Video game addiction in teenagers: what it is and what to do
The development of the new technologies is being noticed in the most unsuspected areas of life.
Although scientific, urban and industrial changes are usually the ones that attract the most attention from the media, the improvement of techniques and tools used by human beings is also clearly reflected in the leisure sector. In fact, one of its consequences has been the emergence of video game addiction, a problem that occurs especially in childhood and adolescence.
In the following lines we will see what video game addiction consists of in adolescents , what the implications and effects of this psychological problem are when it affects this age group, and what can be done in these cases.
Video game addictions in adolescence: mechanisms of dependence
Most of the time, the developers of the best-selling video games put a lot of effort into extending the playability hours of their products, that is, the ability to keep the players entertained with the video game over many hours.
A short title is usually intended to be played for about 5 or 6 hours, while long titles can be played for more than 150 hours. If we go to extremes, we find video games that are playable over and over again, and that can seduce young people to the point of keeping them glued to the screen for months, and in some cases years, as is the case with some games designed for online competition .
This does not mean that video games are in themselves addictive; there is nothing in them that allows them to be considered as products that necessarily generate dependency, and in fact most of the habitual users of these products do not develop addiction, unlike many chemical drugs.
However, it is true that due to their characteristics they are able to combine with the psychological predispositions of some young people to make it easier for them to “get hooked” on video games.
The following are the main factors that contribute to the development of video game addiction by teenagers who use them, at first, for entertainment.
1. The use of explorable items and environments as reinforcement
The main resources with which video games keep the player in the expectation that they will receive rewarding experiences are mainly two: the items and the environments that can be explored.
Items are virtual objects that either offer new gameplay possibilities (e.g. lifting heavy rocks) or are collectable . Exploresable environments, as their name suggests, are new “scenarios” that the player can explore and that contain a set of novel experiences: this is what we call “screen switching” in the classic video games of the 80s and 90s.
Most video games have at least one of these two elements, and from the beginning they make it clear to players that, if they continue to interact with their virtual world, they will be periodically getting these rewards . In this way, players feel more interested in the video game, knowing that if they overcome certain challenges they will obtain new content.
2. The possibility of escaping from the real world
Adolescence is a time that many young people live in a problematic way, and they need to “disconnect” from thinking about their problems.
Video games fit this need perfectly , as they provide narratives, virtual environments and concrete goals with which it is easy to connect and let attention remain focused on what is happening on the screen. Even when they are not playing, teenagers with a problem with videogames are often fantasizing about the virtual worlds they have become accustomed to interacting with, and even socializing with other young people interested in that kind of videogame, dreaming about gaming sessions, etc.
3. The narratives of some video games
Many video games not only offer worlds to explore and satisfying gameplay mechanics that provide a challenge and reward for completion, but also tell interesting stories .
The desire to know how these stories develop is capable of enhancing the addictive effect that the games have on some adolescents, especially if they feel identified with one of the main characters.
4. A way to fight boredom
We must also take into account that in adolescence there are many young people who have difficulty making friends, either because they have not yet fully mastered social skills, because they have few opportunities to meet other adolescents with their interests, because of situations of moving and changing schools, etc.
Thus, video games are a way to “fill up” their free time , since they do not involve other stimulating activities. In this way, a habit linked to low self-esteem begins to form.
The symptoms of video game addiction during adolescence are usually the following:
- Absent” state for much of the time when no play is taking place, as the child recreates “plays” in his or her imagination.
- A state of irritability when you haven’t played a video game in a long time.
- Tendency to loneliness and seclusion in a place where you can play video games.
- Impoverishment of his social life: in general, he can only maintain a more or less solid friendship with other young people who play many hours a day.
- Outbursts of anger if a game is interrupted.
What to do?
Fortunately, more and more of us are psychotherapy professionals trained to help teenagers with video game addiction , as well as their families.
Through a psychological intervention of several weeks focused on changing the habits and thought patterns of the young person, it is possible to weaken much of the strength of this dependence on electronic leisure, to the point that it virtually disappears and ceases to be a problem. However, in order to achieve the best results, it is necessary to act as soon as possible so that the problem does not become firmly established in the child’s lifestyle.
If you are interested in knowing more about how we work at Instituto de Psicología Psicode regarding addictive behaviors, either in Madrid or in Alicante, access our contact details by clicking here.
- Marco, C. & Cholis, M. (2010) Pattern of Video Game Use and Dependence in Childhood and Adolescence. Annals of Psychology, 27, 418 – 426.
- Miller, Peter (2013). Principles of Addiction: Comprehensive Addictive Behaviors and Disorders, Volume 1.