Understanding Video Game Addiction
Over 2 billion people play video games worldwide, and the market for video games is on track to become a $90 billion industry in America by 2020. The average gamer plays for about 6 hours every week. For most players of all ages, playing video games is a fun pastime – a way to relax, connect with friends, and enjoy a challenge. Unfortunately, for some players, a video game hobby can escalate into an addictive disorder which takes over their lives.
In recent years, the smartphone has surpassed the computer and the console as the most common gaming device, with video games now available on apps and social media. Furthermore, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) continue to be immensely popular. Every day, games like League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Final Fantasy, and The Elder Scrolls Online draw millions of players into their virtual worlds. About 160 million Americans play MMORPGs and other Internet-based games every day.
Like all good things, videos games are best in moderation. Adults and children alike can develop unhealthy, obsessive relationships with video games that they love.
Why Is Video Game Addiction Controversial?
Since there is at least one gamer in 75% of American households, you probably know at least one person who plays video games regularly. Few people would deny that someone could play videos games too often, and it’s easy to say that someone is “addicted” when they really just need to take a break. So is video game addiction possible?
Currently, there is no scientific consensus on when video game overuse becomes an addiction, or if this is even possible. For this reason, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has classified “Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD)” as an unverified potential diagnosis which requires further review. A 2017 study in the Association’s official journal left open the possibility that the classification could one day change. However, it stated that there is not enough research right now to confirm definitively that overusing video games is an addiction according to the APA’s definition. The APA defines addiction as “a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.” This definition effectively excludes the possibility of any behavioral addictions.
Another source of the scientists’ skepticism is the fact that only a very small portion of gamers ever exhibit any signs of a disorder, especially the specific symptoms of withdrawal and tolerance. For this reason, some scientists and researchers believe that video game overuse is a just habit or a symptom of another disorder, rather than an addiction.
Gaming Disorder: Why Video Games Can Be Addictive
Even without an officially diagnosed disorder, some people sacrifice their jobs and marriages to spend 60 hours every week playing on the computer. Some children and teenagers become so attached to video games that they threaten their parents when they’re told to put down the controller.
Many of us have read about such cases or have had experiences which show that video games have addictive power. While anecdotal evidence is not scientific research, real world experience and the growing awareness of other behavioral addictions explain why the concept of video game addiction is becoming increasingly accepted. Recently, the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its official list of diseases.
Gaming disorder is defined … as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
It is important to understand that the amount of time that someone spends playing a video game does not necessarily indicate that they have an addiction. After all, someone could spend many hours playing a video game just because they enjoy it, but they could also stop without much difficulty. By contrast, a person might have an addiction to a video game if they can’t stop playing it, even though they know they should. They’re aware that the video game is causing them to neglect their family, friends, work, and education, but they keep playing anyway because they feel best behind the screen.
When someone “needs” to play video games to be happy and feels miserable when they’re not playing, this suggests that they might have a disorder which is just as real as alcoholism or dependence on prescription drugs. Withdrawal symptoms commonly characterize substance use disorders. While video game withdrawal is still being studied, researchers have documented possible video game withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, insomnia, aggressive emotions, and intense cravings to play video games again.
Moreover, video games affect the brain in the same way as addictive drugs: they trigger the release of dopamine, a chemical which reinforces behavior. For this reason, playing video games can be an addictive stimulus. These facts indicate that addiction to video games may be possible.
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Symptoms of Video Game Addiction
If you suspect that someone you care about suffers from an addictive gaming disorder, there are some important signs to watch out for. If you’re trying to tell if someone has a serious video game problem, consider these questions:
- Are they becoming isolated from family and friends?
- Are they lying to others about how often they play video games, and do they often play in secret?
- Do they become upset and irritable when they’re not playing video games?
- Are they neglecting work or school to play video games?
- Are they avoiding activities they once enjoyed?
- Are they skipping meals to focus on gaming?
- Are they often tired because they’re not getting enough sleep?
- Do they have physical problems from gaming too much, like carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, and eye strain?
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What Causes Video Game Addiction?
Studies show that most people who are struggling with the symptoms of video game addiction are playing multiplayer games on the Internet. MMPORGs are especially addictive because they offer an endless adventure inside a fantasy world where players can essentially live a different life as a new person. They provide an opportunity to escape reality and leave behind problems of the real world.
Furthermore, MMPORGs and other multiplayer games host large communities of players where many people feel welcome, appreciated, and useful (something they may not feel often in the real world). An MMPORG player can join clans, help others players, make friends, and develop a status. Although the setting is virtual, the relationships are real. For the player, the sense of being part of something and having a role to play can be important and meaningful, especially if the player does not experience social gratification in real life. For many people with a video game addiction, playing the game is not just “for fun.” It is their social life and a pillar of their self-esteem. Video games which exist on social media closely coincide with social media addiction, another behavioral disorder which thrives on the feeling of being accepted.
The desire for escapism and social acceptance may not be the only cause of video game addiction. Numerous studies have sought to establish the relationship between video game addiction and other mental health problems. One 2016 study suggests that people who are depressed and cope with problems in an avoidant way are more likely to become addicted to video games. Another study from 2017 found a strong correlation between video game addiction and anxiety disorders, although it’s not clear whether the addiction causes the anxiety or if the anxiety contributes to the addiction.
Video Game Addiction in Children and Adolescents
Almost all American children and teenagers play video games. Among teenagers, 97% of boys and 83% of girls play at least one video game on at least one device. There is evidence that children who start to play video games at younger ages are more likely to develop video game addictions than children who start to play them when they’re older. Nevertheless, addiction to video games is a risk for children of all ages. Video game addiction is likely to negatively impact a child’s success in school. A child who plays video games obsessively will probably fail to study, finish homework, or participate in sports or school clubs. They may also be tired at school and fall asleep in class.
Studies have shown that playing video games excessively can negatively affect a child’s emotional development as well as their academic success. Children who have a video game addiction may be more inclined to exhibit aggressive and anti-social behavior, and they might fail to develop mature social skills. Children’s minds are especially vulnerable to forming habits and routines. Parents should make sure that their children have a balanced relationship with any video game that they play.
How Can I Get Help for a Video Game Addiction?
If you know it’s time to overcome video game addiction or help someone who’s struggling with it, there are many resources available to help you get started. There are programs all over the country as well as in-person and online support groups which are dedicated to helping people break free from addiction to video games.
The first step to ending video game addiction is to put the controller down and step away. This can be difficult, which is why many video game addicts made a successful recovery only when they discarded their gaming equipment or went away on a wilderness retreat. A severe problem with video games might require drastic solutions. If you have questions about treatment for video game addiction, please contact a dedicated treatment provider today. A video game should not be the center of anyone’s life, but if it is, there is hope for getting unshackled from the screen.