Mobile gaming to escape boredom can spectacularly backfire, study warns

If you're often bored and find yourself turning to mobile gaming as a solution, a new study warns this habit may end up causing more problems in the long run. The issue revolves around people who tend to experience "intense boredom" on a frequent basis and who seek relief in the form of a flow state, which refers to losing awareness of time and one's surroundings by becoming absorbed in an activity.

Life can, at times, be boring. That's normal. What's not normal is chronic, intense, seemingly endless boredom experienced on a daily basis, which may drive some people to coping mechanisms that compound the problem. Mobile gaming, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo, may be one of those potentially harmful coping mechanisms when used as a way to escape boredom.

These people may play mobile games as a form of escapism when they struggle to maintain their attention and engage with the real world, the study notes, driving them to seek the flow state of mindless mobile gaming. This can result in turning to mobile gaming whenever the sense of boredom is experienced, ushering in all the problems that come with spending too much time playing games.

For this study, the researchers used the popular, simple game Candy Crush, which involves swiping digital candies that match with each other to complete courses. Using their study protocol, the researchers found that people who turn to mobile gaming to escape boredom are more likely to become immersed in the game. In explaining the problem with this behavior, study researchers and cognitive neuroscience professor Michael Dixon said:

Those who play to escape experience greater flow and positive affect than other players, which sets up a cycle of playing video games to elevate a depressed mood. This is maladaptive because, although it elevates your mood, it also increases your urge to keep playing. Playing too long may lead to addiction and means less time is available for other healthier pursuits. This can actually increase your depression.