The real cost of free mobile games

Candy Crush, Farmville, Plants vs Zombies, Clash of Clans and Farm Heroes Saga. I think we probably all played at least one video game in our lives, and more likely a free game. I was addicted to the free Facebook game Farmville, playing it during classes at college. What is it that makes us love these simple free games, that usually seem to make no sense at all, but yet get us totally hooked?

It is probably safe to say that the most popular free mobile game is Candy Crush. Your goal: combining the same candy to get them crushed and reach the next level. Though Farmville on Facebook was extremely popular and had millions of faithful ‘farmers’ who would water their plants and feed their cows daily, Candy Crush soon became favorite. Apparently harvesting pixel fruit trees and feeding cartoon styled chickens wasn’t as exciting as crushing candy as quickly as possible.

farmville_gamelanding_desktop Drugs and games

According to Swrve 0.15 percent of mobile gamers provide for 50 percent of the total income! We’re talking about free games here, but with in-game items for sale. For example, in Candy Crush you’ll often find yourself staring at your iPhone screen waiting for a new level to unlock. Game designers know this exactly what gets a gamer to take his credit card out. You were in the middle of the game, doing so well – as the game will often suggest you are, boosting your self confidence – but then you have to wait for the next level. A craving fills your heart, and you can bear it no longer: you end up paying for it.

Doesn’t this sound like a drug addict who cannot wait anymore and has to get his drugs? I don’t think it’s just coincidence that the damage done to the brain of a game addict and drug addict is very similar. Let’s think about it: would God ever want us to be slaves of drugs and theirfor slaves of sin and Satan?

Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Isaiah 55:2 NKJV For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness. Psalms 107:9 NKJV

“You did awesome!”

Then there is the dopamine hit. Did you ever notice how often in the game you are told you are doing absolutely awesome, wonderful, excellent and amazing? It is not that game designers are such good people and felt like complementing each gamer to make them feel good about themselves. They purposefully put this in there because they know that the brain reacts to such encouraging words.

When the game tells us we are doing well, when we level up or defeat another player, the brain’s reward system is flooded with dopamine: we feel happy. But over time our brain can’t produce as much domapine anymore. We don’t feel as satisfied, and, longing for that happiness, we reach for our phones again, hoping Candy Crush can fill our hearts with that satisfaction. We get addicted, plus we buy in-game items to level up hoping we will be satisfied again. Because of the low dopamine levels when not playing, depression, restlessness, difficulty focussing, mood swings and nausea can be the result.

Self-control gone missing

Next there’s ego depletion with which your willpower is reduced. You are more likely to fail at self-regulation, make indulgent choices, do what the majority does or not make any decision at all. Ron Faber, who co-authored a study on impulse purchases by Univesity of Minnesota, says in Getting Gamers: The Psychology of Video Games and Their Impact on the People (Jamie Madigan, PhD): “If playing a game requires concentration, you are using up attentional and cognitive resources. If it is exciting or scary, you may be using up emotional resources. In each case, this will make subsequent self-control more difficult.”

Self-control, isn’t that what God wants for us?

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. II Peter 1:5-9 NKJV

And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness. Romans 6:18-19 NKJV

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. Galatians 5:13 KJV

Not able to choose to worship God

Besides the addiction and the loss of self control, gaming in itself is also very damaging for the brain. Victoria Dunckley, M.D. writes in Psychology Today that multiple studies show that gaming addiction causes shrinkage or loss of tissue volume in gray matter areas (where ‘processing’ occurs). Areas affected include the frontal lobe, the part of our brain we use, among other things, to choose to worship God.

Besides damaging the frontal lobe, each time you play a video game, the frontal lobe is suppressed, not making you capable to willfully choose God in that moment. Your seat of reasoning is not functioning properly. Now that should shock every sincere follower of Christ.

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Saith the Lord (…)
Isaiah 1:18 KJV

Free games might be free to download, but there is a high price we have to pay: our precious relationship with God and eternal life with Him. Christ wants to change and mold us and make us ready, but if we spend all our time playing video games, He cannot make us ready for His coming. Even though we play it only for a minute, what if that one minute had to be spent on Christ and was neccessary to hear Him say: well done good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of my lord (Matthew 25:23). Aren’t those words worth more than every dollar spent on a game in which you crush candy while you can’t reason? It only leaves us feel so dissatisfied and empty. Let us drink from the fountain of life, Christ Himself, Who will never leave us thirsty.

Like the woman at the well I was seeking, for things that did not satisfy. But then I heard my Savior speaking, draw from My well, that never shall run dry. Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up Lord. Come and quench this thirsting of my soul. Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more. Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole. Hymn 493 Fill My Cup Lord

A more in-depth article on the effects of games on the brain is coming soon in a blog series called Media on the Brain. Be looking out for it, this will surely be mindblowing.

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