When It Isn’t Just A Game Anymore

 

Parachuting into a large farm compound, the avatar dropped down onto a wood pile and started bashing his way through a wall with a large pickaxe. The axe changed into an automatic rifle as the avatar charged through the barn and out into a corral. Spotting another figure at the entrance to a barn, the two exchanged fire, and dodging behind a wall, the player controlling the avatar called for assistance as another group of avatars came around the corner and headed to cut off the other player.  Running blindly toward the barn, he watched as a second group of avatars suddenly appeared to confront them, and “deceased” appeared on the screen. The player – a 15-year-old boy — shrugged, spoke to his friends on his headset, and with his character again activated, returned to the action.

Around the world, 2.6 billion people play video games, including two-thirds of American households, according to the Entertainment Software Association. But “gaming” isn’t necessarily as benign as many people – and the gaming industry – would claim. Yes, it may heighten eye/hand coordination and teach intuitive online skills, but it also is distracting, can lead to or exacerbate moodiness, anxiety and depression, and is now being classified as addictive behavior, similar to gambling, compulsive spending or eating and other behavioral problems.

Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying players can actually become addicted. The reason for the “addictive” label is because some players allow gaming to consume their days, often at cost to schoolwork, jobs, recreation and relationships. They may become withdrawn and antisocial, turn to their gaming world for social contact, and elect to avoid doing many other activities that might once have been their normal routine. As such, WHO has added “gaming disorder” to their International Classification of Diseases, the highly respected listing of medical conditions.

Video game addiction is described as an impulse control disorder which does not involve use of an intoxicating drug and is very similar to pathological gambling.  Video game addiction has also been referred to as video game overuse, and pathological or compulsive/excessive use of computer games or video games.  Statistics show that men and boys are more likely to become addicted to video games versus women and girls.  Recent research has found that nearly one in 10 youth gamers (ages 8 to 18) can be classified as pathological gamers or addicted to video-gaming.

Those suffering from video game addiction may use the Internet to access massive multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and multi-user domain games (MUDs).  MMORPGs are networks of people, all interacting with one another to play a game to achieve goals, accomplish missions, and reach high scores in a fantasy world.  MUDs combine elements of role-playing games, fighting, and killing in a social chat channel with limited graphics.  Some of the most popular on-line games include EverQuest, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Vanguard, Fortnight, Overwatch, Call of Duty, and City of Heroes.  Most MMORPGs charge monthly subscription fees, but some are free.

Mental health professionals are concerned about the harmful aspects of technology, overall, and are urging parents and consumers to look for ways to scale back usage of social media and online entertainment. Gaming addiction side effects, they stress, are not dissimilar to what they see in cocaine addiction. And therapists say they increasingly see players who have lost control to a wide variety of online and purchased games, from Minecraft to Candy Crush Saga.

Recognizing and Responding to Gaming Addiction

Unfortunately, the video game industry is expanding so quickly that medical research has struggled to keep up. An older study published in 2009 found that nearly nine percent of young players were addicted to their games. Many experts believe that the number has increased as games have become more advanced, more social and more mobile.

Some mental health professionals believe that gaming disorder is not a stand-alone medical condition. Rather, they see it as a symptom or a side effect of more familiar conditions, such as depression or anxiety. Common symptoms they point to from game use include jeopardized or risked loss of significant relationships, job, educational or career opportunities; lying to family members, friends or professionals to conceal the extent of their involvement with games; and use of games to escape from problems or to relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt or hopelessness.

Additional warning signs for children and teens include:

  • Fatigue, and tendency to fall asleep during school
  • Not completing homework or assignments on time
  • Declining grades, or failing classes
  • Dropping out of school activities, clubs, sports, etc.
  • Isolating from family and friends to play video games

Many people attempting to quit or reduce gaming use experience withdrawal symptoms including anger, depression, relief, fantasies about the game, mood swings, anxiety, fear, irritability, sadness, loneliness, boredom, restlessness, procrastination, and upset stomach.  Being addicted to video-gaming can also cause physical discomfort or medical problems such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, dry eyes, backaches, severe headaches, eating irregularities such as skipping meals, failure to attend to personal hygiene, and sleep disturbance.

Verbal communication is an important tool in addressing gaming addiction, with the goal of getting the affected individual to recognize his or her compulsive behavior and take steps to reduce it. If you’re a parent, monitoring your child’s development is important. You can help your growing child learn how to overcome problems in real life rather than giving up and relying on fantasies in games. To accomplish this, you can implement a reasonable schedule for times when playing games is allowed. Alternatively, you can replace gaming with another pastime. You can also teach your teens to consider playing games as a reward whenever they successfully resolve personal problems in real life.

Patience is always an important virtue when you’re helping someone recover from video game addiction. Find ways to counteract any negative reactions that the addict may exhibit. For instance, if the urge to go back to gaming is very strong, create distractions through sports and other strenuous activities. With the right responses to withdrawal symptoms, the addicted player may reduce or let go of gaming and get back to healthy living. Additionally, many professionals have been trained to help teens and adults recover from addiction.

If you or someone you know is behaving like a gaming addict, learn to limit game time to a specific duration per day so that the remaining hours of the day can still be used for other activities. You can choose between therapies, and certain medications can also help to inhibit compulsive behaviors. If the addiction is the result of another underlying problem, therapy can also address this other issue and teach the addict how to cope with conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety.

Since research efforts devoted to video game addiction are relatively small compared to those for other addictions, very few support groups are available to provide communal assistance. One of the more notable groups is the Online Gamers Anonymous, a nonprofit organization that offers a 12-step program for recovery from video game addiction.


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!