Hard drugs and video games!
Imagine being imprisoned for playing games or maybe tossed into a rehab. While playing video game is not a crime, but video game being a drug has been debated for a long time now. There were instances of former video gamers resorting to hard drugs later to induce a kick. Video games are said to affect the brain by activating dopamine receptors that make a game euphoric and feeling great. If a brain that plays video game is scanned, it is seen that the certain areas of the brain light up. These are the very same area illuminates when an addict sniffs cocaine or injects opium. For years, this has led to questioning if Hard drug and video games are equally life threatening?
The observation as quoted above is itself not fully conclusive of the fact the video games are addictive as hard drugs; however, it is an interesting finding. It is proven that playing video games activate the pleasure centre of the brain just like with any other drugs. A study found that cortical thickness related to online gaming addiction, in which the certain areas of the brain in the left hemisphere have gained extra thickness. In China, one most common form of Internet addiction is online internet games. Despite a massive decline in their social & emotional wellbeing, and a detriment to their academic health, and criminal activities in extreme cases, children and adolescent in China and Korea could not stop their gaming habits.
Are hard drugs and video games similar?
To confirm the neural basis of this addiction, neuroimaging of the brains were done which highlighted abnormal glucose metabolism in the right orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). Along with this abnormality, the level of D2 receptors in the brain was similar to anyone with a psychological and neurobiological disorder. Also, the craving to play online video games was due to activation of certain regions of the brain such as OFC, the anterior, cingulated cortex and parahippocampus. This simply states that when you play an online game and then quit it, there is an urge to go back to playing it; both of these activities light up the same area of the brain, hence may in some form indicate hard drugs and video games have same brain reactions. (Draganski, 2013)
Aren’t e-sports then a haven for drug addicts?
All of us gamers understand and are aware of the changing trend in video games industry. Games have transformed from being campaign driven single player game to an online multiplayer with as many players as in real life sports. Online Massive Multiplayer games consist of various genre like First person shooter, role playing games, real-time strategies and many other games. Most of these games are competitive and test the skills of a gamer to the fullest.
Most of the prominent professional first person shooter game players have good reaction time and intense attention. In real time strategies, players organise teams, sharpen their skills and fight for the top position on the leaderboard. All of these require intense focus by the brain to keep the player invested and strategize to beat the opponents in the game. A blend of strategy with reaction time, skill set and timing makes a perfect recipe for the brain to delve into these games just like a person would do in the real world. (Kuss, 2013)
Is Online multiplayer game a substitute for real life interaction?
Another major popular form of playing games online is Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing game which is also known as MMORPG. From every online multiplayer game, MMORPG takes up about 46% of the gaming scene making it the favoured form of online gaming. World of warcraft belongs to this genre and it breeds millions of players across the globe who are living a virtual life in this game. The amount of character customization, social participation and the infinite environment without any bounds make it virtual equivalent of the real world.
Gamers are typically labeled as misfits, outcast, nerds or geeks because of their serious lack of social ability. Most of the gamers find their cure in MMORPG because it is composed of socializing, chatting and making new friends. Along with the social element, the immersion in these games is on another level, firstly the vast landscape to explore, caves and mysteries hidden in the world and personalization of characters makes it a perfect escape from real life. Escaping is another shade of addiction in which the person engaging in it experiences a mood shift as coping mechanism to the reality.
Brain responds similarly to both hard drugs and video games
Integration of online multiplayer system in any form of gaming has resulted in higher engagement as observed by game developers. If you look at the video game industry, you can see a noticeable difference in gamers today, mobile phone has emerged as a popular device for playing video games because it integrates a social aspect of leadership which incentivizes players. Video games like candy crush, clash of clan are real time strategy games in essence which command the rational side of the brain to engage in logic based thinking to solve a problem i.e win the game.
Reward centres of the brain are also juiced after a player successfully completes a stage which further fortifies this cycle of problem-solving and gaining reward. This is the sort of cycle that rehab and institutions have derived empirically from drug addicts who were admitted to a program. It is said hard drugs and video games have shared common ground in this domain.
Combine this with a social arena or a virtual social club, where every gamer can flaunt his/her skill among their peers, this creates just the platform needed to keep the gamers hooked. Mostly addiction or compulsive consumption of video game is considered harmless because it does not inflict any physical damage to the body, unlike substance abuse which affects the appearance and psychological make-up of the victim. Similarly, because video games do not immediate noticeable harm, it does causes gross distraction from the real world and serves as an escape from responsibilities that a person may have to fulfill.
Video games does psychological damage whereas drugs does physical damage as well
Furthermore, it is safe to say from the above cited scientific results that video game addiction is of two kinds, one, that is a single player game that is story driven and consist of a campaign that is either beating the villain or saving the princess. Single player mission oriented games provides gamers with a reward that activates their brain receptors for every objective that is completed or every target that is acquired. Second, an online multiplayer game that provides a social arena for gamers to create a character that closely reflects their admirations and build a reputation among the peers that provide an escape from the social interaction of the real world.
Another proposition that seems ridiculous but has fairly similar analogy is Violence and aggression linked to video games. American Psychological Association has confirmed the theory that video games lead to aggressive and callous behaviour. Further research is conducted on the fact whether video games lead to criminal behaviour.
Video games are primarily either rampant shooting or bizarre violent escapades.
Games like Call of Duty, Grand theft Auto, Manhunt, Rainbow Six Seige etc are likely to influence the behaviour of a gamer is yet to be scientifically linked. APA has expounded the aggressive behaviour to be linked to violent media including video games. Although there is no single dominating factor that contributes to this behaviour and a host of activity may lead to this temperament. So in effect, if we solely attribute aggression due to video games, it is gross distortion and misrepresentation.
It has not been scientifically and logically proved that video games lead to violent activity. Almost 90% of the teenagers in USA play video games between the ages 13 to 17. These kids have never turned violent but showed signs of aggressive behaviour in various forms that proves their predisposition toward aggression. Video games titles have been geared towards the aggressive genre and the ones that are leading the industry are first person shooter titles such as Counterstrike or Call of duty, or third person action games titled as “Manhunt, Gear of wars, Mortal Kombat, Doom etc.”
A peculiar instance of video game linked to violence was reported in the rampage gun shooting that took place in Munich, Germany. The culprit who led the outrage was said to be addicted to first person shooter games and had a list of them installed in his PC. This seems to be an empirical evidence, and the motivation for this violent act cannot be solely attributed to video games. This connection has been safely put to bed by countering it with the logic of gross simplification of facts. There are millions of teenagers who are playing violent video games and are not engaging or acting out on their impulse. (Scutti, 2016) (Hume, 2016)
Nick Clegg moderates games that his children engage in
British Democratic leader Nick Clegg has an interesting remark on this recurring debate over violence and video games. He believes little to moderate exposure to video games is positive in the long run. Moreover, he commented on gamers who get hooked on video games, compulsively play for above 12hours daily and are claimed to seal themselves in their living room which seriously hinders their social and interpersonal ability. His son aged 4, 8 and 11 at the time when his statements were recorded, are only allowed to play sports titles such as football and tennis, Nick personally checks the content of the game.
Nick Clegg made these remarks after the criminal incident in which the conspirer stabbed a victim to rob him of his copy of Grand theft Auto 5. The attack was not proven to be linked with the game, but the incident was symbolic of the connection. Another instance of mass shooting by Aaron Alexis, a Washington Navy Yard gunman, who had a deadly obsession with video games, was remembered after Nick’s remark. (Vincent, 2013)
Every criminal behaviour or act of violence that is seen through a biased lens almost always wired the incident to a video game. However, on closer inspection, there has never been clear incriminating evidence against video game that can prove it to be guilty of any real life crime. The only downside that I see with video games maybe a distraction from real world which is a common occurrence in other forms of socially accepted escapism such as partying or alcohol. There are physiological impact as we have noted above, which may cause a gamer to play the game repeatedly because of effect of the dopamine cycle. If we are led to believe otherwise, the government would start listing hard drugs and video games alongside with other listed items that are prohibited from possession.
Hard drugs and video games, and there negative relation is a fairy tale that we love to hear before we sleep our way into ignorance. If you believe otherwise, let us discuss in the comments below!
Draganski, B. (2013, Jan 9). US national Library of Medicine. Retrieved from US national Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541375/
Hume, T. (2016, July 24). CNN. Retrieved from CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/24/europe/germany-munich-shooting/index.html
Kuss, D. J. (2013, November). US national Library of Medicine. Retrieved from US national Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832462/
Scutti, S. (2016, July 26). CNN . Retrieved from CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/25/health/video-games-and-violence/
Vincent, J. (2013, September 20). Independent. Retrieved from Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/nick-clegg-describes-effect-of-violent-video-games-as-incredibly-powerful-8830203.html