and laypeople alike. One particular area of interest lies in their psychological impact on players. The concepts of addiction and achievement have been associated with video game play, leading researchers to wonder about the connection. Due to their unique features, video games can be seen as a catalyst for both.
Structural Features of Video Games
Video games contain numerous features that may contribute to either addiction or achievement.
Social features refer to aspects of video games that encourage socialization, cooperation and competition among gamers, explains the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. Examples include the institutions of guilds in the game “World of Warcraft,” gesture-based communications in the game “Counter-Strike” or the actual real-world capacity to socialize with others while playing video games.
- Give players a platform to engage in social interaction before, during and after game play
- Help players satisfy the fundamental human need to be part of a social group
- Provide support networks, which may be used for various purposes including sharing game knowledge and appreciation and recognition from other players
Narrative and Identity Features
Narrative and identity features enable players to take on identities in the game that are not their own, either as fictional characters or gamified constructions of their own personalities. Furthermore, incorporating storytelling elements may help players more fully immerse themselves in game play. Examples include avatar creation in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) or mystery-solving games such as “Gone Home” or “Her Story.”
Narrative and identity features:
- Enable players to form attachments to their game characters and emotionally invest in those characters’ stories
- Offer simple or complex storytelling, providing a sense of escape or catharsis
- Demonstrate thematic or genre features, such as “first-person shooting” games, “role-playing” games, “strategy” games or “puzzle” games
Reward and Punishment Features
Reward and punishment features are designed to reinforce skillful play and penalize players who perform poorly.
- Provide positive reinforcement for players
- Can be delivered randomly, intermittently or on a fixed schedule; can also be “unlocked” when a player does something particularly special within the game
- Help establish contextual worth of rewards
- Reinforce the idea that a game is based on skill
The psychology of video games remains fascinating, as these features have been found to contribute to both addiction and achievement in research subjects.
The Link Between Video Games and Addiction
The popularization of video games has brought with it a slew of problems, according to Daria J. Kuss in Psychology Research and Behavior Management.
Video game psychology can lead to an addictive lifestyle. Because the social features of video games have the capacity to fulfill the human need for social interaction, players can require continuous play (much as alcoholics require alcohol) to continue fulfilling this requirement. In some games such as “World of Warcraft,” expectations for game success can mirror the sorts of social expectations found in life. Thus, game play can be used as a compensation mechanism for individuals who lack success and rewarding relationships in the real world.
Furthermore, the ability to create avatars or take on character identities can entice some individuals into placing disproportionate emotional emphasis on events or figures that happen in-game.
Kuss finds reward systems particularly problematic. Studies, she explains, have shown that areas of the brain relevant to addiction can change when subjected to reward or motivation systems in video games, resulting in the release of dopamine. Over time, this process can lead to synaptic changes in the brain, causing long-term psychological problems.
Consequences of video game addiction may include:
- Dysfunctional coping
- Poor academic achievement
- Sleep problems
With this said, it must be noted that not all video games offer similar detriments. MMORPGs are more likely to become addictive than other sorts of video games because of the abundant presence of the features listed above.
The Link Between Video Games and Achievement
While video games can certainly prove detrimental, they have their benefits as well.
In the academic article “The Benefits of Playing Video Games,” three authors discuss the psychology of video games by highlighting a number of benefits that may help players generate feelings of achievement or cultivate actual successes in their lives.
- Social features in video games (particularly those hosted online) may enable gamers to attain social successes that would be otherwise difficult, such as overcoming social phobia or physical immobility.
- Narratives help humans to conceptually frame the world around them. Narratives in video games, therefore, may offer the same opportunities to generate empathy and learn problem solving that any other storytelling medium might.
- Because adaption to circumstances is rewarded within game play, playing video games may help promote players’ ability to effectively handle their own emotions.
- Score systems can offer tangible tools for self-assessment and comparison.
- Feedback messages and reward systems can provide players with encouragement and gratification, inspiring them to improve and learn continuously.
- Success in certain areas of life (such as video gaming) can help trigger players’ desires for achievement in the real world as well.
Finally, there are certain video games specifically designed to help game players achieve their goals in the real world. Many of these are related to gamification in healthcare, such as the exercise system Wii Fit or the game “Re-Mission,” which is designed to help cancer patients better understand and manage their disease.
Ultimately, whether video games are beneficial or detrimental seems to depend more on the context of their use than on the games themselves.
Computer Science and You
For those who want to understand the future of this fascinating form of entertainment, the online computer science degree from Concordia University Texas can provide them with the skills they need for success. Concordia also offers an online psychology degree for those interested in the connection between human beings and their technology. Programs are offered fully online, providing the ultimate flexibility when earning a degree.