Virtual games can be detrimental to people who like to escape reality when they are feeling bored, latest research identifies.

Canadian scientists from the University of Waterloo discovered that players who look to pass time often lose their sense of awareness to the outside world.

‘Escape players’ normally lack concentration and struggle to connect with real life settings.

Chief researcher Chanel Larche said: “We found that people who experience intense boredom frequently in everyday life reported playing smartphone games to escape or alleviate these feelings of boredom.

“The problem with this boredom ‘fix’ is that they end up playing whenever they are bored and end up experiencing problems tied to excessive game play.”

She added: “During gameplay, players may achieve optimal arousal, engaged focus and attention and a reduction in feelings of monotony, but this heightened urge-to-play among escape players can have negative consequences and lead to excessive time gaming.”

The team of academics examined the gaming patterns of 60 individuals who played Candy Crush from level 77 to 3307.

This allowed the researchers to assess how the players would interact, with participants either choosing a challenging but skilful game that generates more flow or playing a straightforward game that produces less flow.

According to the findings, participants who played to escape feelings of boredom became much more engrossed in the game compared to standard players. Additionally, they played more regularly and for longer periods of time.

Fellow researcher 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.”

The team said the findings could encourage game developers to incorporate technology such as time limits, to help players who are susceptible to problematic escape play.

The findings of this study are now available in the journal Computer in Human Behaviour. 

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