Gaming Addiction: The Familial Impact

By Lee Cumbers

Gaming addiction diagnosis has increased in recent years. Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) involves an unhealthy fixation on playing games, subsequently causing other aspects of life to fall by the way-side.

In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Gaming Disorder as a mental health condition for the first time. Categorised as a behavioural addiction, along similar lines to gambling, drug abuse and social media addiction. 

The accessibility, mobility and cost effectiveness of the modern gaming world facilitates living in a falsified reality, with disregard to other importances such as education, physical, psychological and social well being.

As a parent, sibling or loved one, you may have concerns surrounding the behaviour of your child/family member when it comes to playing games. So it’s time to shed some light on game addiction, how it can affect the family dynamic, and what you can do to invoke a positive change to the lifestyle of the child in question. 

WHAT makes video games enticing?

Video games are a tool just like everything else. They can be used for positive and negative means. Given the topic, the negative connotations will be more appropriate, but it’s important to remember that games and devices are not the causality, to find that will take time, attention and rebuilding. 

Here are a few aspects of video games that compel individuals to pick up a gamepad:

  • Escape from reality- Immersing yourself into a virtual world where you can literally be anyone and anything. 

  • Creativity- Some games can invoke creativity, a trait embedded into all of us. Minecraft is a popular example of this. 

  • Control- Games are set in a controlled environment, with rules, regulations, fairness and absolution. This level of stability can be tempting if one’s life or environment is the exact opposite. 

  • Vicarious living- Creating an in-game character or living vicariously through a protagonist can be entertaining and fun. It also furthers the escape not only from reality, but from yourself. 

  • Sense of achievement- Beating a level, winning an online game or improving your performance can be very satisfying and act as monikers of progression.

  • Social support- Online gaming is an incredibly social activity, where you can play with friends, make new ones and match with likeminded people from around the world. 

WHY do people get addicted to games?

The core reasons behind one’s addiction are usually very convoluted, multifaceted and difficult to pinpoint. However, from a behavioural perspective, the elements of video games above make it easy to see why this tool is utilised for negative purposes:

  • Negative escapism- Escapism is arguably an integral part of maintaining wellbeing. This coping strategy can turn negative when it’s being used to excess, such as a reduction or absence of other hobbies, poor hygiene, sleep and nutrition. When the recreational activity of gaming becomes sacrificial, and the ratio of escapism outweighs the time spent doing essential tasks, a change needs to be made.

  • Avoidance- Intertwined with escapism, a child may be avoiding perceptively stressful or difficult aspects of their lives and the negative emotions they conjure. They may feel this is the only way they can cope with the world around them and the emotions they feel. 

  • Dopamine hit- Achieving milestones, aesthetically/phonetically pleasing gameplay and superficial reward systems are just a few triggers of happy hormone release. Most game developers enable this further by implementing features such as rewards for regular play, downloadable content (DLC) and in-game purchases.

  • Perception of achievement- A child may feel that they are failing in aspects of their lives, whether that’s personal friendships/relationships, education, work or expectations from society/people of influence, gaming is a one-stop shop for recognition and gratification.

  • The vicious cycle- A period of excessive gaming could lead to a loss of tangible elements in one’s life, health, wellbeing, relationships, social connections and many others. After experiencing these downfalls, turning back to gaming may seem like their only option. And the cycle repeats. 

When gaming becomes a disorder: Signs and Symptoms

These are the following signs and symptoms of IGD according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA): https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/internet-gaming 

Internet Gaming Disorder (DSM-5)

  • Preoccupation with gaming

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

  • Tolerance, 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

5 or more of these symptoms need to be present within a 1-year time period in order to declare an official diagnosis. 

The Family Unit

Considering the aforementioned symptoms of IGD, it is clear that the main objective outcomes primarily affect the wellbeing of the user. Excessive gaming can lead to negative lifestyle changes such as:

  • Reduction of physical activity

  • Sporadic sleep pattern and deprivation

  • Reduced personal hygiene and self-care

  • Difficulty concentrating outside of game-time

  • Poor nutrition and eating patterns

When it comes to the family dynamic as a whole, these negative changes are likely to result in a reduction of social interaction, emotional distancing and an overall disconnection with family members in every sense.

As a former child who spent most of his time video gaming, even displaying some of the symptoms above, such as faking sick in order to get out of school so I could game all day. I feel I can bring a unique perspective to this topic, which is usually discussed without the experience of being on the receiving end of the negative reinforcement and punishments that usually ensue. 

HOW you can support your loved one and rebuild the relationship

First on the agenda, significantly reduce or stop any negative reinforcement or punishments surrounding your child playing video games. This could be acts like taking the console/PC away, or making passive-aggressive comments when your child is choosing to play games in their free time. From personal experience, all this does is confirm the parental disapproval, causing them to socially withdraw even more and severing the connection further between you both. This creates an overall negative association between an activity your child loves doing and the feeling of shame and inability to talk or discuss a hobby they love. 

It is essential to approach the situation with a high level of understanding in every sense of the world. Understanding what your child could be going through, how they are feeling, and a good general knowledge of video games is the best place to start. So here are some steps to take when attempting to rebuild the relationship:

  • Learn about video games- How they work, types of games and why people play them. This may surprise some people, but children DO want you to ask them about what they are doing with a majority of their free time. As a child I attempted to converse with my parents and siblings about my gaming endeavours, which most of the time were met with confusion or apathy, to the point where I didn’t bother anymore. Learn what games your child likes playing, what they involve, are they social/team-based or solo games? Ask to watch them play, or even suggest playing a game together. 
  • Understand and identify with them- Attempt to start conversations stemming from gaming, do they play with friends online? How did they meet? How long have they been playing together? By taking an interest, you can use gaming as a bridge to more sensitive or real-world subjects, such as in-person friendships, school, work, how they are feeling, emotions or any other matter that could be sensitive or difficult to talk about. Gaming can also act as a distraction or guise, with the child primarily focusing on the game, it can sometimes facilitate them opening up more in an environment they are familiar with and comfortable in.
  • Negative association to positive- It’ll take some time, but you need to remove the potentially villainous status perceived by your child. The one who takes their console away and disapproves of their recreational choices. Understanding games and taking an interest in their lives will help this process. From there it’s all about reinforcement and following up. For example if they play online in a team, ask your child how their games went, do they play in a league or tournaments? Did they work well together? What was the best moment? If it’s a solo game, did they beat that level, get that trophy, beat that boss etc. Over time you should slowly reconnect with your child, maybe on a deeper level than previously achieved. 

Once the relationship has reverted back to a neutral or even positive status, being able to converse with your child about more sensitive matters should be met with less resistance. Additionally, you’ve opened up a new way to bond and spend time with your child, playing a game together and becoming a support system. 

At this stage, this would be the best opportunity to address potential issues that are concerning you. Your child should hold you in a higher esteem, and respect your opinion more, even if it goes against their gaming status quo. 

If you’d like to learn more about the positives and negatives of gaming, social connection in video games and our parent’s guide to gaming. Visit www.gamersvsdepression.org