As the title indicates this post is dedicated to one particular cause, and that is to elucidate the fact that biology matters. It is relevant to remember, in more situations than we imagine, that we are biological beings and that science can therefore often tell us fascinating stuff about the ways in which we live our lives.
Let me give you a brief example on how biology is a factor when we play video games. In games there are goals, and you are given feedback when you do well, so when you are given this feedback and/or complete a level or a goal, you feel good, right?
Well, this rush of satisfaction, what makes us feel good, is caused by the neurotransmitter called dopamine that fires in our brains. It is e.g. also dopamine that affects us when we have that first bite of chocolate that we have been craving all day. So dopamine makes us feel good, but it does not just stop there, ‘Dopamine causes you to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases your general level of arousal and your goal-directed behavior’ (Psychology today). Here we have it, in quite simplistic terms, one of the biological reasons for why video games can be so addicting. We get a rush of dopamine, it does not last for long, and we desire to seek out more, so we are motivated to keep on going and anticipate our next reward, and so on and so forth in a feedback loop that keeps us hooked.
And yes, this can be exploited by games, and very often is. There is a very fine balance between us playing and using the game, and the game using us and exploiting our chemical triggers to extend the amount of time or money that we spend on the game. I am not saying that we should stop playing games, not even the ones that prey heavily on dopamine rushes, I am simply advocating for awareness. We need to be aware of our playing habits and how they can affect us, and this is made easier by knowing how games work.
Controlled by genes?
Now at this point I may want to add that we are NOT talking about genetic determinism here, in other words our behaviour and actions are not determined by genes. On the other hand we cannot free ourselves of our biological constraints. Extremes simply do not work, as we are neither purely a product of our culture, or biological pre-programmed agents (I was tempted to write robots, but that would be slightly paradoxical in the context of biology). We are in fact a combination. Our behaviour is partly affected by our evolutionary history, partly by the culture we inhabit, and last but not least we are all individuals with different ways of thinking and functioning. This is coined under the term gene-culture co-evolution, which is nicely explained through a historical view by Joseph Carroll in Gene-Culture co-evolution – An emerging paradigm. Understanding our evolutionary history and thereby our biological conditions has become an increasing point of interest within the sciences and a lot of interesting findings amongst others from evolutionary psychology, anthropology and cognitive science. For further reading on evolutionary psychology, which takes on points from both anthropology and cognitive science, I can recommend Evolutionary Psychology by Dunbar, Barrett and Lycett. The book offers an easy to read introduction on the subject and how it is applicable within parenthood, partnerships and sociality, just to mention a few.
So you see, biology matters, and the more we learn about it the more it seems to matter. This does not undermine our individuality and should not threat our sense of freedom, but the knowledge could help us understand the world we live in just that little bit better.
In the coming posts I will begin to look more specifically at what biology, psychology and cognitive research can tell us about video games, and these will be either based on my own studies or on the findings of others research related to games.
Thank you for reading!
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Carroll, Joseph. 2011. ‘Human Life History and Gene-Culture Co-Evolution: An Emerging Paradigm’. The Evolutionary Review: Art, Science, Culture 2: 23-37.
Dunbar, Robin., Barrett, Louise., and Lycett, John. 2007. Evolutionary Psychology: A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.
Susan Weinschenk. 2012. ‘Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google’. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts-twitter-and-google. (DOA 08/03/2015).