Video games are among the most profitable and widespread forms of entertainment. Most games offer an escape from reality and allow the player to experience new and impossible experiences.
As the ubiquity of video games increases, more and more of the population is exposed. Unfortunately, this may result in the development of a video game addiction. Video game addiction is a relatively new problem that is overlooked by modern medicine, but may be as dangerous as other, more illicit, addictions.
What Is Gaming Addiction?
Simply playing a video game once in a while does not constitute a gaming addiction. Rather a gaming addiction is an obsession with playing video games. Most gaming addicts start playing in elementary and middle school, Kansas State University explains. As the addict ages, he or she graduates from simple games to more elaborate games. These elaborate games often take hours or days to complete. Addiction occurs when the video game playing is used as the main method to improve mood.
Abuse of video games is associated with a decrease in work or school output, disruptions in personal relationships, and the need to play games in order to feel good.
Gaming addiction is not present in gamers who do not suffer some form of social or psychological harm from their video game playing. If someone is able to function normally while playing a lot of games, they are not considered a gaming addict.
As video games increase in complexity, they are able to saturate the player in a variety of different locations, settings and worlds. These advanced games draw the player into the “world of the game.” Gamers are more able to relate to well-rounded protagonists that give the player the illusion of acting within the game. Addicts often relate that they experience a powerful sense of control associated with the speed, realism and new morals found within the fantasy gaming world.
In some cases, especially in long or continuing games, players use their character as a replacement persona. They see the character as an extension of themselves. The longer the game is played, the more the game replaces reality. Successes in the game replace successes in work or school.
Characteristics of Gaming Addiction
Some people may not believe that a gaming addiction is similar to other addictions, such as illicit drug addiction. However, gaming addicts share characteristics with people addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Powerful indulgence and shame. Gaming addicts experience more pleasure from playing games than from almost anything else in life. Their psyche has been programmed to only experience pleasure while playing video games. Addicts experience a sense of pleasure and elation, similar to a drug “high,” while playing games. Moreover, like other addicts, gamer addicts suffer from shame or guilt due to the amount of time they spend playing while other responsibilities are left unattended.
Rage and melancholy. An addiction to gaming causes the gamer to feel alone or depressed when not playing video games. Gaming addicts often become irritable and openly angry when something interrupts their gaming time.
Obsession. Most addicts obsess over their drug of choice, and gaming addicts experience a similar compulsion. When not playing, addicts will constantly think about gaming and will want to play the game for longer periods of time.
Dishonesty. Gaming addicts constantly lie about their addiction. They will often lie about the time they have spent gaming and about how much money they spend on their gaming addiction. Compulsive lies are the addict’s way of protecting the activity that grants him or her so much pleasure.
Personal neglect. Severe gaming addiction forces the addict to ignore studies, hygiene, sleep and social relationships. Instead of attending to personal priorities, gaming addicts will continue to play video games.
Dependency. Often gamers are unable to control their addiction. For example, a gaming addict, after deciding to play for only an hour, will actually play for two or more hours and may even play all night. They do this because they experience a high while playing and a low when not playing. The only “cure” for the low is to play more video games. This vicious cycle is similar to those found in many other addictions.
Effects on the Brain
One of the most common misconceptions about gaming addiction is that it does not cause any physical changes to the brain, like other drugs do. Narcotics and other abused substances cause a change in brain configuration, which makes them highly addictive. Most commonly, these drugs affect dopamine (a neurotransmitter) receptors. Dopamine is in charge of regulating the brain’s pleasure center and thus reinforces the drug use.
According to an article in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, video game addiction causes morphological changes in the brain similar to the changes seen in long-term drug addicts. More specifically, gaming addicts had changes in their dopamine-2 or D2 receptors. Normally, these receptors help modulate the pleasure center, but their function was changed by chronic gaming. Ecstasy users experienced similar changes when taking their drug of choice.
Gamer addicts only experience normal dopamine levels when playing video games. Other activities do not cause an elevation in dopamine levels and are therefore less pleasurable to the addict. This is why most addicts continue to play video games despite the obvious adverse effects excessive gaming causes.
Signs and Symptoms
A gaming addiction is often difficult to diagnosis. Some gaming addicts are able to function adequately despite their addiction. They are suffering some psychological changes but are able to cover up their addiction. In time, however, all gaming addicts will begin to show signs of their addiction. A thorough evaluation that looks for specific signs may help in the diagnosis of gaming addiction.
Gaming addicts often develop a noticeable change in attitude. They will show a lack of interest in attending class or work. They may become nervous and anxious when not playing. Often they become angry and belligerent when they are unable to play as long as they would like. Addicts will lie and become increasingly uncomfortable when asked about their gaming habits.
As the addict becomes obsessed with a video game, he or she may begin to look disheveled and unkempt. They may ignore personal hygiene and often forget to bathe or brush their teeth. They may forget to sleep, which can lead to red eyes or eye bags. Gaming addicts often sit in bad positions for extended periods, which can hurt their backs, and they may experience carpal tunnel syndrome due to extensive manipulation of the gaming controls.
Gaming addiction often leads to a decrease in academic or workplace performance. Addicts may have numerous instances of showing up late or completely missing class or work. They may miss deadlines or submit incomplete assignments. They may often sleep in class or on the job. To alleviate their guilt over the poor performance, they may argue with teachers or superiors. Often they are failing class or under workplace censure. In most cases, gaming addicts have a hard time holding down a job.
A recent study in Science Daily reports that gaming addiction is increasing all over the world.
Youth gamers make up the majority of gaming addicts. In the United States, 8.5 percent of youths are addicted to gaming. Rates are similar in Singapore, Australia and Taiwan. China and Germany have the highest rates of gaming addiction.
Worldwide, the rate of gaming addiction ranges from seven to 11 percent. Most of these addicts show some form of behavioral problems caused by playing video games. Most gaming addicts experience problems in multiple areas of their lives. In fact, a true gaming addict will have problems in one or more of the following areas: school, work, social relationships, psychological functioning or family stability.
Gaming addicts are often reluctant to acknowledge their addiction. In addition, society sometimes does not truly identify gaming addiction as a real problem. However, research shows that gaming addiction is an extensive disease that adversely affects the gamer as well as those around him or her.
An addiction to gaming requires treatment similar to treatment for drug abuse. However, in the case of gaming addiction, the focus is not on detoxification, but rather on instituting behavioral changes. This requires professional therapy and guidance.
Most gamers will not want to seek treatment. An intervention may be used to help them face their addiction. Friends, relatives and respected associates can come together to share any adverse effects they believe gaming is having on the addict. The best way to conduct an intervention is to use a professional interventionist who is trained in organizing and running an intervention. Staging an impromptu intervention is usually unsuccessful and can damage the relationships between the addict and the intervention team members.
Using a professional interventionist diminishes the risk of failure and provides an excellent opportunity to help the addict begin the treatment process.