Yes, video games can trigger an adrenaline response. The release of adrenaline is triggered by stressors, and these include physical threat, fear, excitement, risky behaviors, bright lights, noise, and high temperatures. So the excitement from video games can trigger an adrenaline response.
The adrenaline response is part of the fight or flight response, which is activated by stressors. In the case of playing video games, excitement is the stressor which sets the adrenaline response in motion. So excitement from video games leads to the simultaneous activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) system.
When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it activates smooth muscles and glands throughout the body, via neural connections. What occurs is that your heart rate increases, your blood pressure increases, your pupils dilate, your sweat glands perspire, your muscles tense up, and your gastrointestinal system slows down. In addition, the sympathetic nervous system activates the adrenal medulla (located in the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys) to release adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine). Adrenaline and noradrenaline are “stress” hormones which make the body stronger, faster, and more alert and vigilant.
The HPA system is also activated by the excitement of video games. The hypothalamus releases corticotropin releasing factor (CRF) and signals the pituitary to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then signals the adrenal cortex, in the adrenal glands on top of the kidneys, to release cortisol. Cortisol is another “stress” hormone, and is responsible for increasing blood glucose and suppressing the immune system.
So the excitement from playing video games activates the sympathetic nervous system and the HPA system, which culminates in the adrenal response with the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline from the adrenal medulla, and the release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex. In addition, the sympathetic nervous system also activates glands and smooth muscle, which also contribute to the fight or flight response, making the body stronger, faster, and more alert.
So when video games are played for enjoyment and fun, then it can be associated with a positive stress, also called eustress. However, with excessive playing of video games, then it can be associated with negative stress, also called distress. Distress occurs when your adrenaline response is chronically activated from frequent and intense video game playing. So your body starts to feel the multiple physical anxiety symptoms from the activation of the adrenaline response, such as irritability, poor concentration, fatigue, disrupted sleep, appetite changes, headache, and muscle tension.
Thus, chronic and intense video game playing leads to distress, where your body mounts a chronic adrenaline response. The physical symptoms of anxiety that result are a signal to you that you are overwhelmed and not able to cope with the stressor of chronic video game playing.