Everyone enjoys a good game, and most adults today remember the days of video arcades, even the first video game consoles that brought the joy of gaming to the living room. Thirty years ago, video games were almost inextricably linked to arcades, and no such condition as gaming addiction existed. However, with the massive population of video game consoles and a wide variety of genres for gamers of all ages, the likelihood of video games to be the subject of addiction is growing on a regular basis. As with addictions of all kinds, gaming addiction is likely the symptom of underlying issues and traumas that have not been addressed.
Along with all other behavioral addictions other than gambling, gaming addiction is not listed in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), and may seem to be no more than an excuse to play games for some people. However, the effects of gaming addiction cause devastation and unmanageability in the lives of addicts, just as with any other behavioral addiction.
Gaming addiction is not limited to teenagers and children, as many adults also isolate themselves to engage in compulsive gaming. With such a wide variety of game genres, there is something for gamers of every age. In fact, all video games come with an ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) rating to categorize the appropriateness of each game for a target audience. These ratings are as follows:
|C||Early Childhood – Content is intended for young children|
|E||Everyone – Content is generally appropriate for all ages and may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence, and use of mild language|
|E 10+||Everyone 10+ – Content is generally suitable for everyone aged 10 and up, and may contain more instances of a cartoon, fantasy, mild language and minimal suggestive themes|
|T||Teen– Content is appropriate for teenagers 13 and older. A game may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and infrequent use of strong language|
|M||Mature – Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up, and may contain intense violence, blood, and gore, sexual content, and strong language|
|A||Adults Only– Content is suitable for 18 and older and may include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content, and gambling with real currency|
These ratings have been assigned to all games in an attempt to keep inappropriate material from gamers who are considered to be too young for it, much like the purpose for movie ratings. However useful game ratings may be, the appropriateness of games for specific age groups does not seem to be the cause of gaming addiction.
What Causes Gaming Addiction?
Like all behavioral addictions, gaming addiction is considered to be an impulse control disorder and characterized by a person’s obsession with video game play. For most who become gaming addicts, the problem often begins in elementary or middle school. For others, gaming addiction can come later in life. Consistent with behavioral addiction, it is not generally the first experience with a particular behavior that initiates an addiction, but rather underlying problems with the individual that prompt a need for escapism through the behavior. In other words, the compulsive gaming is not the problem, rather a symptom of the problem within the individual addicted to it.
An important aspect of gaming addiction is the fact that video games are designed to be addictive in the sense that they are intended to be fun, hold a gamer’s interest, and compel continuation of the game. This does not make games addictive in the clinical sense as to invoke dependence, but rather to make a gamer not want to stop playing. There are several ways in which this is accomplished in modern games:
- Contrary to early games, such as those in arcades, games now are open-ended, meaning one can pick up where he or she left off, and continue to play from a previous checkpoint, versus having to start over when the allotted number of “lives” have been spent.
- Since early video games, the allure of topping a previous high score is among the simplest and most common methods of drawing gamers in.
- Like the challenge of beating a high score, beating the game itself is another compelling feature of video games. As gamers go from one level to the next, encounter increasingly difficult challenges, and achieve accomplishments and more rewards within the game, the allure to keep going for the ultimate victory gets stronger.
- Role-playing games allow gamers to create a character who goes through a series of relationships, challenges, and adventures. In this fantasy world, gamers can develop an attachment with their avatar (the character in the game), as they guide it through the various stages of the game.
- The discovery aspect of many role-playing games is particularly attractive for many gamers. Gamers can explore fantasy worlds while discovering various objects, powers, characters, and phenomenon along the way. This thrill of discovery can strongly compel the gamer to continue playing and exploring.
- In massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), gamers create a character (or avatar) and meet throughout the game, which has no end. Essentially, gamers of this genre of the game recreate themselves in the form of an avatar, and wander through a virtual world, either fantasy or a simulation of real life. In this process, they develop relationships with other people (their avatars), which for many people with social issues and insecurities, can be their only sense of social acceptance.
While game designers intend to create games that have these addictive qualities, it is not the game that creates a gaming addict any more than sex creates a sexual addict. Many people play all kinds of video games recreationally and are perfectly capable of turning it off when it’s time to go to bed or address obligations to work, school, hygiene, health, friends, and family.
The key to gaming addiction, as with most any other addiction, is a closer look at the individual suffering from it. With gaming addiction affecting so many people from preteens to adults with families and careers, significant implications are surrounding the environment, temperament, and mental health of those who may be susceptible. While there is no one single cause for gaming addiction, there are several factors that may classify one to be “at risk.”
Psychological and emotional turmoil is often at the root of all addictions. When someone has suffered or is suffering from intense pain, angst, discomfort, or anger, gaming can be a quick and easy way to escape the reality of his or her problem. For younger people, the desire to escape can be extremely problematic, as their coping skills are underdeveloped as a result of their age and lack of experience in life.
Poor Communication and Social Skills
Communication and socialization are at the heart of any relationship and an essential part of human survival. Especially for preteens and teenagers in school, the inability to socialize, have friendships, and engage in group activities can make gaming particularly alluring, and addictive.
When an individual suffers from low self-esteem, it can often lead to isolating behaviors, and there are few more isolating than gaming from the privacy of one’s own home. Role-playing games are especially inviting for those with low self-esteem because, in a sense, they can recreate themselves in the game as they may wish to be in real life. Especially for younger people who lack real-life relationships, gaming can be a dangerous alternate reality.
Many people with mental health disorders are incredibly vulnerable to addiction, as a way to self-medicate for relief from the symptoms of their disorder. Some of the more common disorders that are associated with gaming addiction are anxiety, depression, and personality disorders. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is suspected to be linked to higher risks of gaming addiction.
Poor Role Models at Home
Environment plays a significant role in determining the risk for addiction. Those who grow up in families where addiction is present, regardless of the type of addiction, are more likely to become isolated and fall into addiction themselves. Some studies have shown a connection between overly authoritative parents and gaming addiction.
Availability of Gaming
People who have constant access to gaming, especially children who are not limited in the time allowed for it, the potential for addiction to develop is drastically increased. Often the availability of gaming is a result of poor time management and planning.
Signs and Symptoms of Gaming Addiction
While any person can develop an addiction to gaming for a multitude of reasons, there is significant dysfunction associated with gaming addiction that affects all those around the addict and is usually evident as the addiction progresses. Like all addictions, when an individual becomes dependent on a substance or behavior and engages in it compulsively, all else is neglected. This leads to increasing isolation of the addict and more destructive behavioral patterns without social interaction.
Some of the signs of gaming addiction are consistent throughout all addictions, both of substances and behaviors. Other signs can strongly resemble those of other addictions, and the reason for this is because all of these conditions are an addiction. The most significant difference between a set of signs from one addiction to the other is the subject of said addiction, and not necessarily the identifiable behavior.
Since gaming addiction affects just as many, if not more, teenagers and preteens as it does adults, the signs of youth gaming addiction will have a slight variation from those of adult addicts. See the chart below for the signs of gaming addiction for youths and adults.
|Signs of Addiction for Youths||Signs of Addiction for Adults|
|Preoccupation with the game and continually talking about the game when not engaging with it.||Thinking obsessively about playing the game when doing other things.|
|A justification for gaming by claiming a “need” to play or be online||Lying about the amount of time spent gaming.|
|Inability to stop, or control the amount of time spent gaming. Also, spending more time gaming than initially intended.||Spending increasingly more time to get the same levels of enjoyment from gaming.|
|Neglect of responsibilities such as a failure to study or do homework to continue to play games leads to poor performance in school.||Abandonment of responsibilities and obligations to work, family, health, and finances over compulsive gaming.|
|Avoidance of confrontations, disappointment, or discomfort by hiding in gameplay.||Shame or embarrassment about time spent gaming. May become secretive about the activity.|
|Defensiveness, when confronted about the extent of gaming, can often result in fits of rage and uncontrollable anger.||Spending abnormal amounts of money on computer upgrades and gaming consoles.|
The unmanageability of gaming addiction is apparent to those around both teenage and adult addicts and only gets worse as the addiction progresses. In very rare and extreme cases of gaming addictions, lives of gamers have been lost due to exhaustion and malnutrition, and children have suffered from severe child neglect as a result of multiple-day gaming binges.
Gaming Addiction is a Serious Disorder
While many people may not think to take gaming seriously as a dangerous behavior, for those addicted to it, gaming can take over every aspect of life. Like any addict, if a person addicted to gaming does not receive the proper help to address the issues that led to the addiction, nothing will improve. Classified as progressive, addictions do not get better independent of professional help.
Fortunately, there is help for gaming addiction. Understanding that underlying issues, environmental factors, and difficulties in life can be major contributors to addiction allows effective addiction treatment to focus on the individual suffering from addiction, and get help to resolve the issues that cause and exacerbate addiction.
At A Forever Recovery, we know how hard it is to live with addiction, and we work on an open-ended basis to treat each person’s mind, body and spirit to empower him or her to overcome addiction, sadness, and despair.
If you or a loved one are suffering from gaming addiction, call us now to speak with a trained counselor about developing an individualized treatment plan to address the underlying issues behind the addiction, and develop awareness and empowerment to live a healthy and happy life free from addiction. Don’t wait. Call now!