Are You Addicted to Video Games?

By Lee Cumbers

It’s estimated that 60 million people are experiencing gaming addiction. The potentiality of gaming addiction becoming an endemic is worrisome to say the least. 

Gaming Addiction, also known as Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) involves an unhealthy fixation on playing games.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Gaming Disorder as a mental health condition for the first time. Categorising IGD as a behavioural addiction, along similar lines to gambling- and you can see why 

Considering the exponential growth of the video game industry and its users in recent years, Internet Gaming Disorder could be on the verge of becoming an endemic. 

Signs and symptoms

According to the American Psychiatric Association, displaying 5 of the following symptoms within a one year period could result in an IGD diagnosis. 

  • Preoccupation with gaming

  • Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability)

  • Tolerance development, the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge

  • Inability to reduce playing, unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming

  • Giving up other activities, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming

  • Continuing to game despite problems

  • Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on gaming

  • The use of gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness

  • Risk, having jeopardised or lost a job or relationship due to gaming

Causes

The previously mentioned signs provide the foundations of causality, with the defining factor being the transition from enjoying games in your recreational time, to the incessant and compulsive need to game. There are many reasons someone could begin to misuse video games, so here’s a general overview:

  • Stress: Everyone gets stressed, so we develop coping strategies in order to manage it. Gaming can be a positive way to reduce stress and regulate emotions. However, it can also be used detrimentally, such as suppressing negative emotions. This can result in a dependency and negative association between feeling stressed and using gaming as a form of avoidance.

  • A need to escape: Escapism is a coping strategy that can be positive and is arguably essential for wellbeing. Escaping reality and even yourself for a few hours by immersing yourself in a virtual world or vicariously living through a character is an excellent way to relax. The issues arise when the hours spent escaping start to impact one’s life such as the deterioration of relationships, education, work, sleep or nutrition.

  • Videogame design: I am not pointing a finger at game developers, but it needs to be mentioned that videogames are designed with persistent play in mind. Accolades and rewards for playing every day, playing a number of matches or hours a week and elements such as season passes, in-game purchases and downloadable content (DLC)- are all present to entice the player to keep gaming. Additionally, the aesthetic and phonetic design of games are used to classically condition individuals. The soundbite played when completing a level, or coming in 1st place- are constantly stimulating our happy hormones (dopamine, serotonin).

  • A need to achieve: Games facilitate many opportunities to achieve, progress and win. This can create a sense of purpose, recognition and gratification. If these satisfying feelings aren’t being experienced in everyday life, whether it’s school grades, work or most importantly- one’s perception of achievement. One may increase their game time because it’s an activity that perceptively provides all these factors, a temptation that’s hard to resist.

  • Your virtual self: Online games are an excellent way to meet likeminded people with shared interests. These can turn into true friendships and social connections over time. The ability to be anyone you want and create a large network of friends around the world may be more compelling than who one is in the real-world. Resulting in prolonged gaming in order to invest more time into this virtual life.

What can you do?

First off, video games are merely a tool just like everything else, they can be used for positive and negative means. Nevertheless, if you feel that you might be playing too often or using video games in a detrimental fashion, here are a few ways to take back control of your relationship with gaming: 

  • Become the watcher of your mind: This is easier said than done. All it means is to become more self-aware, and begin to understand why you are displaying these behaviours when it comes to gaming. Gaining this introspection promotes self-regulation and can enable you to still enjoy an activity that you love, but not abuse it. One tip is to reflect immediately when you feel the urge to game, understand why you’re feeling like this, is there a trigger or cause? It takes a lot of practice, patience and time, so be nice to yourself during this process.

  • Find another interest: Expanding your horizons and interests can help you find an equilibrium between gaming and other aspects of your life. This could be learning an instrument, a language, exercising, trying a new sport, or learning a new skill. Self-improvement, progression, control and a simple ‘cause and effect’ relationship are a few of the things that make games so enticing. Other hobbies share similar features, which can lead to experiencing those satisfying moments, while also improving your skill set, health and social connections.

  • Monitor and reduce your game time: Allot yourself a time period or a certain day to play games. Routine and structure can help you stay on top of your game time and give you something to look forward to, while also reducing the likelihood of letting essential activities such as sleep, work or school fall by the wayside.

  • Cold turkey: Just quit games immediately, uninstall them, sell your console or PC. If you feel like the above options won’t help because you’ll be unable to sustain them, this may be the most viable solution.

  • Party up!: Bring a friend or relative into the loop, explain that you are trying to reduce your game time, or quit altogether. Ask them to help you monitor your own behaviour, or even come along for the ride by also reducing or quitting gaming, social media or any other activity. You could also ask them to try a new hobby or learn a new skill with you.

Has this video got you thinking about your own relationship with gaming? Click here for a free gaming health check with our trained team of gamers.