Statistics say that more than 60 million people today suffer from gaming addiction. And this number is rising every year.
Advanced controls, engaging stories, magnetic soundtracks, solid characters, realistic scenes, and more—these are some of the things that help the $300+ billion gaming industry immerse 2+ billion people into the virtual world every single day.
Video games are a safe haven for people trying to relax, enjoy challenges, socialize and destress. But it’s also really easy to go too far when playing these games and end up ignoring all other aspects of life. Today, a huge number of people suffer from gaming addiction. And the number keeps rising every single year.
But is gaming addiction a mental health problem?
Some may argue that compulsive gaming doesn’t really meet the proposed criteria for a disorder. But the World Health Organization has already recognized “Gaming Disorder” as a mental health problem (more on that later).
In this post, we’ll take a sneak peek into the immersive world of gaming and discuss its pros and cons. Besides that, we’ll also look at things you can do to protect your child from gaming addiction. So, let’s begin.
The Immersive World of Gaming
1962 marks the year when the first-ever fully playable, multiplayer video game debuted on the PDP-1 minicomputer.
This game was called Spacewar, and it was the brainchild of a bored Steve Russell and a handful of MIT colleagues. The game was very simple. They set the scene in space and developed it in a way that allowed two people to control the spaceships. And the mission was to destroy the other player’s ship.
Although this game was very simple, it marked the beginning of what became the $300+ billion gaming industry.
Today, we have artificial intelligence in video games, 4K and even 8K displays, haptic feedback controllers, and many more features that can immerse you in the world of entertainment for hours.
And although gaming may seem like a waste of time to some—it’s not. Research studies have found that playing video games has many benefits, ranging from enhanced creativity to better mental health. Have a look.
The Many Benefits of Gaming
People often dismiss video games as the domain of couch potatoes. But did you know that many elements of the simulated world can actually provide real-life benefits? Some experts say that gaming is actually a workout for your mind disguised as fun.
Here are some of the benefits of video games for both kids and adults:
Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills and Creativity
There’s a popular game called Minecraft. At first glance, it looks like a Lego® world and functions mostly similarly. The only difference is that instead of building physical play buildings with Lego®, you get to do it in the virtual world.
This game uses a feature called modding to let players customize their characters, build new levels in the game, and build new structures. Anything you can think of, you can build in Minecraft.
Minecraft can help teach your kids the fundamentals of programming, problem-solving, teamwork, and project management. And beyond those, it also offers a fantastic environment to foster creative thinking.
Besides Minecraft, there are other games like “Legend of Zelda” and “Bakugan: Defenders of the Core” that one can play to develop skills like problem-solving, decision-making, and teamwork.
Helps Them Socialize
Most people view video games as socially isolating. And though that has some truth to it, video games can also serve as an avenue for social activity.
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Video games can create a common ground for your kids to make friends and develop their own offline or online peer circles at a young age.
One research shows that children suffering from mild learning disabilities are more likely to use video games as a medium to make friends. And the overall ability to socialize carries over to their teenage years, say experts.
Read the Pew Research report here.
A Safe Space to Express Competitive Urges
Experts say that competition is a natural and healthy part of life. In fact, healthy competition is actually crucial for anyone working towards being the best version of themselves.
Although it’s important to encourage children to compete in the real world, many lack the physical and academic capacity to win. This can leave them feeling sad, resulting in low self-esteem and confidence.
Video games provide a safe space for those children to engage in a competition where they can excel. And this, in turn, can help them work towards their goals, solve their problems, and strive to improve.
Studies say that video games help children develop peripheral visual and spatial (visuospatial) skills.
A research study from Temple University says that children with excellent visual-spatial skills tend to be high achievers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
Besides visuospatial, video games also enhance their general visual-motor skills, which is an increased ability to track objects and visually search for something.
But There Are Adverse Effects Too
Although video games have some benefits, they can have devastating effects on a child’s physical, mental, psychological, and emotional well-being if not played in moderation.
According to the experts, anti-social tendencies and behaviors, violence, and increased aggressive thoughts and feelings are some of the problems that stem from prolonged video game sessions. Have a look.
May Encourage Violent Behavior
Research studies suggest that playing violent video games may produce higher levels of aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and aggressive behavior.
But not all games have these effects.
Take Minecraft, for example. The primary mission in this game is to build buildings and mine for stuff. Or take Microsoft Flight Simulator. This game allows you to fly planes in a realistic environment, doing precisely what a real-life pilot does.
So, whether or not a video game may cause violent behavior in your child completely depends on the kind of game they’re playing.
Unsurprisingly, playing video games for hours every day is linked to a sedentary lifestyle and problems like obesity.
Researchers examined some video game-related cases in 2018, and here’s what they found:
Person A was an 18-year-old obese male with a BMI of 37 kg/m2. He suffered bilateral pulmonary emboli (PE) and an associated right lower lobe infarction. The examiners found that “he had a very sedentary lifestyle, spending up to 12 consecutive hours playing video games per day. No other risk factors or significant family history were identified.”
Person B, a 15-year-old obese boy with a BMI of 50 kg/m2, was diagnosed with autoimmune hemolytic anemia. He was also suffering from Venous thromboembolism (VTE), also known as blood clots.
“Prior to his VTE, he endorsed a sedentary lifestyle, playing video games 4–12 hours/day. Due to his symptomatic anemia, his physical activity was further limited preceding the VTE.”
Besides these, there were two more cases with similar diagnoses reported in the study.
Poor Sleep Hygiene
Lack of sleep or sleep deprivation is a common phenomenon for gamers.
We all know that neglecting sleep every day will eventually carry over to other parts of your life. Lack of sleep causes you to lose focus which affects academic, professional, and other aspects of life.
Experts say that hours of gaming daily tend to result in less sleep. This is even worse if your child plays their game later at night or with gamers from different time zones.
Researchers have linked sleep deprivation to impaired memory, relationship stress, and low quality of life.
Cyberbullying is one of the major problems in the gaming scene. There are many multiplayer games where players can talk to each other. And although trash talking is a part of the play, sometimes it goes too far, causing an individual to fall into the depths of mental health problems and self-esteem issues.
Learn more about cyberbullying and how to prevent it in my post, “Cyberbullying: What It Is & How to Keep Your Kids Away from Cyberbullies.”
These are just four of the many problems that arise with unmoderated gaming. Studies say there are more, including:
- Physical health atrophy
- Poor concentration
- Heart problems
- Lack of motivation and dopamine addiction
- Depression and social anxiety
- Poor emotional regulation
- Suicidal thoughts and other comorbidities
WHO Recognizes Gaming Addiction as a Mental Disorder
The International Classification of Diseases (ICD), developed by the World Health Organization, reports pre-existing and new health diseases and medical conditions.
Researchers worldwide use the ICD to categorize medical conditions, and medical practitioners worldwide use it to diagnose them.
In 2018, WHO released the 11th revision to the ICD, or ICD-11, which recognized gaming addiction as a disorder.
“Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
Why Do People Become Addicted to Video Games?
Although video games provide an escape hatch for individuals to leave their real-world problems behind and immerse into the world of gaming, it’s not the only reason why people get addicted to video games.
Modern-day video games are built with several “hooks” that significantly turn casual gameplay into a full-fledged addiction. Here, have a look.
The High Score
Whether you’re playing the latest edition of Grand Theft Auto or haven’t touched a controller since PacMan, the completion percentage or high score is one of the most easily recognizable hooks for anyone.
Experts say that trying to beat high scores, even if it’s their own, can keep a player immersed in a video game for hours.
Beating Your Rival
We already talked about the competitive nature of humans. Multiplayer games offer a competitive arena where players can compete with their friends or other players from around the world.
Take battle royal games like Fortnite. A bus drops you on an island with 100 other players, and you have to be the last person standing.
A single game can last anywhere from a few minutes to 30 minutes. And because of the game’s competitive nature, it compels players to stay for several sessions, sometimes playing for hours.
You can be the master sword handler who kills giant monsters in the video game world, even if you run from puppies in the real one.
Role-playing is one of the many “hooks” of video games that cause players to spend hours completing missions with characters that can do things a real person couldn’t ever do.
Acceptance is primarily an online hook. When you play online role-playing games, you can build a deeper connection with people from around the world. Even if you don’t fit into the social cliques in real life, you can find communities that accept you and share similar circumstances as you.
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Individuals who suffer from a lack of social confidence or face bullying in the real world often find a safe haven in the less anxiety-provoking online world.
And finally, when you play video games, you feel a surge of dopamine release in your brain.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for the feeling of pleasure.
Video games are designed to give you continuous stimulation and excitement. And because of this, they can have a similar effect on your brain as drugs and other substances.
What Can You Do?
Gaming isn’t bad in itself. Like all things, too high a dose is what makes it bad for your child’s health. This means there are ways you can protect your child from gaming addiction and its consequences.
Here are some things you can do to ensure that your child gets the benefits of gaming and not the health problems that tag along.
The tips in the below sections are things that can help addicted gamers slowly resurface from their addiction. But, before doing anything else, I highly recommend getting them professional help if your child is suffering from this problem.
According to the American Addiction Centers, “Treatment for video game addiction focuses on behavioral modification therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), that guide the client away from the obsessive thought patterns and obsessive habits of addiction.”
Besides this, there are some more things you can do to ensure that your child’s passion for gaming doesn’t turn into an addiction.
Screen Time Limits
Setting up screen time limits is one of the best things you can do to protect your child from gaming addiction.
Because of these limits, they’ll have a lot of time to spend in the real world doing things that help their holistic development.
Learn more about screen time limits for children in my post, “How Limiting Kids’ Screen Time Helps Them Physically, Emotionally and Psychologically.”
A Gaming Fast
If you’re seeing signs of gaming addiction in your child, do not hesitate to pull the plug and initiate a gaming fast.
This can be 1-2 days or even an entire week. Make a decision at your discretion.
Doing this helps their brain detoxify from the effects of video games.
Once you feel that they’re doing better, you can give their games back with time limits.
If your child is young, you can also consider replacing their video games with offline toys designed to support holistic development in children.
I have a separate post that discusses this subject in-depth. So, give it a read.
Have The Talk
When you start adding these restrictions, your child will naturally ask you why you’re doing this. And your answer shouldn’t be “because I said so.”
If they can’t reason with your actions, their feelings can turn into anger. So, be sure to tell your child why you are doing this and explain the dangers of gaming addiction.
Gaming addiction is only one of the problems that’s been created by modern technology. There are more, and they can hurt you and your children physically, emotionally, psychologically, and mentally.
But we also can’t quit technology completely. Can we?
So, the best approach to this problem is to build a healthier relationship with technology. This way, you can enjoy the full benefits of modern tech without being subjected to the health risks that tag along.
Visit The Healthier Tech Podcast, where experts from different industries share tips on making your tech-use experience safer and healthier.