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Following the Money on Video Game Addiction

We haven’t said very much about gaming addiction here on AddictionNews, but that’s about to change. A bunch of lawsuits against video game makers such as Rockstar and Activision have been filed in the past six months seeking compensation for damages caused by video game addiction.

These lawsuits will likely result in a great deal of formerly secret information becoming public, such as how video games are designed to be addictive. Attorneys want to know when these companies learned their games were causing physical and mental problems for excessive users and what they did about it once they found out. The discovery process should reveal important information about how people become addicted.

A recent article on Polygon named the following seven companies who have been sued for “making their games purposefully addictive as a way to keep people playing, and, ultimately, to get them to spend lots of money.” They are:

  • Activision Blizzard
  • Epic Games
  • Microsoft
  • Roblox
  • Nintendo
  • Take-Two Interactive Software
  • Sony Interactive Entertainment

The lawsuits enable us to follow the money, to some extent, to see how and why these addictive features were perfected and the damages they have inflicted, not only on gamers, but also on their families, schools, and healthcare providers. Earlier this year, three large Canadian school districts filed suit against Meta, ByteDance and Snap seeking C$4.5 billion for damages due to addictive algorithms.

The lawsuits allege the companies are “intentionally making players addicted to their games,” “causing an unprecedented youth mental health crisis,” and “forcing schools to spend millions on hiring social workers, youth counselors and staff.” Here in the United States schools and parents have also sounded the alarm about the dangers of gaming addiction.

Just earlier this week at AddictionNews, we reviewed new studies of brain scans of adolescents diagnosed with internet addiction. The scans revealed an overall reduction in activity between the brain’s executive control network, salience network and reward network. These areas of the brain undergo rapid development during adolescence and there is concern that the damage caused by video game addiction during adolescence could be hardwired for life.

How Do Video Games Become Addictive?

Video games are designed to present the user with a problem to be solved, often in a limited amount of time. There are some rewards for solving the problem. The reward might be sound effects or flashing lights or points or advancement or prizes… an endless number of rewards can be devised to simultaneously entertain the player and encourage them to keep playing the game.

These games then ratchet up the difficulty and the player is under a great deal of stress. This stress is displaced into the physical activity and mental absorption of playing the game. Every time stress is displaced through winning, another hit of dopamine is released, flooding the player with a momentary sense of euphoria.

Addicted players become anxious, distracted, unable to concentrate, and constantly thinking about the game even when they’re not playing the game. It gets so bad that players can’t sleep at night, fall asleep in school, become irritable, become unconsolable if access to the game is restricted, lose interest in activities other than gaming, and withdraw socially from family, friends and classmates. Video game addiction has also been linked to eating disorders, depression and substance use disorders. 

How Is Video Game Addiction Treated?

The desire for dopamine is strong but the damage done to the brain’s reward system makes it hard for addicted persons to get pleasure from ordinary life. It’s an ability that can be strengthened using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — including individual therapy, group therapy, and therapy via app. Add in community reinforcement — a more holistic way of shaping recovery — and contingency management — paying people to complete treatment and stay clean — and you have a prescription for healing a nation suffering an epidemic of addiction.

There are prescription drugs that assist with the anxiety of withdrawal, but the relapse rate is high unless the patient makes lifestyle changes. That’s what the CBT is for: to teach patients how to deal with urges through positive displacement to healthy activities, such as exercise, rather than unhealthy activities, such as binge gaming, binge eating, binge drinking, etc. Patients who learn and apply lifestyle management are proven to stay in therapy longer, relapse less, and report a higher quality of life.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published June 11, 2024.


“Are video game addiction lawsuits having a moment?” Polygon, April 24, 2024.

“What do video gaming addiction suits mean for insurers?” ALM PropertyCasualty360 Podcast, June 5, 2024.

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