Get bored easy? Here's why smartphone games are bad for you

Don't open addictive smartphone games out of boredom - they could be doing more harm than good

Man playing smartphone games
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When it comes to working from home, it's easy to set up with one of the best office chairs and best desk lamps, creating the perfect productivity set-up, only to get bored at your desk. On your commute, at a spare moment on your sofa, waiting in line at the supermarket... it's easy to see how smartphone games became so popular. 

Strategy games like Clash of Clans and blockbuster titles like Candy Crush are the most popular formats, the idea offering simple, addictive gameplay so it's easy to get a little dopamine hit. Most of these games also offer micro-transactions, so you can pay real money for in-game rewards allowing you to advance and develop faster.

All this means more ways to trigger reward chemicals such as dopamine in your brain, which reacts well with achieving a level or beating a boss, which makes mobile games perfect for a quick boost of stimulation which banishes negative feelings and promotes positive ones. 

After all, dopamine is the same chemical released when we eat chocolate, drink beer or have sex, and people have been using those activities to escape negative feelings for many years. 

Playing mobile games on phone

(Image credit: Getty Images)

However, these games aren't just simple, harmless time-wasters: like all the other vices mentioned above, too much of a good thing could spell disaster.

A study conducted by the University of Waterloo found bored "escape players" – those who have difficulty engaging with sustaining attention in everyday life, and use these games to escape – suffer problems with all the signs of addiction. Studying Candy Crush in particular, the research found the immediate dopamine reward provides incentives to play for longer and longer, making the subject more likely to suffer from depression.

Chanel Larche, study lead author, 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."

It's a good idea to switch your phone off for a while and try and normalise your dopamine levels. This can help you sleep patterns, your attention span, and your overal happiness levels – as well as your wallet, if you're playing with micro-transactions.  

If you struggle with paying attention to the world around you, learning how to meditate is a great place to start using up that free time. Meditation has been found by science to increase focus and concentration, all while combating the side-effects and symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.