Published on: 9 September 2020
2020 has been a treat of a year, hasn't it?
With COVID-19’s presence pushing the need for social distancing and restricting our movements, we have been struggling to meet our need for social connection organically. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, the minds behind “Self Determination Theory”, talk about this connection and go deeper. They call it relatedness, which isn’t just connecting with family and friends but drives us to become part of a community and matter to other people.
Our connection to our communities has definitely been impacted, and I don’t know about you, but if you’re on Zoom all day for work, socialising on Zoom quickly loses its appeal. That’s why gaming has become the preferred form of entertainment for a lot of people who can’t meet their social needs in real life because of lockdown restrictions. People who didn’t regularly play games upgraded their systems or decided that now was the right time to try virtual reality or buy a new game. Aside from the social aspect, we use video games to try and meet the other two motivators that Deci and Ryan talk about: competence and autonomy. Competence focuses on achievement and mastery, while autonomy focuses on self-direction. Please feel free to read this post to learn more about how it relates to our motivation to play video games.
Initiatives such as #playaparttogether, supported by the World Health Organisation, focused on the positive benefits of video games, especially in the way we can try to meet our relatedness needs. It also played its part in preventing the spread of the virus.
I think it’s great that the WHO, even after adding “gaming disorder” to the International Classification of Diseases, can still see the forest through the trees and acknowledge the benefits of gaming. Still, the truth about overplaying our video games remains the same. Regardless of the positive role that gaming has had during COVID-19, we would still benefit from being mindful about how much we play. There are many reasons to be mindful but let's focus on the risk of burning out our dopamine receptors, which is an adaptation to the overstimulation we receive when playing video games for too long. This loss of dopamine receptors essentially leads to a numbing of how we feel pleasure. When it doesn’t feel as good as it used to, we might want to play more because we have expectations for that pleasure, but we aren't reaching it anymore. On top of that, since you can’t enjoy peak concentration for marathon sessions, your performance suffers. Poor performance can lead to frustration and potentially aggression, and certainly less enjoyment of the game.
Essentially, by playing too much, we are shooting ourselves in the foot and making everything about the experience worse. Not only does it make our gaming less enjoyable for multiple reasons, but it makes real life more boring. Life loses its shine when our brains don't have the capacity to enjoy things as we did before desensitising.
I love gaming, and it is certainly a value-add to our lives…. until it isn’t. For the time being, I think we are going to happily overlook some of these negative impacts because the alternative is that we do nothing. That psychological discomfort that comes with boredom is difficult to tolerate. For those of us already dealing with existing stress or anxiety levels, the pandemic restrictions let these feelings fester in your mind, driving us to escape into our games, yet another motivator to play. So rather than looking at the extremes such as a fear that our loved ones will succumb to something we think is addictive, let's learn where we see diminishing returns and go from there.
Before we know it, we’ll be living life the way we used to(roughly), and the pandemic will be in the history books. The question will be: “What impact did overplaying our video games have on us during the pandemic?” Personally, I think that many people will jump at the opportunity to do literally anything else once those opportunities present themselves. My gaming time has gone up, but all I want to do is go back to playing organised sports because I miss them so much. Will that be the case for everyone? Will some people develop unhealthy habits that stick? Why wait to find out? Invest some time into learning how this all works and work to maximise all the benefits and minimise all the downsides.
If you’re hoping to prevent problematic gaming, or manage a problem that’s already impacting you and your family, try our parent and gamer quizzes, then shoot us a message for a free consultation.