How Mobile Games Affect Our Attention Spans

Everyone typically becomes bored of something at one time or another. It’s the inevitable loss of interest that causes people to give up that great hobby they’ve been doing for so long, or to stop eating oatmeal for breakfast every morning simply because it’s become stale. Change is good, yes, but eventually the redundant pattern of quitting something and starting another task can start to show — very much so.

One of the most prominent topics of interest is mobile gaming. The industry has been around since the 1970s, but lately it’s evolved to something beyond the classic Donkey Kong Country on a Game Boy and the first iteration of Tetris on a mobile phone. Tense games of Snake were classic back in the day when Nokia ruled the mobile phone market. Now, however, Apple and Google govern the domain. The App Store and Google Play Store have brought many fabulous first-person shooters, adventures of evil swine and vexed avian, and role-playing ventures like Bastion. With all this innovation, something was left behind — what was it?

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Say Hello to the Era of the Curt Attention Span

As I previously mentioned, there wasn’t anything wrong with the way Nintendo did things with its Game Boy. Even Snake, a true classic in the mobile gaming industry, was not seen as an issue because it of the way the gameplay worked. Nowadays, popular titles such as Angry Birds and the like exist with the sole purpose of being pick-up-and-go. When you’re on the bus headed home, it’s perfect for a brief bit of entertainment. Once you get off the bus, the distraction is gone and you can walk home.

The problem is, the effect of that game doesn’t wear off so easily. If you often find yourself picking up a game and playing it, then putting it down less than five minutes later, there’s a problem. You might think, “It’s a simple iPhone app, it can’t hurt anything.” Oh, how wrong that mindset is. Everything seems harmless at the start, but if you actually look at what a little game like this is doing to your life, you might change your mind.

Via PhoneArena

Via PhoneArena

For some people, the problem might not even be quickly picking up a game and then putting it down again. As with anything, games can be addicting. Sometimes that level is either so intriguing or arduous that you have to keep trying it until you are successful at getting all three stars. Everyone wants the perfect score, even if it doesn’t really have any value other than making you think that you know what you’re doing.

Effects of this new short attention span can really start to show when you’re out with your friends. When you’re talking to someone, it’s polite to make eye contact. But sometimes you find yourself off looking at everything else that’s in the room, as if it’s more important than your friend or the person you just met. If you continue doing this, you’re really going to hurt people around you.

Overall, the problem of a short attention span is caused by you. I can lead you to believe that games have made you into an anxious person who quickly moves on to something new, but that’s not the truth. In the end, you made the decision to game hop; to read something for ten seconds (skim it) and then find a new article. Since there’s always something new and it’s right at your fingertips, why not go get it? Because you didn’t finish the first article. Always do that first.

You’re Not Really “Bored”

Tiring of something easily doesn’t mean you have ADD, it just means that your mind has been reprogrammed to constant anxiety. Pick up a task, half-complete it then move on to the next: this is the process of an irritable person. IPhone.AppStorm isn’t a psychological blog, so I can only take this topic so far. However, most people think they are bored of a game or the task they’ve been assigned when in reality, they’ve grown to think that everything is a waste of their time.

If these kinds of people had their way, they’d jump from one thing to another and never be satisfied. Then again, that’s how humans are. Obviously, no one is completely satisfied with what they’re doing with their life. Even if they think they are at the moment, there’s going to be a day when that fades away to reveal their moment of unhappiness. Whether you’re immersed in a new game for a few moments or reading your favorite author’s new novel, the tendency to become bored of these things will never go away. You just have to do the task anyway, even if you don’t like it. And sometimes that takes a lot of self-control.

It Doesn’t Stop While Mobile

Ramesh Sitaraman, a computer science professor at UMass Amherst, recently published a study showing that every second of delay in online video streaming causes approximately six percent of users to leave the page. Clearly, impatience is not something that’s limited to mobile games. It’s something that’s become more common with the rise of the digital age, something that’s not easy to overcome if you spend many of your hours browsing the Internet jumping from one thing to another.

Games on the big and small screen.

Games on the big and small screen.

Don’t go thinking that this problem exists only because of the Internet and ubiquity of electronics, because that’s not true. It’s been around a long time and people struggled with it before computers made their way to your desk. The only difference now is the increase in daily distractions; they are all around us, after all. For example, if you’re trying to read a book and you have your iPhone in your pocket, you’re probably not going to do very much reading. So turn it off, or even better, leave it somewhere far away.

Is There a Solution?

“OK, OK,” you think to yourself as you read this. “The problem can’t be the only thing this guy wants to tell me about. Is there not a solution?” Why, of course there is, but it’s going to be different for every person, depending on how deep the problem is. The best way to fix this is to start doing things you don’t like. I know that sounds like an unlikely way to fix any problem, but it will work, given time.

You can’t expect your attention span to lengthen if you continue your routine of spoiling it. Instead, take action by finishing your projects one by one. If one becomes taxing, take a break, but don’t go off to play Tiny Wings — actually take a nap or a walk.

What Do You Think?

I actually had trouble writing this article. I kept pushing it off to a further day, but eventually I decided it was best to just get it done. Sometimes you have to push through some tedious task because if you don’t, you won’t get paid. If you don’t get paid, you can’t keep that apartment of yours or pay off the car you enjoy so. Even thinking about the consequences of hopping tasks can often not help, but rather make things worse: you’ll get stuck in a loop of thinking rather than taking measures against the dilemma.

In the end, there are a lot of things mobile devices can give us. For some, it’s the idea that we have ADD. When used right, they can provide many benefits. The list, of course, goes on. What would you add to it and do your thoughts differ from the ones mentioned here?