A recent study on adolescents shows that teens who play more than nine hours of video games a week seem to have a larger reward center in the brain than those who play less than nine hours. Although they cannot determine if videogames are the cause of this area in the ventral striatum being larger and more active, there seems to be correlation between this reward center and frequent gaming. This region of the brain produces chemicals that make us feel good when we engage in certain activities, such as eating or sex. Many other things can stimulate this area of the brain, which are not needed in the basic functioning of the body, such as drugs and alcohol.
The question is one of the chicken and the egg, did frequent gamers have larger reward centers to begin with, leading to excessive gaming or did the excessive gaming affect their reward center? Parts of the brain can enlarge when used often such as the motor regions affecting physical skills. Either way frequent gamers show more activity in the ventral striatum than infrequent ones and find gaming more rewarding. Their brain releases more dopamine than normal and activity in the ventral striatum is also increased more than normal.
A larger ventral striatum has been correlated with addiction and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Maybe alcoholics and addicts, who have addictive personalities, would have less trouble with their disease if behavior early on created a larger reward center? Or maybe people with a lack of motivation could find more pleasure in things if they had not developed an overactive reward center. Either way it seems this enlarged reward center negatively affects behavior. People who have a larger ventral striatum have more difficulty staying stimulated by certain activities. The brain will build a tolerance to a certain amount of stimulation, and require more and more stimulation to produce the same amount of pleasure previously experience. It is like drug addicts who builds up a tolerance to drugs, and must continually increase the amount they consume to get high.
This study shows the brain function of excessive gamers and addicts are similar. Overstimulation of the reward center from either activity seems to have similar effect on the activity in the ventral activity. This implies that physical addiction to video games is a realistic possibility. Lack of stimulation from videogames would cause the gamer to have a lack of activity in the ventral striatum resulting in less of the ‘feel good’ chemicals being produced. This can affect gamers in many ways, maybe not as severely as an addict without their drugs, but according to information from functional magnetic resonance imaging it results in similar brain activity.
This could explain why many people get too involved with video games, and can become obsessed to the point where they disregard other parts of their lives to keep playing. The numbers of people who have this problem are increasing as video games continue to develop and evolve. Some even go to rehab to deal with their extreme obsession. South Korea is the most wired country in the world and has even had fatalities due to video game addiction. Victims had become so obsessed with gaming they did not bother to take care of themselves and perished due exhaustion, dehydration or starvation. 50 million people live in South Korea an estimated half of them play video games, the problem has become so rampant that the government is contemplating an internet shut down to prevent online gaming.
Treatment for video game addiction involves therapy and medication, and for inpatient addicts includes being abstinent from videogames in a safe environment that in which they cannot be accessed. To have to go such extremes these excessive gamers may have a serious and real addiction that should be included in the group of addiction diseases such alcoholism.
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