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Digital Crack

November 24, 2013

I wouldn’t have guessed it, but it turns out there’s some controversy over whether video games are addictive. For example, one psychologist says they aren’t, another psychologist says they are.

This is a perfect example of an apples and oranges debate. It is true that compulsive video game playing both is and is not “like” an addiction. Interestingly, what is disputed is not whether or not compulsive video game playing exists, but whether or not it qualifies as an “addiction”.

By my definition, an addiction is a compulsive behavior that subverts self-interest; i.e. a person will continue to do it even when they rationally know on some level that it is not good for them in some way. Rationalizing the activity as not being addictive is one characteristic sign of addictive behavior.

What is perhaps most illuminating is what video game producers themselves claim. Video games are the only product sold that are advertised on the basis of their addictiveness. Cigarette manufacturers claimed for decades that cigarettes were not addictive, and therefore you should buy them. Video game producers routinely use marketing copy like “Over 200 hours of addictive game play!”, telling us, in effect, that yes, their product is addictive, and that is precisely why you should buy it. For addictive substances and activities like alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and pornography usage, warnings are given about their addictive nature, whereas for video games the addictiveness is a selling point. Just like junk food is scientifically designed to stimulate compulsive eating by chemically manipulating our hunger and satiety mechanisms, video games are scientifically designed to stimulate compulsive playing by manipulating our motivation and reward mechanisms.

Therefore, anyone who wants to purport that video games are never addictive has an awful lot of rationalizing to do.

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