Smartphone games can be harmful for some looking to break free from boredom

Smartphone gaming can be harmful for gamers who gamble to escape their negative mood and boredom, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have found that bored ‘escape players’ – those who have difficulty engaging with the real environment and maintaining their attention – may seek out the’ flow. Which is a state of deep and effortless concentration in an activity related to the loss of awareness of time and space.

“We found that people who frequently experience intense boredom in everyday life reported playing smartphone games to escape or alleviate these feelings of boredom,” said Chanel Larche, lead author of the study and a PhD student in cognitive neuroscience in Waterloo. “The problem with this ‘fix’ of boredom is that they end up gambling whenever they get bored and eventually run into problems with excessive gambling.

“During the game, players can achieve optimal excitement, engaged focus and attention, and a reduction in feelings of monotony, but this increased urge to play among breakout players can have negative consequences and lead to a time out. excessive gambling. “

Larche conducted this study with Waterloo cognitive neuroscience professor Michael Dixon.

Using the popular smartphone game Candy Crush, Larche and Dixon had 60 participants with a current ranking in the game between 77 and 3307, playing at varying difficulty levels of too easy – which meant there was a lack of balance between skills and challenges, low flow and low excitement – to balanced, which was more difficult and caused more flow, excitement, less boredom and a stronger urge to continue the game. was done to determine whether players would choose to continue playing a game where there was a balance between challenges and flow-friendly skills, rather than an easier game that generated less flow.

Their results confirmed that individuals who gamble to escape boredom using smartphone games such as Candy Crush become more immersed in the game than gamers without escape. However, when breakout players find these games more rewarding to get rid of boredom, they can play more frequently and for longer periods of time.

“Those who play to escape feel a greater flow and positive effect than other gamers, which sets up a cycle of video games to elevate a depressed mood,” Dixon said. “This is inappropriate because, while it improves your mood, it also increases your urge to keep playing. Playing too long can be addictive and means less time is available for other healthier activities. increases your depression. “

Larche says these findings may encourage game developers to consider implementing responsible video game tools directly into their games. For example, having a time limit option to allow players to specify how long they want to play could be helpful for players who are likely to be playing a problematic escape game.


Co-authored by Dixon, the study, Winning is not everything: The impact of smartphone games optimally on flow, gaming preferences and individual games to escape aversive states of boredom, appears in the newspaper Computers in human behavior.

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