Video game addiction is a very real problem for many people. Recent studies from the University of New Mexico report that six to 15 percent of all “gamers” show signs that could be characterized as addiction.
Maybe you set out to play a video game for a few minutes, and before you know it you’ve been at it for hours. People may joke that you have an addiction to video games, but this doesn’t seem like anything that can harm you. Substance or alcohol abuse are the addictions you’d classify as detrimental to the health, so would your habit of playing too many video games fall under this category?
Two Major Types of Video Games
There are two major types of video games, resulting in two types of video game addictions:
1) The standard video games are designed for one player and involve a goal or mission like rescuing a princess. The addiction in these games often corresponds to completing the mission or beating a high score or preset standard.
2) Online, multi-player games are those that create the other type of video game addiction. Played with others, they are especially addictive because they basically have no ending. The gamers with this type of addiction create and even temporarily become an online character and often build relationships with other online players as an escape from real life. For some people, the online community may be the place where they feel most accepted.
Children and Video Games
Children may sometimes neglect their chores or homework, as well as fail to develop the ability to entertain themselves when they are immersed in video games. In a recent study, Dr. Douglas Gentile, of Iowa State University, reported that 12 percent of boys have a video game addiction. He witnessed a relationship between playing too many video games and not doing well in school.
Some children who play video games meet the clinical criteria for an addiction. Video games dominate their lives and give them a sense of euphoria or relief from unpleasant feelings. Some children experience “withdrawal” if they are denied access to the games, and gaming interferes with their everyday life, including school and social relationships. Gentile found that pathological gaming is about more than how much time a child spends playing video games—it’s about video games taking over their lives. In addition, children who play video games tend to “game” more and more in their adult lives.
Statistics on Video Game Addiction in Children
In a random sample of 1,178 American youth aged 8 to 18, Gentile asked kids to answer questions with a yes, no, or sometimes. They were considered to be pathological gamers if they responded “yes” or “sometimes” to at least six of 11 questions. When Gentile scored responses of “yes” and “sometimes,” about 20 percent of the youth met the criteria for a video game addiction. When he counted only “yes” responses, about eight percent of the kids qualified as pathological gamers.
The result was a lot of addiction in children playing video games, and the problem seemed to affect kids across a wide range of backgrounds. In addition, youth gaming has reached the addiction level around the globe.
Despite their varied backgrounds, kids who are game addicts have a few things in common, according to Gentile’s study. Pathological gamers spent about twice as much time playing games—or 24 hours per week—than others. They were more likely to have game systems in their bedrooms. It has been reported that they have:
- More trouble paying attention in school.
- Poorer grades.
- More health problems.
According to a study in Singapore, researchers found that kids who met the clinical criteria for a video game addiction performed worse at school. An interesting fact of the study is that there was no correlation between the time spent playing games and school performance. It was the symptoms of addiction that resulted in poor schoolwork and not playing the games.
Factors for Video Game Addiction
While playing video games is a way to escape the real world, the addiction can stem from the video game itself. One of the main reasons that video games can become so addictive is that they are designed that way. Video game designers, like others trying to make a profit, are always searching for ways to get more people to play their games. This is accomplished by making a game just challenging enough to keep people coming back for more, but not so hard that the gamers give up. To sum it up, success for a gamer often feels just out of reach. Video game addiction is similar to another more widely recognized disorder—gambling addiction.
Companies create video games to ensure they connect with the player’s mind flawlessly, such as the case with Pac Man. This video game is popular because it’s simple—and it speaks to the mind. The goal is to gobble all the food pellets on the screen, which is simple enough. But, the more levels that are completed, the tougher the game gets. These challenges become addicting to the gamer.
When players are given challenges, they are more willing to accomplish them to feel “worthy” when they are completed. For example, when you beat a boss in a video game, you feel good. When you beat the last boss in a video game, you feel on top of the world. The biggest factor that controls a person is their emotions, and when a person connects their emotions to a video game, there’s a big chance they will be addicted to the game.
Gamers continue to play online games, such as Runescape, World of Warcraft and Gaia, even when they are never-ending. They continue to play because their emotions are involved. As players ascend in each level, they start to feel more powerful. The evidence of addicted video gamers is shown in how upset or angry they become when they don’t succeed in a game.
Emotional Symptoms of Video Game Addiction
Like other addictions, video game addiction has its warning signs. It is important to know how to recognize these signs if you or somebody you care about is a gamer. According to the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, the following are some of the emotional symptoms.
- Feelings of restlessness and/or irritability when unable to play.
- Preoccupation with thoughts of previous online activity or anticipation of the next online session.
- Lying to friends and family members about the amount of time they spend playing.
- Isolation from others in order to spend more time gaming.
Physical Symptoms of Video Game Addiction
Some of the physical signs or symptoms of video game addiction include:
- Migraines due to intense concentration or eye strain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome caused by overuse of a controller or computer mouse
- Poor personal hygiene
Short and Long-Term Effects of Video Game Addiction
Like other compulsive disorders, video game addiction can have severe, negative consequences. The symptoms listed above have short-term effects, but they can lead to more severe, long-term consequences if they are not addressed. The following are a few examples.
- Gamers may avoid sleeping or eating proper meals in order to continue gaming, which may eventually lead to a sleep disorder or dietary health issues.
- Isolation may cause people to miss family events, social gatherings and other opportunities that, over a long period of time, can lead to no friends or social network at all.
- Financial difficulties because video games and equipment can be very expensive, as well as the costs of high-speed Internet connection required for online, multi-player games.
- Because of the time consumption of the games, there is less time to focus on education and career.
If you find that you or somebody you care about has the warning signs of video addiction, it may be a warning to spend less time gaming. For more information and to make an appointment with a Thriveworks therapist, call 617-395-5806.