Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids – And How to Break The Trance
“What we are discovering is that video gaming is perverting an ancient neural-hormonal network. Unlike our ancestors, who were in fight-of-flight adrenal arousal for only brief, acute periods of emergency—like being chased by a lion—today’s tech keeps the adrenaline and the fight-or-flight response on perpetual high alert for hour after hour of game play. That constant adrenal stress is not a good thing; the immune system gets compromised, inflammation increases, and cortisol and blood pressure spike. And there are behavioral consequences as well.”
By Jason Worth
(Note: If not specified otherwise, any quotations in this book review refer to text by the author from the book being reviewed.)
The similarities between this book, Glow Kids, and a prior book reviewed on the Solari Report, Your Brain on Porn, are striking. That review on porn addiction described ailments of varying degrees of severity which teens and young men suffer because of biochemical, hormonal and neurological side effects from overexposure and addiction to video porn streaming.
Video games, it turns out, excite the brain and nervous system in very similar ways, stimulating the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis and releasing large amounts of adrenaline and dopamine in the process. Our bodies crave dopamine while at the same time developing a tolerance to it. As a result, if unchecked, video game play, just like video porn streaming, can create a cycle of addiction not unlike cocaine. (In fact, some researchers refer to video gaming as “electronic cocaine.”) Add to the mix the fact that teens and adolescents engaged in these activities are doing so with neurological systems that are not yet fully developed and are still forming, and they are therefore more prone than fully-formed adults to physical neurological changes from these dopamine-releasing activities.
In case it’s been awhile or you were never into video games in the first place, we’re not talking about games like Frogger, Tetris or Asteroids. (Although, in its time, Tetris was considered by many to be pretty addictive.) The games causing problems these days are highly realistic “first-person shooters” like Call of Duty, action/adventure games like Grand Theft Auto, and “sandbox” games like Minecraft, for example. (According to Wikipedia, Minecraft, developed by a small software firm in Sweden, has sold more than 121 million copies, making it the second best-selling video game behind the various versions of Tetris; and in September 2014 the software firm was acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion.)
These types of games are highly addictive and exciting to play. They also typically cannot be “solved” or the player cannot reach some logical ending point to the game play without dozens or hundreds of hours of game play investment. Even then, the variability of game play is such that players will often start the game again from its beginning. In the case of first person shooters and action/adventure games, you typically run through realistic 3D worlds shooting at and trying not to be shot by enemies or monsters. There’s often a storyline with other characters and dialogue accompanying the action which holds the player’s interest in between the frequent fights. Sandbox games are also highly addictive as you move through 2D or 3D worlds (so large, that they’re often referred to as “universes”) in search of tools, gadgets and resources that enable you to build things such as weapons, cities or spaceships necessary to advance to additional sections of the game.
These games are designed to be addictive. According to the book’s author, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, an expert in treating addictions: “This addictive adrenal arousal is no accident. The video game business is a sophisticated, multibillion-dollar industry devoted entirely to creating addictive products aimed at defenseless kids and young people…the entire focus of the research and development departments of the gaming industry is to make games as stimulating and arousing to children as possible, because that’s what amplifies the addictive effect and sells the most games.”
To reinforce that these games are designed with addiction in mind, consider the following. Commander Dr. Andrew Doan of the U.S. Navy studied video game addiction and said “Gaming companies will hire the best neurobiologists and neuroscientists to hook up electrodes to the test-gamer. If they don’t elicit the blood pressure that they shoot for – typically 180 over 120 or 140 within a few minutes of playing, and if they don’t show sweating and an increase in their galvanic skin responses, they go back and tweak the game to get that maximum addicting and arousing response they’re looking for.”
Play these games for hours straight, as their game designers hope you will, and string enough game play sessions together so that you invest dozens or hundreds of hours playing, and you may well develop side effects. Well documented by various research studies, these side effects can include “ADHD, aggression, mood and behavioral disorders and [even] psychosis.” It is easy to see how ADHD can develop. These games so consume your attention, simultaneously engaging nearly all of your senses at the same time, and keep you at the peak of excitement with adrenaline and dopamine flowing. Shut the computer off and everything suddenly seems to dull and unexciting by comparison. Ask a kid to sit quietly and read a textbook after playing two or three hours of an action/adventure game and it is not hard to see how video gaming could be a contributing cause to the rise of ADHD in recent decades. The impact from high levels of adrenaline production also account for aggression and behavioral disorders. As for psychosis side effects, those are typically only seen in cases where someone immerses themselves so deeply into game play, typically for days at a time, that they have trouble separating what is the game/fantasy world from the real world when they stop playing. (Author’s note: keep this concern in mind as you see virtual reality games continue to develop. I suspect you’ll hear more about video gaming psychosis in the years to come.)
Something that might have more near-term impact than virtual reality is the increased introduction of technology into the classroom. Citing the fact that we live in a technology-enabled world and that there are educational benefits to exposing children as young as kindergarten age to computers and iPads, firms like Microsoft and Apple are pushing to have more technology into younger hands. The argument for more tech in the classroom is that these educational programs can work interactively with children in a way that a simple book cannot, and by interacting these programs can determine areas of learning weakness and focus where the learning skills are needed most. It is also alleged that children are distracted by TV, movies and games, and that education needs to step up and be more entertaining to compete for their attention. But, if true, will this latter point just lead to more ADHD, and will the classroom join the ranks of Silicon Valley and Hollywood in keeping children on a non-ending cycle of attention catching gimmicks?
Dr. Kardaras gives several detailed examples in his book of how side effects from game play have manifested in real life, using both examples from his clinical treatment of gaming addicts to “ripped from the headlines” examples from newspaper articles and court documents. If you have any doubts that video gaming can lead to some very serious problems, these accounts will convince you otherwise. And, if you care about someone who you think might have or might be developing a “screen or tech addiction problem,” there is a checklist near the back of the book with questions to consider, along with a short list of technology addiction therapists with which to consult.
Related Solari Reports:
More Reviews by Jason Worth:
Book Review – Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction
Book Review: The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads
Book Review – Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
Book Review: Gotcha Capitalism by Bob Sullivan
Book Review: The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class
Book Review: The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts
Book Review: Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Warfare
Book Review: The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age
Book Review: Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era
Book Review: Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future