We see it all of the time around the Northwestern campus: students swiping their fingers across their phones playing Candy Crush Saga, a mobile phone game that has exploded over that past year. To onlookers it may simply look like matching shapes, but to those who have played the game it is so much more. With a simple swipe of the finger, you feel a small sense of accomplishment. The vivid imagery, clicks, and rings are entertaining and cheerily stimulating. Before you know it you are not sure how much time you have spent in this fantasy world.
Candy Crush Saga has reached mobile gaming records. According to Yahoo! News, over 20% of iPhone users tapped into the app in July. Many players would even go so far as to describe themselves as addicts.
But can an activity so seemingly ordinary truly be addictive? Experts believe that too much time spent on video games can indeed be considered an addiction. According to Kimberly Young, PsyD, clinical director of the Center for On-Line Addiction, “It’s a clinical impulse control disorder.” This puts gaming addiction in the same class as kleptomania and pathological gambling. Research thus far has suggested that video games can affect the dopamine system in the brain, which plays an active role in feelings of reward. Effort spent playing the game can give the player a real sense of achievement and progress.
To many Americans video game addiction may seem trivial. However in many countries, particularly China and South Korea, it is a very genuine concern. South Korea has a national helpline available to the 30% of its population that has an online gaming account. In 2011 a man in his late twenties died of heart failure after playing Starcraft in an internet café for over two days. China’s youth is obsessed with online gaming, and the Internet Addiction Centre at the Beijing Military Region Central Hospital has a total of 300 inpatient beds for addicts. Other clinics have more recently opened in Europe and the U.S.
In the past, online role playing games have been particularly troublesome for addicts because of their immersive and interactive nature. Is it even more dangerous to have that temptation in the palm of our hands? Mobile phones have brought game development out of the living room and into the public sphere. Though the games may be simpler than those on home consoles, your phone can be pulled out at any time of day, even in settings (like in class) where it shouldn’t be.
We live in an age where it may seem like everything could be classified as an addiction, from shopping to eating. Some may say we are over-medicalizing everyday human behaviors, but any maladaptive behavior that interferes with one’s functioning in everyday life is clearly cause for concern. Could there be long-term consequences from playing games like Candy Crush Saga? I don’t think we are sure yet. As the first to grow up in the age of the internet and mobile phones, the people of my generation are truly guinea pigs. Technology is meant to make our lives easier, but it has evolved much faster than the chemistry of our own brains. Perhaps it is no surprise that we are slowly learning some of its more detrimental consequences.