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Gaming to beat feelings of boredom may be harmful to your health, study finds

Experts say too much time playing games can create addictive behaviors

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Photo (c) Nopparat Jaikla EyeEm - Getty Images
While playing games online or on a smartphone has been linked with improved cognition for older consumers, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Waterloo is exploring the risks associated with frequent gaming to relieve boredom. 

According to their findings, consumers that seek out smartphone games as a means of blocking out negative emotions or simply to bypass feeling bored may be doing themselves more harm than good. The researchers explained that this cycle can set consumers up for addictive behaviors, which can ultimately impact their ability to engage in other activities. 

“We found that people who experience intense boredom frequently in everyday life reported playing smartphone games to escape or alleviate these feelings of boredom,” said researcher Chanel Larche. “The problem with this boredom ‘fix’ is that they end up playing whenever they are bored, and end up experiencing problems tied to excessive game play."

Risks of excessive gaming

For the study, the researchers worked with 60 participants who played the popular smartphone game Candy Crush. The group was instructed to play the game as often as they liked, and they rotated through levels of various difficulty so the researchers could get a better understanding of their motivation behind playing. 

The researchers found that when players picked up the game to escape boredom or other negative feelings, they were more likely to play for longer periods of time. They also tended to play more frequently and often got lost in a flow state. When in a flow state, consumers are so focused on a specific activity that they lose awareness of what’s going on around them. 

“During gameplay, players may achieve optimal arousal, engaged focus and attention, and a reduction in feelings of monotony, but this heightened urge-to-play among escape players can have negative consequences and lead to excessive time gaming,” said Larche. 

Impacting everyday life

The researchers are worried about how excessive gameplay could impact consumers’ day-to-day lives. They say focusing too much on a game can leave little room for other activities or responsibilities. 

The team hopes these findings highlight the potential risks that may arise from too much gaming. Though smartphone games can be a fun diversion, it’s important for consumers to put their phones down and take breaks. 

“Those who play to escape experience greater flow and positive affect than other players, which sets up a cycle of playing video games to elevate a depressed mood,” said researcher Michael Dixon. “This is maladaptive because, although it elevates your mood, it also increases your urge to keep playing. Playing too long may lead to addiction and means less time is available for other healthier pursuits. This can actually increase your depression.” 

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