Love them or hate them, video games are only growing in popularity. The entire video gaming market is expected to be worth more than $200 billion by 2023. If you’re in the “hate them” camp, perhaps it’s because you’ve heard about how video games are shrinking kids’ attention spans —or even causing ADHD — even though there is actually zero evidence behind this. That said, super-fast-paced TV shows and video games do have a special appeal for kids who have ADHD, according to Dr. Natalie Weder, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute who has treated many kids with the disorder.
So if people with ADHD are drawn to video games, but the very nature of ADHD means they have trouble focusing — which would seem to hamper gaming performance — what’s going on?
The answer is depending on the type of game, and on the type of device played, ADHD can help — or hurt — video gaming. The good news is that for those impaired by distraction, there are tools out there that can help you with your gaming (and life) skills.
The Right Type of Video Game Will Help Someone with ADHD Maintain Focus
“ADHD is superb with first-person shooter games that require quick response times. The mobile version of Call of Duty for example, can last for hours precisely because the games last 15 minutes maximum and are always new with tremendous variety as well as consistency. It’s a superbly designed system that can become very addictive,” says Michael Goldstrom, founder of GetMotivatedBuddies.com, a gamified platform to help improve focus and consistency that he designed for people who like himself have ADHD. “But if the controls are not refined, like on the iPhone, which have no tactical feedback, then it can lead to frustration when the outcomes don’t match your behaviors.”
Jovan Milenkovic, a competitive gamer with mild ADHD and co-founder of AhoyGaming, credits ADHD to helping his mind stay focused on one objective. His sense of hyperfocus allows him to give selective attention to the game he’s playing in the moment.
“With ADHD I’m completely immersed in a virtual world and able to stay focused in ways that aren’t possible in the real world. In this sense, I would say it’s not only good for my gaming performance but also therapeutic in its own way when you have ADHD,” says Milenkovic.
Milenkovic also believes the type of video game being played is directly correlated to ability to stay focused.
“If it’s just a one-player XBOX adventure game that I’m chipping away at, then yes, I start to lose focus after an hour or so. When I’m playing competitive games online such as FIFA Soccer or Counter-Strike, I can stay alert for hours at a time with nothing more than a few cans of soda. The social and mental stimulation that happens while playing online games helps to this effect, as I can achieve peak focus levels for sustained periods of time.”
ADHD and Video Game Burnout?
Tom Winter, co-founder of DevSkiller.com, a developer screening and online interview platform powered by RealLifeTesting™, and a professed video game geek since the days of the 8-bit Nintendo, believes that there are ADHD players who are losing interest in today’s modern games. Why? He says that many of today’s games are too similar, and notes that burnout can happen in other ways as well.
“I have the tendency to hyperfocus on the first half of the game and lose all interest by the ending of the game, when all the excitement has worn off for me. There are so many games that I consider ‘done’ because all I had to do was to beat the final boss, but I never got around to doing that!” says Winter.
What is Hyperfocus?
This term gets thrown out there a lot, but what does it mean exactly? According to WebMD, hyperfocus is a long-lasting form of highly focused attention. People who hyperfocus are concentrating on something so hard that they lose track of everything else going on around them.
“It took me many years to realize that there was even a term to describe the feeling of being ‘in the matrix’ when playing a video game,” says Milenkovic. ”It’s happened to me since I started playing console games back in the 1990s, most notably on games like Sonic the Hedgehog. While speeding through the levels and going through loops, you can achieve a Zen-like state where all your movements are fluid and seem to happen in slow motion, although on the screen they are certainly more than 30 frames per second!”
During hyperfocus, people can react quickly to any external stimuli and think with 100 percent clarity no matter the situation at hand. Milenkovic warns, however, that it’s not easy to achieve a hyperfocus state since any interruptions to gaming can interfere. He believes that mood, setting and most importantly winning at the game you play are key elements to create the conditions that can help you enter a hyperfocus, or “flow,” state.
Tools to Enhance Video Gaming
For professional gamers — with or without ADHD — who want to sharpen their skills, there are a number of tools available to help.
Narbis smart glasses use Neurofeedback technology to alert you when you’re focused or paying attention through the tinting of the lenses, over time training your brain to overcome distraction. In other words, Narbis can teach you to hyperfocus on-demand. (Bonus: you can wear the glasses while gaming).
Goldstrom says he uses his iPhone’s screentime feature to set up rules for when he can and can’t game, and then deletes games from his phone when he realizes they are taking up too much attention.
One tool that Milenkovic uses is FRAPS, a real-time video capture software, for recording his gaming sessions, especially when he’s playing competitively.
“It allows me to watch the footage later and analyze my mistakes, helping me become a better player.”
ADHD and video games share a relationship of give and take. ADHD can help or hurt video gaming; conversely, gaming can hurt or help ADHD. Tactile stimuli like a game controller can help hardcore gamers get into a state of hyperfocus, or flow, that will help stream their gaming. External tools such as time monitoring devices or tools to help focus and study brain wave patterns can help gamers become aware of the ways they pay attention. This in turn, can help gamers achieve peak performance — and get their playing to the next level.