The Chemistry of Playing Video Games


After a long day at school or work, many will turn to the immersion of video games as a way to relieve the stresses of everyday life. The music swells to our favorite games as the light sensors read the pits of data on the polycarbonate substrate on the DVD-R, allowing us to see and follow storylines as if we were experiencing it ourselves. At the surface, that may be all it looks like, an emotional attachment, but there are far more complexities happening. As we watch the characters on screen run and adventure, chemicals called oxytocin and dopamine are released in the brain. These chemicals cause us to feel happiness and a deep connection to the fictional world. It gives people the opportunity to experience different stories through the eyes of virtual beings. As I spend hours playing a game, adventuring and exploring, I wonder what so many of us would use as a relief if video games did not exist.

Composition of ...

Physical Copy of DVD-R:

    • Polycarbonate Substrate (1/n [OC(OC6H4)2CMe2]n + 2 NaCl)
    • Aluminium


    • Dopamine (C8H11NO2)
    • Oxytocin (C43H66N12O12S2)

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

The two most common chemicals released while one plays a video game are called Dopamine and Oxytocin, both created and released in the brain. Oxytocin (C43H66N12O12S2) is created in the hypothalamus in the brain, which breaks down a protein deriving from the OXT gene with water. It is then catalyzed into a hormone and is released from the pituitary gland. Oxytocin is often known as the trust chemical, which is commonly released during social bonding. Dopamine (C8H11NO2) is another chemical released from the hypothalamus. It is produced in the substantia nigra after a carboxyl group is removed from the L-DOPA chemical. Dopamine is then released into the brain, giving off a joyful feeling. It is also commonly associated with addiction.

Chemistry's Role

As the brain creates and releases oxytocin and dopamine from the hypothalamus in the brain, video game players begin to develop a state of elation and comfort towards their game. The oxytocin released while playing can commonly be associated with being a kinder person. Although, in order for either of these chemicals to be released, one must have the video game to trigger them. A video game in the disc form is formed from a polycarbonate substrate that contains data “pits” which reflect light into a photosensor, which can read the light as binary code, creating all the components of a visual and auditory experience.

Background Research

Beginning as a demonstration to prove the capabilities of computer, video games date back to the sixties. The basis for many video games, Space Wars, was created in 1962 at M.I.T. It was a game which involved having a smackdown with spaceships, including a basic background of stars. This game soon inspired other games, one such game was Computer Space in 1971. It had the same similar game style as Space Wars. However, this time a computer was created specifically to play the hardware. This was the beginning of arcade games. Many games followed, such as Atari releasing Pong (1972). In 1972, home gaming systems were beginning to be introduced. The most popular was Atari’s Video Computer System (V.S.V) and also the Atari 2600. The Atari systems were the first in home systems that could play more than one game. They paved the road to future consoles and games, eventually bringing us to where we are in the video game world today.


      1. Composition of a DVD-R
      1. What happens when dopamine is released while playing video games
      1. Where video games trigger activity in the brain and what chemicals are released (dopamine, etc.)
      1. The effect oxytocin being released has on a player
      1. Increased gray matter in the brain from playing games games is associated with increased muscle control and sensory perception
      1. The prefrontal cortex, right hippocampus and cerebellum grew in gamers
      1. Grey matter is a tissue that makes up a majority of the central nervous system
      1. In 1962, Spacewar! was released and inspired future generations of video games and video game creators
        1. Steve Russell
      2. History of Video Games
      1. The history of video games
      2. Atari, Nintendo, Spacewar!, Computer Science

About the Author

Lilly Kooistra-Manning is currently in her junior year at Billings Senior High School. Many hours of her day are spent writing and delving into fictional universes in books and T.V. shows, as well as volunteering at a local animal shelter. She also has a strong draw to the sciences. Currently, she is in S.T.E.M society at Senior and hopes to follow a S.T.E.M career after her graduation in 2018.