Video games and their effects on the brain

Video games and their effects on the brain


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When we talk about video games we like, we often talk about their graphics, story or gameplay. A sales adjective often used by those who enjoy games is that it is addictive, but have you ever wondered what are the mechanisms that make our brains enjoy games so much, whether on a PC, console or even on mobile devices? It has something to do with what we call the reward system. If you want to know more about this subject, keep reading the article to understand how our brains love video games.


  • What is the reward system?

  • What is the connection between dopamine and video games?

  • Everything is a matter of brain chemistry

What is the reward system?

THE The brain’s reward system is a group of brain regions responsible for reward-related cognition or, in other words, for pleasure, motivation and desire, in addition to associative learning . These brain regions are activated whenever there is a reward stimulus, which means that there is a dopamine release.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – a kind of messenger between cells and brain regions – that travels through four different dopamine pathways , two of which are considered part of the reward system. This molecule contributes to the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction, so its message is simple: this is great. Certain experiences, such as drug use, lead to a large release of dopamine, but over time, the limit increases and more substance is needed to achieve the same effect – and, as you may have guessed, this is something we see in addictions.

To sum up, a rewarding experience will activate the reward system and a larger than normal amount of dopamine will be released. Dopamine affects the excitement, decision making, desire and goal-oriented behavior.

It is important to note that, according to this recent research, dopamine does not cause pleasure by itself, but is involved in coding memories about rewards (how and when to get them?) And is released just before I got it. them.

What is the connection between dopamine and video games?

This research indicates that playing video games is an action related to dopamine release.

There are different types of video games, but there is a basic idea: you need to progress in the game to get something rewarding . It’s an experience goal-oriented.

Different video games have different gameplay: some will make you work long before you succeed (for example, the Dark Souls trilogy), and others will give you more instant gratification (a reward), for example, Candy Crush.

Although there is no research on Dark Souls or Candy Crush, we can imagine the mechanisms behind of those games. In the first case, the feeling of accomplishment can be greater after fighting for a long time (please don’t say Git Gud) and the pleasure may be associated with an important activation in the reward system. In the second case, the difficulty is less, but the bonus is more frequent, keeping the reward system activated for a longer time.

What is common is this: when a given behavior is rewarded, it tends to persist. And this is one of the reasons why you may not like Dark Souls. Due to the level of difficulty, the reward may never be achieved.

Everything is a matter of brain chemistry

The answer to that question is that the video game reward system is somewhat more complicated than that. Dopamine release is an important, but not unique, factor. This is because previous experiences with video games indicated that personal preferences and the importance attributed to the different elements of a game (for example, graphics, history, soundtrack, etc.). Another important factor is that our brains are different and do not react in the same way. So, our reaction to the games is something multifactorial.

Photo: © Unsplash

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