Gaming has never been more popular than it is now. There are approximately 2.2 billion gamers in the world[1] and it is an industry worth approximately £100 billion pounds, which is set to only increase[2]. Video games have now become an established part of the entertainment industry, with online streamers making millions of dollars a year and the Fortnite World Cup selling out a 23,000-seat stadium, with a top prize of £2.5 million pounds. This is all very good news for game developers and the top players who make money out of it, but is there a flip-side to this? Is it possible that there is a dark side to the popularity of gaming, and how could it be damaging people?

Why do we enjoy playing video games so much? Nick Yee, a scientist who has studied video games, states that it forms three components. People derive satisfaction from advancing in games, they enjoy the social interaction that it provides, and games provide an immersive escapist experience in which someone can experience life as a whole different person[3]. However, Professor Ofir Turel from the California State University found that the part of the brain which controls impulse became more sensitive in excessive gamers, and also became smaller so that it can process the stimulus of video games faster, whilst eroding self-control and increasing the need for larger amounts of gaming. This alarming changing of the brains structure is also observable in alcoholics or drug addicts[4]. To add further cause for concern, Professor Turrel’s research found that heavy video gamers were at an increased risk of abusing drugs later in life.

Excessive gaming has also been linked to behavioural changes in children. Whilst some studies have found that video games increase aggression, some have claimed that it does not[5]. Prof Ryuta Kawashima, of the Tohoku University in Japan, has claimed that the real danger of gaming lies not in increased aggression, but in their lack of mental stimulation. He found that computer games did not stimulate the frontal lobe in the same way that playing chess or solving a maths puzzle did. This can result in lack of development of the frontal lobe, which is an area associated with memory, learning, emotion, and the repression of anti-social impulses.

Gaming disorder has recently been classified as a disease by the World Health Organisation (W.H.O). Symptoms include impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to the gaming, and continuation of gaming despite the impairment in personal relations.  The W.H.O found that 3-4% of gamers were addicted, with 94% of them being male. This is a shocking statistic, as nearly the same number of females play video games as males. Video games manufacturers have also been criticised for designing their games to be as addictive as possible; implementing features such as “loot boxes”, which mimic slot machines with a randomised prize. In 2018, the Dutch Gaming Authority determined that game manufacturers would need a gambling licence to feature these in their games and banned them due to the risk of minors accessing them[6].

Gamers, particularly children, are also putting themselves at increased risk online. Due to the potential anonymity of online conversations, children online are at an increased risk of cyber bullying or having their personal details stolen[7]. Online predators have been known to use the in-game chat system to attempt to groom young potential victims. In a particularly shocking case, Brock Bednar, a 14-year-old boy, was tricked into meeting an older man he had met through playing online games and was promised a career in computer design. He was brutally murdered, and photos of his dead body were sent to his online gaming friends by the killer[8].

Gaming addiction is also not without its health risks[9]. Due to the sedentary nature of sitting down to play for hours at a time, players are at risk of increased risk of heart disease, diabetes (type 2), osteoporosis, and a myriad of other health risks. Repeatedly bashing buttons can also lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is a form of repetitive strain injury. Much like any other competitive sport players have also been known to use performance enhancing drugs, and in 2018 Kory Friesen, a professional Counter Strike: Global Offensive player admitted that he and all of his team mates used Adderall, a type of amphetamine, to give themselves an edge during gruelling six hour tournaments[10].

So, if someone has a problem what can they do? As the demand for help is now so great, facilities such as Addcounsel have developed comprehensive programmes that can help you or a loved one overcome an addiction to gaming, and with the gaming industry predicted to surpass £111 billion by 2021, early intervention is definitely best.


[1] https://gaimin.io/how-many-gamers-are-there/ accessed on the 27/9/2019

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/246888/value-of-the-global-video-game-market/ accessed on 27/9/2019

[3] https://www.sekg.net/gamer-psychology-people-play-games/ accessed 27/9/2019

[4] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/06/12/addictive-video-games-may-change-childrens-brains-way-drugs/ accessed 27/9/2019

[5] Przybylski, Andrew K, and Netta Weinstein. “Violent video game engagement is not associated with adolescents’ aggressive behaviour: evidence from a registered report.” Royal Society open science vol. 6,2 171474. 13 Feb. 2019, doi:10.1098/rsos.171474

[6] https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-04-19-the-netherlands-declares-some-loot-boxes-are-gambling accessed on 29/9/2019

[7] https://usa.kaspersky.com/resource-center/threats/top-7-online-gaming-dangers-facing-kids accessed 29/9/2019

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/23/breck-bednar-murder-online-grooming-gaming-lorin-lafave accessed 29/9/2019

[9] https://cyberathletiks.com/top-10-negative-effects-of-gaming-esports/ accessed 29/9/2019

[10] https://www.vice.com/en_asia/article/3k9qpk/competitive-gaming-performance-enhancing-drugs accessed 29/9/2019