The Harsh Reality of Video Game Addiction

By Lee Cumbers

My personal experience with Gaming Addiction

I displayed some symptoms of IGD in my teenage years, and certain signs even return when I experience high levels of stress. Withdrawal was the most prominent for me, I remember becoming irritated and even aggressive when I was unable to game for a sustained period of time during adolescence.

Without going into a whole memoir, I wasn’t happy at school or with myself in that period of my life. Like every teenager, I was struggling with external stressors, social pressures and my own identity. 

I’ve been playing games since I was 4-years old, but from the age of 14-17, there was a definite change in the reasons behind why I wanted to play. I was good at online games, ranking high on world leaderboards. That felt amazing and from my perspective it was an achievement more important than school grades or social expectations.

The importance of these achievements stemmed from the fairness and control you have while playing games, the unbreakable rules, acknowledgment of skill and the firm ‘cause and effect’ relationship of playing well = reward. This was much more appealing than the perceived uncontrollable aspects of life I struggled with at the time. 

Luckily, at 17 I started going to the gym, which became my new main hobby. I still game in my recreational time, but exercise has become my positive coping strategy.

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. Categorised as a behavioural addiction, along similar lines to gambling, drug abuse and social media addiction.

Over 2 billion people gaming globally and according to a systematic review and meta analysis conducted in 2021, 3-4% of players are experiencing gaming addiction: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33028074/

8.5% of youths aged 8-18 are diagnosed with IGD annually. The overall total estimate of addicted gamers is 60 million, and that’s a conservative calculation. 

The potentiality of IGD becoming an endemic in the gaming community is a worrisome notion, especially taking into account the exponential growth of gaming and esports. Obtaining a deeper understanding of gaming addiction is integral, so here is everything you need to know about Internet Gaming 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. 

Causes

The aforementioned signs draw the line between enjoying one’s recreational time, and an incessant obligatory need, while also providing a foundation for causality. There are a multitude of causes and reasons that gaming addiction could manifest, 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 internally or externally 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, coming in 1st place etc. are constantly stimulating our happy hormones (dopamine, serotonin).

  • A need to achieve: Linking to the point above, 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 and success. Increasing an activity that perceptively provides all these factors is 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 you can 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: 

  • Develop your ability to self-reflect: This is easier said than done. All it means is to become more self-aware and understanding why you are displaying these behaviours when it comes to gaming. Gaining this introspection can facilitate self-regulation and put you on a pathway to still enjoying an activity that you love, but not abusing 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: As mentioned above this worked great for me. When I started going to the gym it improved my self worth, confidence and the act itself shared striking similarities with gaming. Self-improvement, progression, control and a simple ‘cause and effect’ relationship. To this day I’m an avid gym goer, without it I may have delved deeper into gaming addiction. If you’re interested in what exercise can do to help your lifestyle and gaming performance, click here: https://gamersvsdepression.org/blog/gaming-performance-exercise/ 

  • Monitor and reduce your game time: Another strategy I practice, I allot myself time or a certain day to play games. For me and my friends, Wednesday evening is game night. Routine and structure can help you stay on top of your game time and give you something to look forward to. 

  • Cold turkey: Just quit games immediately, uninstall them, sell your console/PC. This is an extreme option in my opinion, but I do know people who have had success from this. 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.

To conclude, gaming addiction is on the rise. By understanding what IGD is, how it may be affecting you and implementing strategies to regulate your game time, you can begin to build a healthy, positive relationship with a hobby you love doing.