With the advent of mobile phones and tablets, nearly everyone has access to a plethora of information and various types of entertainment in the form of apps at their fingertips. At present, the biggest category of apps and also the most popular is that of mobile games, comprising 20% of the available apps in the Apple App Store while the next category, education, makes up only 10% of available choices (PsychGuides.com, n.d.). Data further shows that 48% of all apps installed on iPads and 33% of all apps on iPhones are games (PsychGuides.com, n.d.).
Mobile games like Candy Crush Saga may initially seem harmless, but a closer look at some associated numbers gives rise to concern, especially for addictions counselling professionals. In 2014, it was discovered that a 14 year-old had spent over $10,000 as a result of a video and mobile game addiction (Beck, 2017). To understand how something like this can happen, it is necessary to shed some light on the issue, as follows.
Initially Free Mobile Games Conceal a Multitude of Increasing Micropayments
The majority of mobile games are free to download. However, in-app purchases have led to free games actually generating 90% of the Apple App Store’s total game app revenue (PsychGuides.com, n.d.). It may seem a little perplexing that free games make a larger profit than games that need to be bought, but the explanation is hidden in micropayments that pop up later once an individual has become addicted. For example, players might need to wait a certain amount of time for their lives in the game to recharge to play again, or they could buy new lives to play again immediately. Once such in-app purchases begin, spending $5 can lead to transactions of $50 or higher as a game progresses.
Mobile Games Are Scientifically Made With the Intention to Cause Addiction
Alarming to professionals with addictions counselling training is the fact that the mobile gaming industry exploits addiction mechanisms to reel in monetary gains for themselves (Psychguide.com, n.d.; Tassi, 2014). Addiction to mobile gaming is a type of behavioral addiction where habits are formed based on the release of dopamine associated with seeking novelty and gaining rewards such as leveling up. Players can begin to build tolerance, e.g. to a certain difficulty level, which leaves them wanting more. At this point, it begins to start costing money to progress at a rate that achieves the satisfying dopamine releases at the sought after time intervals. Since the game apps can collect data on player behavior, they have the perfect information at their disposal to make their games more addicting and thus gain more profits.
Professionals With Addictions Counselling Training Are Concerned by These Trends
In addition to the strain mobile gaming can place on an addicted individual’s finances, it can also have many other negative consequences. According to some experts, “People are isolating themselves so they can spend more time playing, or getting angry when they are unable to play because of some other work they must do.” (Njiri, 2016). The addiction can also lead to the development of poor sleeping and eating habits.
This reality only makes the fact that mobile games, which are readily available on portable devices and are accessible to children, all the more concerning for addictions counsellors.
Regulatory and Support Systems Regarding Mobile Gaming Addictions Are Lacking
Addiction to mobile gaming is, according to experts, a “hybrid of gambling addiction and more traditional video game addiction, neither of which is anything new, but the combination of the two is a relatively novel emerging phenomenon.” (Tassi, 2014). Many have also observed that mobile gaming companies do not do anything to help those with possible addictions seek out help, and governments have yet to impose regulations to combat this type of addiction (Tassi, 2014).
For graduates of addictions counsellor courses, these problems could cause a rise in clients seeking treatment. Helping clients reduce enabling behaviour and avoid relapse may necessitate some creative solutions, such as establishing parental controls—even on the phones of adult clients—so that they cannot download apps. As the effects of mobile games are further researched, addictions professionals may learn of even more tools and strategies for helping clients overcome their addiction to mobile games.
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Beck, K. (2017, December 1). After spending $10,000 on microtransactions, a gambling addicted teen speaks out. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from http://mashable.com/2017/12/01/19-gaming-gambling-addict/#o7azxLroykqz
Dingle, A.D. & Kothari, J.S. (2015, February 6). Psychiatric Impacts of Video Games, Internet Addiction on Children. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/childadolescent-psychiatry/psychiatric-impacts-of-video-games-internet-addiction-on-children/article/396984/
Njiri, M. (2016, January 21). THE SCIENCE BEHIND MOBILE GAMING ADDICTION. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from https://techinfographics.com/the-science-behind-mobile-gaming-addiction/
PsychGuides.com (n.d.). The Psychology of Freemium. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from https://www.psychguides.com/interact/the-psychology-of-freemium/
Tassi, P. (2014, March 1). Why It’s Scary When 0.15% Mobile Gamers Bring In 50% Of The Revenue. Retrieved January 12, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2014/03/01/why-its-scary-when-0-15-mobile-gamers-bring-in-50-of-the-revenue/#1005964d4065
Dockterman, E. (2013, November 15) Candy Crush Saga: The Science Behind Our Addiction. Retrieved from http://business.time.com/2013/11/15/candy-crush-saga-the-science-behind-our-addiction/