It’s great to do things you enjoy. But can you go too far with a hobby? And at what point does it become an addiction? That’s the question we should try answering about playing video games.
Even though gaming has been around for almost 50 years, studies about its harms are still in the early stages. Different groups have come to different conclusions about whether problem playing should be called an addiction.
Video games have captured the imagination of human’s since the 1970s, with the introduction of very simple games. Although the graphic features of these basic programs were primitive compared to today’s complex, multifaceted games, many children, teens, and adults quickly became enthralled with this new pastime.
It soon became apparent that video games had the potential to consume a large amount of time as the players tried repeatedly to win. Today, video game addiction has been recognized as a process addiction similar to compulsive gambling, in which the rush of winning becomes one of the primary motivations for playing.
In the early days of video games, most games were available only on arcade machines, which were not accessible 24 hours a day. These days, games are one of the most popular features of social network sites, and they can be played almost continuously on handheld game devices, personal computers, or smart phones.
Video games have become much more elaborate, with rich alternate worlds, multiple characters, and complicated storylines. Introverted children or teens may find that they can avoid interacting with “real”peers by engaging primarily with other online players, in the guise of characters with awe-inspiring gifts and powers.
When Gaming Becomes an Addiction
The source of the addictive quality of gaming is still unknown, but researchers propose that the process of playing and winning these games may trigger a release of dopamine, a brain chemical that elevates mood and provides a rush of energy. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter involved in other addictive activities, such as alcohol or drug abuse.
Video game addiction is not currently recognized as an addictive disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the definitive guide to psychiatric illness.
But an obsessive preoccupation with games at the expense of real-life activities or obligations shares some of the characteristics of addictive behavior.
How can we when gaming has stopped being simple entertainment and become an addiction? Here are a few of the key warning signs to look out for:
- Poor performance at school, work, or household responsibilities as a result of a preoccupation with gaming
- Neglect of other hobbies or friendships
- A decline in personal hygiene or grooming
- Inability to set limits on how much time is spent gaming
- Signs of irritability, anxiety, or anger when forced to stop gaming, even for brief periods of time
- The need to spend more time playing games or to play more intensely in order to get the same level of enjoyment
- Symptoms of physical or psychological withdrawal, such as loss of appetite, sleeplessness, agitation, or emotional outbursts if the game is taken away
- Using video games as a way to escape stressful situations at work or school, or conflicts at home
Children and teenagers aren’t the only ones who can be vulnerable to video game addiction. Adults may also play video games for hours instead of engaging in work activities, pursuing hobbies, or devoting time to their partners or children.
When adults are no longer able to control the amount of time they spend on video games, or when their jobs or relationships begin to suffer as a result of video gaming, they may have crossed the line from recreation to addiction.
Video games have had a tremendous impact — both positive and negative — on the cultural attitudes, psychological development, and lifestyle choices of both children and adults.
While these games can be viewed as a risk to players’ physical or emotional health, they have also been promoted as effective educational tools and have even been used for physical or cognitive rehabilitation in clinical settings. Yet for individuals who have become caught in a cycle of compulsive gaming, video games can become destructive.
The growing popularity of video games has created a new awareness of the problem of compulsive gaming, which in turn has led to the development of treatment programs for this addictive process.
Treatment for video game addiction focuses on behavioral modification therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), that guide the patient away from the obsessive thought patterns and obsessive habits of addiction.
Group therapy is a valuable source of motivation and moral support, especially for individuals who have lost contact with friends or peers as a result of their game addiction. Family or marriage counseling can help educate loved ones about the disorder and create a more stable home environment.