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Video Gaming – A 21st Century Addiction

Written by: Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Video Gaming addiction is one of the most common issues I see in the therapy room, particularly amongst younger clients.

Gaming might sound like a harmless enough pursuit, but it can become a serious issue when it causes people to withdraw almost entirely from the real world to the extent that relationships suffer and genuine human interactions diminish.

Anyone who's ever played any form of video game will almost certainly be aware of the genre's addictive qualities. I'm going to put my hand up and declare from the outset that I've experienced the intoxicating grip of the pure escapism offered by these immersive virtual worlds.

Around twenty years ago I became hooked on the highly-acclaimed Thief: The Dark Project – a first-person stealth game developed by Looking Glass Studios and published by Eidos Interactive. Thief, which was so successful it spawned a couple of sequels as well as a 2014 reboot, was the first PC stealth game to use light and sound as game mechanics and challenged the first-person shooter market by placing its emphasis instead on non-confrontational stealth gameplay. Set in a medieval steampunk metropolis, players took on the role of Garrett, a master thief trained by a secret society who, while carrying out a series of robberies, became involved in a complex plot which threatened to unleash chaos on the world.

The game achieved widespread critical acclaim, was placed on numerous hall-of-fame lists and is rightly regarded as one of the greatest video games of all time. Thief enabled me to cast aside the mundane drudgery of my ordinary life and set foot inside an alluring fantasy world in which I finally had the opportunity to be everything I secretly wanted to be – the hero of an epic adventure, armed with the tools, skills and capabilities to take down the bad guys and single-handedly save the world from apocalyptic destruction.

However, even I was unprepared for the sheer extent to which the game would take over my life during the next few months. I was so gripped that hours and whole days would pass without me being able to force myself away from the computer screen. The need to crack the next conundrum, steal the next treasure, overcome the latest threat and reach the next level was so strong that I would frequently end up playing right through the night without even being aware of the passing of time.

The games are, of course, deliberately structured this way, ruthlessly deploying the age-old use of cliffhangers and story arcs to appeal to the innate human need for instant gratification and keeping you constantly wanting more. When, after several months, I finally cracked the final level and successfully completed the game, the sense of triumph was short-lived and swiftly replaced by one of anti-climax and even profound feelings of depression and loss. There was no new level to aim for, no more booty to steal, no villain to stop or world to save. Completing the game had left a massive void in my life and I experienced a severe withdrawal which was only really satiated by the eventual release of the sequel: Thief 2: The Metal Age, whereupon the whole cycle started all over again.

Video games are intentionally designed using state-of-the-art behaviour psychology to keep you hooked in this way. Games are immersive experiences that provide you with a high amount of dopamine, and overexposure to this level of stimulation can cause structural changes to your brain. You begin to live in a world where you expect instant gratification. Games are so immersive that it’s easy to play for hours and hours without even noticing that a minute has gone by.

In recent years game developers have increasingly deployed game design features such as in-app purchases, micro-transactions, and loot boxes that some governments have declared illegal because they are a form of gambling. Children are encouraged to splash out on extras stored in virtual “loot boxes”, and some parents have been landed with four-figure bills because their children have spent money without their knowledge.

The World Health Organization listed and defined gaming addiction as a medical condition in the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases. Some countries had already identified it as a major public health issue.

It’s common for a video game addict to spend over 10 hours a day gaming, usually well into the night, and many suffer from sleep deprivation. Immersed in their experience, gamers are known to have poor diets consisting mainly of energy drinks full of caffeine and sugar. Many are dehydrated and malnourished. In more severe cases, gaming addicts report agoraphobia – a type of anxiety disorder in which they fear leaving the house.

Gaming addicts can be moody and irritable, depressed, physically aggressive, and refuse to go to school or work. They can drop out of school or college. They get divorced. And they struggle with unemployment.

The good news is that help is available for those struggling with a video game addiction. Game Quitters is an online peer support community with hundreds of free videos, a community forum, and an affordable program for both gamers and parents. If you or a loved one are struggling with a video game addiction, seek help immediately. It can change your life.

Here at Phoenix we have considerable experience of working with this kind of issue and are currently seeing growing numbers of young people in particular for problems stemming from addiction to gaming and other forms of online activity. We treat the issue with a non-judgemental and empathetic approach and employ a wide array of tools and techniques to help clients forge new patterns of positive behaviour. Key to our approach is teaching clients how to derive the same buzz from real-world activities and interactions that they do from gaming.

I understand only too well the pull and allure of virtual worlds, particularly at a point in history where real-life is for many people becoming increasingly stressful, depressing and unappealing.

However, the secret to true and lasting happiness lies not in escaping from the real world but rather in turning your real life into a magical adventure instead. People are drawn to online avatars because such characters allow them to play the hero. They can dispense temporarily with a real-world identity they might not be entirely comfortable with and lose themselves in the escapism of an alternative, cooler, more glamorous persona.

Video games allow us the opportunity to become a spy, a soldier, assassin, master thief, gangster or rebel. They allow us to indulge our inner fantasies and to become the heroic superman we aspire to be.

But the fact is that we don't need an avatar to become superman. That perfect version of you already exists inside yourself. It's never too late to become the hero of a real-life adventure. You just need to find the courage to make that leap and to be prepared to unleash the Phoenix within.

If you’d like to know more about the services we offer, you can contact us at Phoenix Coaching & Therapy for details.

For more info, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and visit my website!


Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Andrew Cowie is a transformational life coach, psychotherapist, and author dedicated to helping people overcome adversity and achieve their full potential. He came to the world of therapy after a 20-year career in newspaper journalism was brought to an abrupt end by severe burnout. In the course of his own recovery, he was introduced to meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, martial arts, and NLP. He went on to retrain some of the world's leading spiritual and personal development teachers to become an expert in these fields. Andrew has since dedicated his life to passing on this knowledge, synthesizing the various disciplines into one overarching system blending ancient spiritual practices with the latest cutting-edge techniques from the field of modern psychology. He is the owner of Phoenix Coaching & Therapy and the founder of its associated 'magical training school' The Ancient and Mystical Hermetic Order of the Phoenix (AMHOP). His debut book Rise Like a Phoenix was published in 2021 and is described as a manual for personal regeneration. Andrew works with clients worldwide and is passionate about mental health and exploring the latent potential of the human mind.



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