Exploring the rewards of gambling and gaming addictions
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06-23-15 Category: Addiction Treatment, Recovery, Therapy


Humankind is a reactive species. We respond to the elements of the world around us. Furthermore, people will react differently depending on how an experience is perceived. Some stimuli are thought of as punishments, while others are rewarding. The concept of operant conditioning supports that both positive and negative experiences can reinforce particular behaviors. While rewarding and punishing behaviors are equally powerful influences, reward is more commonly utilized and cited in research.

Reward is an incredibly important and complex stimulus that is integrated into existence. For humans and other animals, reward is given to encourage the continuation of proactive or beneficial actions. This extrinsic or external motivation is a crucial idea in psychology since it contributes and factors into a person’s decisions and actions from a source outside the mind. Similar to intrinsic motivation that comes from within, rewards can change an individual’s internal choices and lead to vastly different consequences and future decisions. Altogether, this process of receiving rewards and influencing decisions represent the reward system of a living being.

Some real world products and institutions have applied this understanding of reward in order to sustain a marketable behavior. On the serious note, drug and behavioral addictions are established by hijacking a normal reward system and feeding it intense and direct stimulation. A person is then reinforced to repeat the rewarding and abusive action. In time, he or she will become accustomed to it and therefore increase the activity. This sequence of need, abuse and tolerance will create a destructive cycle that will spiral a life into turmoil.

As society continues to mature and progress, people gain awareness of other experiential factors that can contribute to excessive and unhealthy rewards. Besides the direct route of reward that many illicit substances provide, engaging visual and auditory stimuli has also been shown to have significant effects on behavior. One specific mode of receiving these simulating rewards is the act of playing games. While having fun may be one its simplest intentions, games accomplish much more on a psychological level.

Behavioral game design

The process of playing a game is a unique and interesting activity due to its level of interactivity. By their very nature, games reinforce behavior by declaring a rewarded winner and a punished loser. As games developed over history, increasing incentives were added into the mix. One of the first, major updates to gaming was the addition of money and betting, familiarly known as gambling.

When money is thrown on the table, the stakes of winning and losing rise exponentially. Most gambling games revolve around the idea of chance and randomness, so many individuals are tempted to keep playing and beat the odds of winning more money. However, in reality, this kind of decision usually leads to risky and destructive situations as the control over one’s impulses and finances are lost. Due to such a long and established history of problematic behavior, gambling is the only behavioral addiction or compulsion to be included in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

The modern day equivalent of traditional gambling seems to be video games. When examining the details, many video games share similar aspects of betting games, especially slot machines. After every decision a person makes in the game, lights flash and sounds ring wildly, which implicitly reinforces continued participation. Even card games like poker have transferred into digital formats and are popularly played online.

By understanding the systems of reward and how they are integrated into more traditional games, it is easier to see how reward fits with modern video gaming. When monetary value is not involved, video game developers take advantage of the other major stimulating and reinforcing processes it can influence. Experts in the industry compare game design to generating the pattern of activity that players desire. Video game worlds also represent digital items with actual value. Coupled with the time and effort required to obtain them, these virtual goods become the real reward that players experience instead of money.

By taking advantage of natural instincts like gathering resources and fabricating accomplishments with in-game goals, video games can maintain a pool of consumers who will always come back for more. However, when these activities are prolonged to excessive levels in order to receive adequate rewards, gamers may begin to view their games more highly than substantial relationships and real life obligations. When individuals cannot manage their impulses and limits any longer, professional support is needed to keep their lives stable. Sovereign Health Group can guarantee a healthier life with integrative therapy and other evidence-based strategies. If you or loved one is struggling with a behavioral addiction like gambling or gaming or with a mental health disorder you can contact Sovereign online or call (866) 819-0427 for more information on how to get the help you need

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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