The Psychology Of Addiction In Free Online Games

The Indian Gaming Industry has fast-forwarded to a whopping 396.4 million gamers as of November 2022, as per Business Standard. With an average gaming time of 14 hours between the age of 12 and 15, the cons of gaming are a hot topic around the block, especially among parents. That’s because game addiction is one of the most recent and fatal forms of addiction on the rise. The side effects of it include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), OCD, anxiety, and depression. Free browser games are also on the rise and are more accessible than ever.

The question most doctors and parents ask today is — how would this affect children, the audience that is most susceptible to gaming?

The Pros and Cons of Gaming

While most parents tend to think that gaming for hours on end might end up making their children slow on the uptake, studies suggest otherwise. According to Statistica, the number of hours that children between 12 and 15 years spent playing games peaked in 2018 at nearly 14 hours. A study conducted by Brand Equity suggests that a child who was in the top 17 percent in terms of hours spent gaming increased their IQ by about 2.5 points more than the average child who didn’t. But while gaming has a fair share of virtues, the elephant in the room cannot be ignored. The concerns that gaming addiction holds surpass all the favorable aspects of it.

What exactly are the reasons leading up to it? Why is this concern threatening? How can gaming be leveraged only to reap the benefits?

Causes of Gaming Addiction

The exact cause of gaming addiction is still unknown. However, researchers blame dopamine – the feel-good hormone. Dopamine is also the biggest cause of other disorders, such as gambling and substance use. This has caused great concern to children and teens, who are one of the biggest audiences for the gaming industry. The risk of such in developing minds leaves room for impulsivity, low self-control, and anxiety. These can turn the tables in their lives.

The problem lies in the way games are developed. Most games are designed to keep you playing for longer. There are plenty of in-purchase micro transitions such as outfits, skins, loot boxes, and other added advantages to give players a boost. Some free games also include viewing videos in return for coins, skipping levels, and other advantages. This keeps the player more engaged in the game, helps them skip levels with ease, and makes them dependent on these purchases.

There are a few games, like Ludo game, that are not designed to be addictive. It can also be played online, offline, or in a physical place. Flexible games like these can be encouraged to play more than the ones that are only available online and are addictive.

Positive Use of Gaming

Addiction is deliberately designed into the game. Designers create a repeatable gameplay loop to keep players playing. This helps them control what activities the players are engaged in for the entire length of the game. While it is a common practice in product design, it is not applied to the extent of addiction. As a result, players spend an increasing amount of time getting the same dopamine high out of it as before.

For example, arcade machines are made to drain all your money. These loops are created to make you feel satisfied after a tough endure. This makes you extend your playtime by pumping more coins. While the loops are short, they are made immensely satisfying. The same goes for online games. While they are short and simple, the gameplay is designed in such a way that it gives you a dopamine high when you unlock a new level. Some of the tactics that are used are positive reinforcement, progression systems, achievements, and variable reward schedules. These are built into the game’s design not overnight but after months of research and development — to achieve the full potential of obsession.

Parental Involvement in Gaming

While it may seem like an endless spiraling hole, there are things parents can do to keep a tab on it.

  • Parents need to positively discipline their children so that they can only reap the positives of gaming.
  • Use calm communication to help your child understand the drawbacks of gaming.
  • Make sure you set a reasonable limit for their gaming time. Play it with them to understand the design and reinforcements of the game. It can also help you understand what kind of games they play.
  • Encourage them to play outdoors as well. While they can be fun, outdoor games can also help with the child’s physical development and health.

Gaming has its positives and negatives. But it lies in the player’s hands to not end up becoming its victim. Understanding that while gaming is a fun leisure activity, it can also leave dreadful scars if used improperly. Realizing that it is created entirely on fiction and designed to play more can help children and adults understand boundaries.

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