Gaming Changes the Brain
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When you quit playing video games you’ll notice a shift in how you feel.
For the first few days (or even weeks depending on your situation) you tend to have no energy and your mood sucks. You may get irritated easily, experience headaches, or even have dreams about games.
It’s easy to feel like you are going a bit crazy.
This is all normal. When you quit gaming there are many changes that will happen in your life, and these can happen in both your physiology and your environment.
These changes happen because your brain responds to gaming in specific ways. It’s one of the reasons why you have gamed as much as you have, and this has to do with a chemical in your brain called dopamine.
In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter — a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine systems, one of which plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior.
Have you heard of dopamine before? Gaming provides rapid dopamine release. This explains why when you play games, the type of stimulation you receive is so much different than what you experience in other activities (and why you can find other activities to be boring in comparison.)
That doesn’t mean other activities are actually boring or that you don’t enjoy them, it just means that the type of stimulation in games is different than the type of stimulation in other activities.
I’m not going to make a villain out of game designers, but games are designed, intentionally, with the best practices of gamification and reward-motivated psychology. They are designed to get you (and keep you) hooked.
Rapid dopamine release can be dangerous, and even addictive:
Researchers analyzed the levels of dopamine release in the brains of about 20 ex-drug users and non-users as they played a motor-bike riding computer game. They found that video game playing affected dopamine release at levels similar to those exhibited by using drugs like ecstasy. These results imply that excessive computer game playing may resemble substance abuse or addiction in that it may be a strategy that children use to cope with negative emotions like frustration, fear, and stress. 1 1. Nature: Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game ×
When you game you experience dopamine surges that provide an environment of hyper-stimulation and continued consumption of this can override our natural mechanisms causing structural changes in our brain.
That was a bit wordy but what you need to know is that the type of stimulation you get from gaming is excessive and with continued consumption over time your brain will experience structural changes.
The science, as detailed in this video by Gary Wilson is the following:
Excess chronic consumption (dopamine surges) cause a binge mechanism (excess Delta-Fosb accumulates) which cause cravings for more which cause continued consumption which cause structural brain changes (detailed below).
The more you game, the more you want to game, the more your brain wants to game, so the more you game, and then structural brain changes.
3 structural changes to our brain:
- Numbed pleasure response: Every day pleasures no longer satisfy us.
- Hyper-reactivity to gaming: Every thing else is boring, but gaming is super exciting.
- Willpower erosion: Due to changes in our frontal cortex.
These changes help explain why moving on from gaming can be so difficult.
I bet you relate to the following experience:
- Life just doesn’t satisfy you like gaming does.
- Everything else is boring anyways, especially compared to the fun you have gaming.
- And if you were going to quit, you just don’t really have the motivation to.
So what’s interesting about this is that for so long you’ve likely thought that either you just really enjoyed gaming (it was your passion) and thought other activities just weren’t really that much fun or at least, just not for you.
Plus, you were just one of those who struggled with motivation anyways. But what I want you to know is that this is likely not true. These experiences can be happening because of structural changes in your brain due to excessive gaming.
With greater power comes greater responsibility.
So now that we know this we have the ability to leverage our knowledge to respond differently. Remember, our response is our responsibility.
Research shows it will take up to 90 days for our brain chemistry to rewire back to normal dopamine sensitivity levels. And during this 90 days we may experience any of the following:
- Compulsions, cravings and/or urges to game
- Withdrawals, mood swings and/or irritability
- Feelings of apathy, anxiety and/or depression
- Headaches, lethargy and/or lack of willpower
- And really anything else. We each respond differently
I found the detox-type symptoms to be the worst during the first two weeks.
But at some point, you’ll begin to notice a shift happening, one where you have more energy than you normally do (even when you were playing games!), you’re more optimistic, your cravings are less frequent (they always come and go) and you may even experience a feeling of not being that interested in games at all.
This is your detox in action!
Ready to commit to 90 days without games?
Then I invite you to purchase the full version of Respawn. Respawn will walk you through the five steps you need to take to set your detox up for success:
- You need to know how to breakthrough the psychology that keeps you gaming.
- You need to know how to fill the void and avoid being bored.
- You need to know how to stop wasting your time and be more productive.
- You need to know how to deal with the urges and cravings that cause a relapse.
- You need to know the key mindsets to ensure your detox is a success.
Respawn is the ultimate guide to quit playing video games
“The best decision I have made in my life, honestly.” – David
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“Got me a 4.0 in college after quitting games. No regrets and no fear.”
– Matt S
“I’m 36 days clean from video games. Your videos were thought-provoking as well as inspiring and have helped me on my journey.”
“I have run 11 marathons. I also spend more time chasing my son around the house instead of sitting at my desk.”
“I’m 22 years old from Iraq. Thank you Cam, you were very helpful.”
“I’m a 15 year old and your videos have provided me with a lot of great information. Keep up the good work.”
“You have helped to change my life. I sold my console and have lost 15 pounds. I am forever grateful.”
“I reached 90 days and it’s the longest I’ve gone without playing video games my entire life.”
“You have inspired me and changed my life. Thank you.”
Frequently Asked Questions
If your question isn’t answered below, email me and I’ll help.
Can I play in moderation instead?
Some of us don’t want to quit gaming completely and instead we want to reduce our time. If this is you, what I recommend is to complete the 90 day detox first, and then re-evaluate at the end if you want to try moderation. The truth is, if you can’t go 90 days without gaming… you probably shouldn’t be gaming.
Will the detox help other areas of my life?
Absolutely! One of the reasons why we game is because it fulfills certain needs we have, so going through the detox gives you 90 days to work on these other areas of your life, like improving your social skills, learning how to deal with stress, overcoming procrastination, etc. You can make a lot of progress in 90 days!
Can I still play with my gamer friends?
During the detox I recommend against playing with friends. Instead, use this as an opportunity to enjoy other activities with them. Some of your friends will support you, while others will not. Be firm in your boundaries with those who do not support you.
Do puzzle games count?
Brain and puzzle games can be ok as long as they don’t cause you to have cravings. If your cravings are strong, avoid brain and puzzle games until the end of your detox. Board games are fine.
Do streams count against my detox?
Watching gaming streams or LetsPlays does not count against your detox, but I recommend against them because they will trigger you and cause more cravings. Watching streams is main reasons people relapse. I recommend watching these two videos.
Won’t I just be bored all day long?
It’s true that when you quit gaming you might be bored. But boredom leads to relapse so I encourage you to avoid this as much as possible. To do that, follow the steps I outline in Respawn.
What happens after 90 days?
This is up to you. I completed my detox and chose to continue not playing video games. I haven’t played a game in over four years! My life has improved tremendously and I don’t regret it at all. But we all have to make our own choice. Complete your detox first, and then re-evaluate whether you want to play again or not.
“I want my life to have purpose. I want it to have drive. I’m ready to take it back. I’m ready to implement the things I’ve wanted to do for so long back into my life to grow into the strongest, happiest version of myself. Grinding out the Terran ladder, planting virtual bombs, and slaying demons over and over isn’t what’s going to get me there.”