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The Irresistible Allure of Social Media and Online Video Games - Why We Simply Cannot Resist Them

Your eyes are blurry, your mouth is dry, and your bladder has been full for the past hour - yet you cannot put down your smartphone. Why? What makes it so hard to break free from endless scrolling or pause a video game? These are the questions we will explore next. From dopamine rushes to online communities, we will delve into the various factors that lead us to favour online interactions over offline ones.

The Irresistible Allure of Social Media and Online Video Games - Why We Simply Cannot Resist Them

Your eyes are blurry, your mouth is dry, and your bladder has been full for the past hour - yet you cannot put down your smartphone. Why? What makes it so hard to break free from endless scrolling or pause a video game? These are the questions we will explore next. From dopamine rushes to online communities, we will delve into the various factors that lead us to favour online interactions over offline ones.

A dopamine high

First of all, it is not coincidence that social media and video games are addictive. They are deliberately designed to keep users glued to the screen.

They contain clever built-in reward systems that trigger small releases of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a so-called neurotransmitter that plays an important role in the brain’s reward system. It is often called the “neurotransmitter of happiness” because it triggers feelings of happiness and satisfaction in us.

Social media and video games are designed to continuously trigger the release of dopamine, for instance, through Likes, comment and in-game successes. These create small moments of happiness and a sense of achievement.

We seek these little moments of happiness and therefore feel allured to reach for our phones. The more time we spend online, the more we crave these rewarding moments. The more challenges we overcome in games, or Likes we receive on media, the greater the dopamine reward. Thus, it results in a loop that inclines us to spend increasingly more time online.

In contrast to the offline-world, these rewards are available endlessly. Once a level in a video game is completed, you are automatically get to the next level. Once you finished watching a YouTube Video, the next one automatically starts playing. Put differently, media outlets have no natural ending that would motivate you to put down your phone. They require self-control to resist the dopamine-rush.

All in all, social media and video games are addictive because they give us access to quick and endless experiences of reward and satisfaction.

Virtual network

The social aspect of online media is another addictive factor. Video games with rankings and multiplayer options make us want to compare ourselves with others. This motivates players to continue gaming, in order to get better and thereby a higher standing. Same applies to platforms like Instagram - one is inclined to constantly compare oneself to others.

Video games also promote a feeling of community. Gamers get a sense of belonging and affirmation. This motivates them to invest more time and energy into the games.

It is, however, important to also acknowledge the downsides of this phenomenon. Excessive online gaming can lead to people spending more time in virtual worlds and neglecting their relationships, responsibilities and tasks in real life. Multiplayer games in particular make it difficult to finish a game, as the game continues virtually without you. They feel FOMO.

Similarly, social media enables us to permanently be in contact with friends and family. That is amazing and a great opportunity. However, it does have negative effects when people solely identify themselves through their virtual persona and organise their lives around Likes and followers. Even if Likes and comments trigger a brief dopamine kick, they do not create the same feeling of contentment in the long-term as shared moments in offline-life do.

Your strongest weapon against boredom

Pleasure and fun have always played an important role in human societies, as culturally institutionalised events such as festivals and celebrations show. However, never before have people been able to access entertainment as often and as freely as they do nowadays.

Thus, another reason why the smartphone or PC is so attractive is the possibility of constant entertainment. If you are cueing for a bus, you instantly grab for your phone. If a lecture at university is boring, you quickly check Instagram. When you get home and don't know what to do, you play a computer game.

Media offer round-the-clock access to entertainment. They combine entertainment, social interaction and competition. Video games, especially online multiplayer games, are a good example of this.

A door opener a world of phantasy

The media world is not just a refuge for boredom. It also allows us to forget and ignore problems and tasks from the offline-world. They open doors to fantasy worlds far removed from homework, office work or family disputes.

In particular, multiplayer online role-playing games allow players to enter infinite worlds where they can be in control, achieve goals and bond with their avatar. For those who find it difficult to achieve the same in offline life, the online world offers a great escape.

Video games are specifically designed to give us a sense of progress and achievement. This can boost self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment that may be lacking in other areas of life. Similarly, social media allows us to delve into other people’s apparently flawless worlds.

As positive as this can be, it becomes problematic when video games or social media are used as a coping mechanism. When escaping into a virtual world is used as a strategy for dealing with problems. One cannot ignore the problems of the offline world forever. Thus, it is and cannot be a long-term solution.

The bottom line is…

There is no doubt that social media and the world of video games are great inventions. They offer a lot of fun, opportunities and entertainment. But as with everything, it's important to find the right balance. Too much time on these platforms can also have negative effects.

Recent studies show that people who spend too much time online have poorer emotional, physical, mental and social health. This is a serious problem!

It is important to develop an awareness of the mechanisms that trigger the addictive potential of smartphones. This helps us to understand why we sacrifice so much time and relationships to gaming and social media use. By understanding the powerful impact games and media have on our brains - particularly on dopamine release - we can take steps to develop healthier habits and find a balance between the benefits and stimuli of the online world and the obligations of the offline world.

In this article we share insights and tips on how to reduce your screen time.

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