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Video Game Addiction: Is It Real?

What does the research say about video game addiction? Is it real?

TEACHERS: Get your students in the discussion on KQED Learn, a safe place for middle and high school students to investigate controversial topics and share their voices.

As the video game Fortnite is taking over the world, there’s a rising panic that some gamers are getting full-on addicted, with headlines like “Parenting the Fortnite Addict” and “I almost lost my sons to Fortnite” popping up all over the place. Even the World Health Organization is worried about video games — just recently, it officially recognized “Gaming Disorder” as a mental health condition. But it’s not that simple. The American Psychiatric Association isn’t convinced, and says there’s not enough research showing that video game addiction is its own disorder. So what’s going on? Is video game addiction REALLY a thing?

ABOVE THE NOISE is a show that cuts through the hype and investigates the research behind controversial and trending topics in the news. Hosted by Myles Bess.


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What is an addiction?

There is no universal definition of addiction that everyone agrees on, but in general, addiction is when someone uses a substance or engages in a behavior repeatedly and compulsively, and continues to do so even if other areas of their life suffer.

What does the research say about video game addiction?

Whether you can be truly “addicted” to video games in the same way that you can be addicted to heroin or alcohol is up for debate — the research is kind of all over the place. But, when researchers look at the brains of some people who have problems with gaming, the reward pathways activate in the same way as people addicted to drugs.

So when I can’t put my controller down because I’m REALLY into a video game, does that mean I’m addicted?

Games are meticulously designed to challenge and reward you at JUST the right moments to keep you playing. So when you can’t put down your controller, it COULD be that you’re just really motivated to keep playing. Which brings us to the concept of “Self Determination Theory” — one of the most widely accepted theories to explain what motivates people. Basically, there are three key characteristics of motivation — autonomy, mastery and purpose — and video games like Fortnite offer all three in abundance.

Is video game addiction really an addiction?

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KQED, an NPR and PBS affiliate in San Francisco, CA, serves Northern California and beyond with a public-supported alternative to commercial TV, Radio, and web media. Funding for Above the Noise is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Silver Giving Foundation, Stuart Foundation, and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.