Video game addiction is a serious issue. As a gamer myself, I’m aware that the media likes to exaggerate, and I agree that the subject of video game addiction has been blown out of proportion in the past, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I’m also aware that video game addiction may not be as serious as, say, a drug addiction, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. I know this because I am an ex-video game addict.
I think it’s important to identify video game addiction where it exists, and to help addicts on their road to recovery. Like all addictions, this one can be detrimental to one’s lifestyle if left unchecked. I don’t want to be a fearmonger here, but a little bit of awareness can be a good thing. If you’re the parent of one who might be an addict, I hope this post helps you to better understand. If you’re a possible addict, I hope this can be a wake-up call.
What Is Video Game Addiction?
Video game addiction is not an officially recognized disorder, which means it hasn’t been defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but there is evidence that could point toward an uncontrollable urge and compulsion to play video games. This compulsion could be for a specific game OR just any game in general, and the reasons behind the compulsion could be one of many.
For the most part, video game addiction can be seen as similar to Internet addiction and smartphone addiction, both of which are subsets of something called novelty addiction. With technology becoming so engrained in our daily lives, we’re constantly being bombarded by stimuli from all directions. The novelty of playing a video game triggers various psychological responses in our brains, so much so that we can grow accustomed to chasing those triggers.
This manifests itself as a compulsive need to always be playing. Perhaps the compulsion is to grind more levels in an MMORPG. In competitive games, it could be a desire to beat players and earn a higher ranking. Typically, this compulsion might be a way for the addict to cope with stress, whether from school, work, or social pressures, but this is not always the case.
Do not confuse video game addiction with an introverted personality. Do not confuse it with genuine enjoyment of video games. The term addiction comes into play when the person fulfills three criteria:
- they forego responsibilities and commitments due to gaming;
- they can’t stop thinking about games when they aren’t playing;
- they won’t stop playing even when the game is no longer fun.
Warning Signs For Video Game Addiction
How much is too much? You can be an avid gamer, even a hardcore gamer, without being an addict. After all, enthusiasm and passion for other hobbies don’t automatically translate into an addiction, so why should it be different here? The difficulty is in drawing the line: when does enjoyment turn into an addiction?
Whether you’re a gamer or the parent of a gamer, here are some warning signs you should be looking for:
- Interference with education: Video game addicts who are still in school may find their studies negatively impacted by excessive gaming. The most obvious is skipping classes to play more as well as falling grades due to skipped classes. However, an inability to focus while in class due to obsessive thoughts about gaming could also be an indicator.
- Interference with health: Excessive gaming can lead to weight gain (prolonged physical inactivity) or weight loss (skipping meals). Sore muscles, body aches, and strained eyes could be symptomatic of too much gaming. Foregoing showers and cleanliness are also symptoms, as are staying up late and not getting enough sleep. If gaming takes a priority over maintaining proper health and hygiene, it could be an addiction.
- Interference with social relationships: This is a big warning sign for addiction: playing games for hours while social relationships deteriorate. If you begin to regularly skip family activities, decline social outings with friends, and lose your desire for events that you once enjoyed in favor of gaming, then you may have an addiction.
- Interference with work: Like schooling, if a person is frequently skipping work to play video games, they may be addicted. One-time occurrences do not count here, such as launch days for extremely hyped video game releases. Addiction could lead to the inability of one to hold a steady job.
- Inability or lack of desire to stop: “I can stop whenever I want to” is the motto of addicts all over the world and it applies to video games. If someone can’t go more than a few days without playing, they may be at risk of being addicted.
- Negative emotions. If you play a lot of games and you feel ashamed, guilty or regretful of how much time you spend on them, it may be an indicator that you do indeed spend too much time with gaming. Similarly, if you ever feel like your life could be so much better if you stopped playing, you may be addicted.
Note that these warning signs should only be considered if they are displayed in a prolonged and frequent way. Skipping out on a social event every once in a while is fine, but never going out could be problematic. Similarly, it’s important to consider whether or not video game addiction is the core issue OR whether it points to a deeper problem, such as depression, fear, insecurity, etc.
Video Game Addiction: What Can I Do?
So maybe you’ve come to terms with the fact that you’re addicted to video games, or perhaps you aren’t quite there yet but you want to know what you can do to prevent full-on addiction. Or you could be a parent of one who might be an addict, and you want to know if there’s anything you can do to help.
First, please realize that addiction can’t be forced out of somebody. External pressure might temporarily put a plug in it, but ultimately it will resurface unless the addict also applies internal motivation to overcoming it. Therefore, it doesn’t help to force someone to quit video games unless you intend to watch over them forever, not to mention the inevitable feelings of bitterness and contempt that will arise.
With that said, there are some things you can do to help stave off addiction:
- Online Gamers Anonymous: OLGA describes itself as a self-help fellowship, a place where ex-addicts can share their experiences and help each other towards recovery. They have a 12-step recovery program if you’re interested, but if not, you might still find it beneficial to visit and participate on their forums. Check out their Is OLGA For You? quiz to see if you might benefit.
- Limit gaming time: This is much easier if you have somebody who can keep you accountable, such as a parent or a friend who will kick you off when your limits are up. For online gaming, you might check your wireless router features to see if it can automatically disable itself during certain times. This can be good for preventing late-night gaming sessions.
- Regular “detox” days: I find that stepping out into nature for an extended time, whether it’s for a full day or an entire week, can help bring back my sense of perspective. Games can lose their urgency if you step away from them for a while, so doing something like dedicating every weekend as “detox days” can really help.
- Set rewards and consequences: Some prefer positive reinforcement over negative, and some prefer the opposite. I’m a proponent of both in moderation. Buy yourself a candy bar or a new book to read if you can make it X days without playing a game. Put $5 into a jar every time you play a game. To make it really hurt, donate the jar money to your opposite political party every month!
- Find new passions: When you stop gaming, there will be a huge gap of time in which you’ll have nothing to do. Pick up a few other hobbies, such as golf, tennis, magic, gardening, musical instruments, reading, writing, knitting, woodworking, etc. Not only will you learn some new skills, they’ll help keep your mind off gaming.
All of that said, overcoming a video game addiction can be extremely difficult. It’s a psychological addiction, which some might argue is tougher than a purely physical one. You’ll find ways to rationalize it away – “It’s not as bad as alcoholism or cocaine, right? Just one game.” – but keep at it. And if you know someone who is an addict, help them out even when they fail.
Do you have any experiences with video game addiction, whether yourself, your friend, or your child? Did you do anything about it, and if so, what? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!