We are always encouraged to do the things we love and enjoy. According to research, a hobby can have significant health benefits. When used to fill up free time, it can relieve stress, improve the mood, and even regulate blood pressure. Furthermore, constructive hobbies make people less likely to waste their idle time on negative activities like snacking, drinking alcohol, or doing drugs.
However, is it possible to go so far with a hobby that it starts to impact your daily life adversely? At what point can you say you are addicted to a hobby? These are the questions that addictive behavior experts, parents, and gaming enthusiasts are trying to answer about video games.
In this article, we dive deep into the concept of video game addiction, discussing its definition, presumed origins, and evolution over the years. We also look into the possible causes of addiction, the signs to look out for, its impact on health and wellbeing, and lastly, how to get help and recover from addiction.
The History of Video Game Addiction
Video games have captivated the human imagination since the early 1970s. The advent of the personal computer opened the public to a plethora of simple two-dimensional games that kids could play from the comfort of their homes.
Before this advancement, most video games were only available in amusement arcades and were therefore not accessible 24 hours a day. Thanks to computers and the early home video game consoles that followed, kids could play games any time they wanted.
Admittedly, early video games were primitive compared to the complex, multifaceted games we have today. Nevertheless, children, teens, and adults all became enthralled with this new and exciting pastime. It soon became evident that video games could engage people for long periods as they repeatedly tried to win.
Over the years, video games gradually gained recognition as addictive agents. Ten years after the first commercial video games release, reports of addiction started appearing in psychological and psychiatric literature.
By the end of the century, numerous empirical studies had been conducted to examine various aspects of video game addiction.
Gaming Addiction Today
Recent years have seen exponential interest in the gaming addiction subject. Video games are now much more elaborate, featuring rich alternative worlds, numerous characters, and intricate, engaging stories.
Furthermore, gaming has expanded into the Internet medium, becoming more accessible and engaging than ever before. Gaming communities have formed behind interactive games like Fortnite and World of Warcraft, replacing connections people make in the real world.
Further fueling the situation is the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced people, including school-going children, to remain indoors. With distractions hard to come by, many have turned to computers, gaming consoles, handheld game devices, and smartphones to escape boredom and forget the Coronavirus chaos.
As video games continue to gain popularity, the number of people getting hooked to them is rising. Recent studies suggest that as much as 15 percent of all gamers exhibit signs that could be considered an addiction.
Can Video Games Be Addictive?
Researchers are generally conflicted about video gaming as a harmful or addictive activity. Most people enjoy playing video games as an exhilarating way to pass the time, sharpen the mind, and become more socially active.
Moreover, many parents and behavioral experts believe video games can expand children’s imagination, boost their competitive spirit, and sharpen cognitive skills. They also allow children to learn collaboration early, which has become an essential skill in today’s dynamic work environments.
Millions of people play video games, but most of them do not have a gaming addiction. However, the problem with video games arises when an individual spends most of their time playing at the expense of more important tasks like schoolwork, their main job, family time, social activities, and physical exercise. What draws the line between healthy gaming and addiction is the impact the activity has on the gamer’s life.
The World Health Organization(WHO) included “gaming disorder” in the 11th edition of its International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems. ICD-11 will come into enforcement in January 2022.
What Causes Video Game Addiction?
Some behavioral experts argue that video games are addictive because they are meant to be that way. Video game designers are out to profit and are continuously looking for ways to get more players. They also want players to spend as much time as possible interacting with the game.
To keep gamers hooked, game developers often aim to make a game that is exciting enough to attract a player and difficult enough that a win becomes a significant accomplishment, but not so challenging that the player eventually quits in despair.
“A good game has people coming back for more, especially if they ‘fail’ the first time,” says psychologist Tim Nichols, who is also a “user research lead” at Microsoft Studios.
Video game success usually feels just out of reach. As a result, video game addiction is commonly likened to another more famous disorder: gambling addiction.
The Science Behind Gaming Addiction
The scientific source of the addictive influence of video games on the mind and body is more debatable than fact. However, research indicates that playing and winning these games has a biological impact on players.
Much like accomplishing a challenging physical feat, conquering a difficult game level can trigger dopamine release. This hormone elevates the mood and triggers a pleasant energy rush throughout the body. Dopamine is the same brain chemical involved in the reward systems of other addictive activities, including alcohol and drug abuse.
Common Signs Of Video Game Addiction
Compulsive gaming disorder can have significant consequences on the individuals suffering from it, along with the people around them. However, video game addiction is not easy to detect and diagnose. A gamer can develop an addiction long before it starts to impact their day-to-day life noticeably.
Fortunately, the American Psychiatric Association has identified nine signs you can watch for when investigating a gaming disorder. Although these indications can help you to better understand the severity of the situation, it is also advisable to seek professional advice.
- A general preoccupation with video games. The subject frequently thinks and talks about gaming activity, either a previous video game, a current thrill, or an anticipated future release.
- Withdrawal symptoms after not gaming for a while. Gaming withdrawal symptoms are less physical and more psychological. An addicted player can become irritable, anxious, bored, sad, or depressed when kept away from their favorite game.
- A heightened tolerance for long-hour gaming. Gaming for extended periods can be motivated by a strong drive to complete increasingly intricate goals and achieve the satisfaction that comes with it. It can also stem from a compelling fear of missing out, especially if friends are playing the same game.
- Several unsuccessful attempts to limit one’s playing time. Many gamers realize they might have a gaming problem when they resolve not to play for at least a few hours, only to find themselves back in the game within minutes.
- Lost interest in previous hobbies and entertainment sources. Most video game addicts feel like they are wasting time when not gaming.
- Continued excessive indulgence in video games, despite knowledge that they are adversely affecting one’s health and wellbeing. The individual continues gaming despite noticing a negative impact.
- Lies and deceit to family members, friends, and therapists regarding one’s gaming habits.
- Frequent use of video games to escape reality, especially if a player is experiencing feelings of helplessness, anxiety or guilt.
- Loss of a significant relationship, career, or educational opportunity because of video game participation.
If you happen to meet five or more of these warning signs, you may have a developing or already manifested addiction.
The Health Concerns of Gaming Addiction
Compulsive video gaming can have adverse effects on the mind and body. Both children and adults may suffer from the impact of long hours spent playing video games.
Below are some of the key health concerns of gaming addiction.
- Living a sedentary life: Staring at a screen for a long time can take a toll on the body. Many addicted gamers spend a whole day in one posture, only changing it to visit the bathroom or grab a meal. Consequently, the lack of physical movement involved in gaming has led to health concerns about poor posture, weight gain, and increased risk of type-2 diabetes, particularly in children and teens.
- Forced introversion: Although current video games rely heavily on engaging with others in digital environments, they cannot substitute the intricacies of real-life social interaction. For children, learning how to interact with others in the real world is a crucial developmental skill that can be neglected if they are allowed to spend too much time playing video games. Experts foresee a future generation that will not know how to get along beyond the confines of their computers and mobile devices.
- Attention deficiency: Video games are often related to heightened concentration and cognitive skills. However, studies have shown that too much gaming can result in the opposite effect. The fast-paced movements and action sequences of some video games can promote concentration loss in players. People who spend a lot of time gaming may become less able to focus on calmer activities like reading books, which require sharper and more prolonged attention.
- Neglecting constructive activities: When used appropriately, video games can help young players develop and apply valuable social skills. On the other hand, when gaming is used to escape real-life activities and socialization, children can miss important lessons growing up. Similarly, gamers that indulge in video games to forget their real problems and disappointments can fail to take the measures necessary to improve their situation.
- Increased aggression: Studies support that children and adolescents may develop signs of aggression as a result of playing games with combat, fighting, or violence for prolonged periods of time.
- Stress injuries: Evidence exists that compulsive gaming can cause repetitive stress injuries in the neck, back, wrists, and hands. It may also lead to recurring headaches, which may result in a dependence on pain medication.
Meanwhile, according to a report by The British Medical Journal (BMJ), video gaming can be detrimental to players with epilepsy or other seizure disorders. Flashing lights and flickering graphics may trigger seizures in some compulsive players.
Getting Help and Treatment
If you have been caught in the cycle of compulsive gaming, the video games you love can become destructive. Fortunately, the popularity of video games has fueled awareness of compulsive gaming as a problem. This development has led to the emergence of treatment programs for video game addiction.
Treatment for gaming addiction focuses on behavior modification therapies that guide an addict to overcome the obsessive thought patterns and habits of addiction. One such treatment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), helps gaming addicts learn how to identify and change thought patterns that negatively impact emotions and behavior.
Group therapy is also an effective technique for overcoming gaming addiction. Individuals who disconnected from their real-life friends and family as a result of gaming addiction can find motivation and moral support from interacting with peers in the same situation. Meanwhile, marriage and family counseling can educate loved ones about gaming addiction and create a more stable and supportive home environment for a recovering addict.
Gamers diagnosed with psychiatric conditions like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder may require specialized medical therapy with anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs. If substance abuse is detected, the individual will need detox, followed by specialized medical treatment and therapy.
Depending on the addiction’s severity and the existence of other medical or psychiatric conditions, gaming disorder may be treated on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Some outpatient facilities include intensive rehabilitation sessions and partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) to offer more flexibility if a patient cannot enroll in inpatient treatment for one reason or the other.
Meanwhile, inpatient treatment facilities offer 24-hour care in a structured, supportive environment. These centers are beneficial for gamers that are yet to control their video game indulgence.
Thanks to the proliferation of video games in recent years, gaming addiction has become a hot topic among industry participants, scientists, parents, and the players themselves. While video game addiction is a debatable subject in the gaming world, research indicates the disorder is real and can have adverse effects on the mind, body, and quality of life.
If you or someone close to you is exhibiting signs of gaming addiction, do not hesitate to take action. Reach out to a professional and get help before it is too late.