Why You Can Focus on Video Games (and How to Hack it)
Articles Blog

Why You Can Focus on Video Games (and How to Hack it)

September 7, 2019


Hello Brains! There’s a lot of mixed messages out
there about ADHD and video games. Do video games cause ADHD? Do they
make ADHD symptoms worse? Or, my favorite, “If my kids really can’t focus
how can they pay attention to video games?” Wait. How can we pay attention to video games? [Intro Music] Why can we pay attention to video games
for hours on end when we can’t focus for long enough to finish half an hour of
work? It’s not because the work is harder. Have you seen some of the things kids build
in Minecraft? It’s not because learning is boring. I’m fairly obsessed with Duolingo. And it’s not because we don’t care. Well, usually. One of the biggest reasons video games
hold our attention so well is video games provide instant feedback. Feedback is a
response from the environment as a result of your actions. Everyone can benefit
from feedback but ADHDers thrive on it. According to Whitney Fosco who led a
recent study at the University of Buffalo, the major difference is that typically
developing kids usually perform well even when simply asked to do their best,
but kids with ADHD typically need an external or an additional reinforcement
to perform their best. Given the right kind of feedback some studies suggest
that kids with ADHD can actually outperform their peers. And the more
immediate the better. Those of us with ADHD tend to live in the present, in the
now. So if we do something well rewarding us with our favorite ice cream
next week will actually not be as effective as simple words of encouragement right away. Immediate Feedback. Video games are all about immediate
feedback because all video games are built on one fundamental principle: The
Feedback Loop. The feedback loop has four parts: Understanding the
situation; taking an action; the application of the rules; and feedback, which leads to
new understanding. In video games this happens really quickly. Let’s break it down. Here’s how the feedback loop works: A
game presents you with a situation. Say you’re a kick ass lady cop on the mean
streets. Right away you try to understand it. “Okay there’s some arrows here.” And you take
an action. “Let’s press the forward arrow.” Based on the rules of the game you get
immediate feedback. “Cool, we’re moving.” Which encourages you to repeat that
action or, “Oh. No. Enemy,” Re-evaluate and try something else. “Can I jump? Hey,
I can jump! Oh! If you go up and then down you get a giant butt that you can bomp on
ememies with! Bomp… Piggy! ” The feedback that video games provide
works so well for three main reasons. It’s accurate. It’s positive, or at least
non-judgmental. And its immediate. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always
provide immediate feedback and when it does it’s usually negative. And judgmental. Timeouts. Lost privileges. I just got slapped.
Boss’s yelling at me and i’m not even sure why Especially since we already tend to be
hard on ourselves and get frustrated easily, negative feedback doesn’t
actually work that well for us. Not to mention the effect it can have on
our self-esteem. Just like if you keep dying in a video game you might
decide you don’t like that game, if you keep getting yelled at for your math test
scores you might just decide you hate math. Does this mean we should just constantly
praise our ADHD kids or ADHD selves? No. That’s the equivalent of pressing whatever
button you want and winning no matter what. First of all, that doesn’t make us any
better at playing games. And second, that gets boring pretty quickly. “Ahhhh!….” [Crunch] So what we really need is immediate,
positive, and accurate feedback. Short of actually turning our lives into
a video game, which you can do, I’ll go into that in a later episode. How can we create a working feedback
loop that motivates us in real life? If you are the one with ADHD, ask for feedback.
Work with a therapist or ADHD coach. Ask your boss to let you know once
a week how things are going. Start a YouTube channel and read the comments. There’s a reason I’ve been able to
stick to this longer than most things. Give yourself credit. The voice in our
head tends to be pretty negative. Give yourself a pat on the back every
once in a while, too. Reward yourself. Recognize when you’re making progress on things
that are challenging for you and reward yourself. The actual reward can vary from getting
to cross something off your to-do list to taking that trip you’ve always wanted
after completing a big project. If you have a child with ADHD, consider
using sticker charts. Make it a point to praise your child when they’re doing
something you like. Instead of just taking away privileges, try allowing them
to earn rewards. And experiment with it. It takes time for game developers to
perfect their feedback loops so don’t be surprised when you find a few bugs in yours. In the beginning, your feedback loop
might be too easy, too hard, the rewards might not be motivating enough. Or
happen soon enough. Just remember: when game developers see their players
fail or get frustrated or throw their controller across the room they don’t blame
the player, they tweak the feedback loop That’s it for this week. I’ve included links to more info on ADHD
and video games in the description below. Let me know what kind of feedback works for you Comment below or hit me up on Facebook
or Twitter. Subscribe so you don’t miss the next episode and I will see you next week. Bye Brains! “How can I explain to my parents that I can’t
stop thinking so they can better understand me?” Be patient. Try not to talk to them when
any of you are frustrated. And get educated together. Dr. Russell Barkley
has some great talks for parents. [Beep] Hello Brains. -What? What? I don’t understand.
-We’re gonna do the recording? -What are we recording?
-The game. Okay. And then what?

Only registered users can comment.

  1. I actually love math, some might find that strange, and I too wondered why I loved it so much while others despise it, but I believe I found it why. Math, unlike everything else in my life, is really the only thing that comes clear to me. It's that one thing I can focus on unlike everything else, and a lot of the time hyper-focus on it. That's why I find joy in it, it's my safe zone, my relief.

  2. Instant feedback! It explains everything! Every time I cook dinner, I basically hover over my family. "Is it good? Do you like it? Does it need anything? How are you doing? Do you like it?" I even annoy myself!

  3. "they don't blame the player, they tweak the feedback loop" I love this and am going to take it and make it my own. Thank you for this.

  4. Love this….but TBF….have you hung out on game forums? Developers get cranky with players all the time. :D. But if they want a good game, they’ll fix it. 😉

  5. my parents when they heard I have adhd and mild autism were like well let's send him to the best school in the country then the school was like give him a tutor for every subject… I technically didn't finish school till 7pm sure kept me occupied, still didn't do great but I never failed. my parents had the money to strong arm my education but many others may not. maybe i'll use it when I have to deal with kids

  6. This helped a lot. I don't know if I have ADHD but I can see similarities. Yesterday I ate breakfast and then played a video game until I went to sleep, I even forgot to eat after breakfast. I'm assuming it's "hyperfocus".
    If I try to do something I'm "supposed" to do, like read about and understand stocks, for 1 minute I'm reading and in the next minute I'm walking back and forth in my apartment thinking about something only to become concious of it later.

  7. Omg you are a lifesaver.all these symptoms i thought i had obsessions, and many more problems. But it actually points to adhd.God bless you

  8. I loved this video 😊 I've been trying to explain this for years. This will be much easier to explain to my own family and friends and I'm also a nurse so this will help my teaching with my patients. Thank you 🙂 looking forward to future episodes

  9. I forced my brain through school and it ended up doing a lot of emotional damage. Failed at a few different jobs. Eventually gave up and focused on the one thing I could which happens to be video games. It’s not a miracle cure and there are still plenty of rough days but my worst day as a game journalist is still better than my best day in school. Now that it’s clear my daughter has ADHD inattentive and her teacher is missing all the signs I have a chance to change her experience thanks to people like you spreading understanding. Thank you so much for making these videos.

  10. I alway stay away from video games because I will play for days and skip working so I just stay away. But YouTube is getting me lately.

  11. You’re so amazing! I’m struggling to focus on my paper and this is the Dope of positive feedback because I was right the past 18 years of my life. I have really bad adhd and this might just help me focus. THANK YOU

  12. I'm devouring your videos and I've just realised I've never given you a written feedback, so here it goes: I've learned more about ADHD from your videos than from any other source I've found online. Thank you so so much for doing this!! (from Brazil)

  13. I am a ADD adult… I know your talking about ADD kids but this applys to adults as well. AND I am actually commenting while listening and watching your Youtube LOL. I think it has more to do with interests not feedback. Anything that is adventitious for some and interesting to a ADD person you got there attention. There are video games I HATE and wont play and BOAR me. You just dont plop in any video game with good feedback and you hooked a ADD person- it doesn't work that way. Anything I find to have interests in, I have no problem focusing because I WANT TO. I got my B.S. in IT and got a A- gpa in college because I had interest in the subject not because of feedback. Right now I work at a Tech factory AND I fix ACs and Refrigerations BECAUSE I have an interest in it. I quit my last job because they slowly got rid of things that made things interesting to me so I said my goodbyes BYE BYE a company I worked for 9 yrs for.

  14. I found you from your Ted talk, someone saw it and thought of me 🙂 I just want to thank you. There are so many things I have heard from you that I can relate to, and that I had no idea were connected to my ADHD! My 11 year old daughter also has ADHD, so thank you for helping our whole familly. Keep going, you are so good at this!

  15. Are video games just a collective ADHD thing?? That makes me feel so much better. Nothing in my life has been as much of a constant is video games.

  16. I am 33 yeas old. I was just recently diagnosed with ADHD. I feel like I'm going to cry watching this. well.. not really cry, but you know. My whole life I've just needed feedback but friends, family, partners, have always just seen it as me being needy, or narcissistic, or not confident in myself. Realizing that it's my ADHD and that I really actually just need FEEDBACK… goshdern it… this is life changing.

  17. I can't normally focus on video games, I can play like grand theft auto and go around killing people for 20 minutes but then i get bored. I can play Mario Kart with a group of people or something like that, that's fun and exciting for me. Also I find older games like Mario or Tetris easier to focus on, but most games are boring.

  18. How do I get the confidence to tell my parents that I know they are acting like I’m a baby just because I have ADHD and I know they are

  19. My 10 year old son has adhd, odd and conduct disorder and he plays video games way longer when he has meds and when he unfortunately is doing without, he hardly ever gets on video games.

  20. Even video games, i can’t even concentrate on playing it for long before quitting halfway and going on to the next one

  21. Thank you for this video. As a female with hard to spot ADHD, my father always blamed video games. He physically and mentally abused me over them despite the fact that I got all As in school and got into a top University, which I had to drop out of due to his abuse eventually. He was always mad that I almost never needed to study and played video games instead.

    I am now almost 30, and my self confidence is abysmal . However, I am bookmarking this video as a means to build my self confidence, instead of letting old messages continue to destroy it. The more tools that I have to understand how ADHD is just different, rather than wrong or bad, is just so empowering.

  22. This is like two years later, but as an adult with ADHD I have become such a procrastinator it even affects my gaming habits. I have tons of single-player games I have bought, downloaded, etc… The issue now is I can't finish any of them, not like I did as a kid where I could focus on a role-playing game, or an adventure game, whatever genre it was that I was interested in, I could focus on whatever title in front of me from New Game to the end credits. Now I have too many games, not enough time between school/work, and not enough focus.

  23. Feedback that I use and works for me: Feedback sandwich! Positive reinforcement, constructive criticism, positive reinforcement. Ex: I liked the video! You present a lot of information in a concise and accessible way. That said sometimes the sound balance is a little off and the loud sound effects hurt my ears a bit. But overall, really interesting and informative, and with that tweak I am sure they can be even better!

    Also focusing feedback on specific things that can be put into words and that are under the direct control of the person getting feedback. Also when giving constructive criticism, I stayed away from criticism of you as a creator and focused instead on the thing and didn't make it judgemental. Can X be changed because Y?

  24. I can play for hours without realising because I’m so hyper focused on it. I play COD so you unlock heaps of things, earn tokens to unlock supply drops which you can use the items in the game. So quite a lot of feedback it is amazing.
    I never realised how important feedback is.. from work, partner or basically anything really

  25. Hence why playing guitar hero wold tour did more for me in 3+ years of orchestra then practicing any of my violin for mindless hours ever did….. and my teacher noticed my huge improvement the next school year. In fact the teacher noticed that a lot with any student who played musical video games over that summer. True fact!

  26. Would it make sense that the reson I think i enjoy math is that I immediately feel good when I finish a problem? Or possibly because it was reinforced with immediate feedback when younger…

  27. My parents and family don't seem to understand me and they constantly get me in trouble for just trying to be myself and I am constantly having to try to pretend to be someone else around them or I get in trouble. I tried to ask them if they would get more informed about adhd and how my brain works differently from there's and my stepdad got mad at me and said he knows more than me because he went to college but he doesn't know about adhd 1 time he even told me he just wished I was "normal". I love having adhd but they make me feel so useless and like i can't do anything right and they don't understand me and make me feel like they don't want me. How do i talk to them and convice then to get more educated about adhd.

  28. I don't have adhd but i still find it hard to focus at a longer time period when playing comp in overwatch

  29. Great video!!!! I have ADHD and so does my son. I hadn’t ever thought about the instant feedback loop technique but your right! At work I have tasks to do…boooooooring! I found that I am much better at staying focused by breaking them up into sub tasks and making check sheets. When I finish something I check off the task. I find this works better than anything else.

  30. My ADHD looks like getting to 2:18 in this video and having to pause to find out if the game where I can crush my enemies with my glorious bubble butt is real, and seeing in the description that it was "coming soon" when this video came out and getting excited and checking the app store, but it's not there and this video is a couple years old so oh well, but look there's a link about a "new game that might help" and reading about EVO, remembering that I didn't finish watching this video yet and coming back to finish, then remembering that I'm supposed to be working and feeling hella guilty.

  31. I am 56 and still love my video games. Never really knew why. Until i found out i had ADHD. Now i understand why it has all seemed to help me..

  32. I think that Corean people have less coincidence having ADHD in their citizens, that is why they are the best on videogames ¿right? they can focus even better. They are like a superior race.

  33. As an adult who got diagnosed during grad school, but who was also valedictorian in high school, I’ve avoided researching more about my adhd for fear that it would affect me negatively. But I recently found your videos and I am learning so much about myself and others like me. Thank you.

  34. At age 8 I was in the top class in my school age group, but right near the bottom of the class, about 30 out of 31 ish. At the end of term my teacher decided instead of letting us play board games to finish the final day we would have a "fun" test on math, but with rewards of a sweet for the first student with the correct answer to each question. Normally quiet me ended up with way more than anyone else, because I focused and could see a reward for my effort/interaction. I was happy, other kids were "what just happened/how did he do that?", lol. 😋

  35. 3:33 that's what I've been wondering for a long time. Because I want to start a youtube channel, but then (the inner sound says that you are ADHD) forget it,you cant continue to making it. 😀

  36. I have been obsessed with video games since I was a kid (30 now). I am successful in my career but video games hold a special place in my heart. Now I realise that it is that feedback loop along with the dopamine and the hyperfocus ✌

  37. Once when I was trying to sleep on my own my parents put up a sticker chart however it felt like to much work for a small reward. (It wasn’t extremely small but it felt like it) and I just gave up. It never worked out.

  38. I play world of Warcraft and the feedback loop actually is a huge part of it. Like that feeling of accomplishment when you compete a quest, achievement, or when you level up. I don’t realize how long I’ve been playing until I look at my phone lmao. I just love the game in general so I guess that does play a role in why I’m able to focus on it so well.

  39. I dont feel like my adhd is that bad but when I go outside and actually interact with people MY ADHD JUST COMES OUT ITS LIKE PEOPLE TRIGGER MY ADHD

  40. You deserve EVERY OUNCE OF SUCCESS you have and may ever have (& probably even loads more). You are completely transforming lives with this information, the way you present it and just being who you are. I can't even describe…. just wow. You've helped my family SO MUCH. How do I message you to give feedback I'm not entirely comfortable sharing in a public comment?

  41. can you please do some video that will help partners out. This is all still new to me and I want to know how I can help my loved one out and encourage them to become better and strive them to get a job. Also, this video made heaps of sense because my boyfriend loves his video games and dose play them for hours.

  42. I can’t play video games anymore because I can’t tear myself away and end up going from dusk till dawn and beyond before my eyes finally start to hurt and pull me out of it.

  43. Some people may see this as demeaning but I don't think so. Living with someone with ADHD is like having a dog, and if your dog does something you don't like punishing it in the future or outside of context just leads to confusion, anxiety and is cruel.

    Owning a dog and teaching it has tought me more about myself then it has tought me about training animals.

    Now I know why I have always gotten along with animals more then humans, we are on the same frequency.
    If my dog does something bad chances are in a days time I have completely forgotten, just as my dog has completely forgotten, and so nothing is lost in translation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *