15 warning signs of gaming addiction
“I can stop whenever I want to,” you’ll say.
“ I just don’t want to. It can’t be gaming addiction!”
But do you secretly worry if your frequent passionate engagement with a video-game has become compulsive? The boundary is unclear, but it always happens well before a person is aware of it. “It is harmless,” you argue. “I’ll hit the books after just fifteen minutes more, so that I can see what’s going on.” Then it turns into an all-nighter that ends in exhaustion. Parents and partners warn, bribe and threaten, but the pull of the game is stronger. Then come the adverse consequences: loss of time, sliding performance in school or at work, social isolation, mood changes (See My child plays aggressive video games all the time. Is this an addiction? and What makes a video game an addiction trap?).
Some are drawn so deep into the virtual world, that for them it seems more real than the actual world they live in. They get all their emotional needs met in their virtual relationships, and abandon the relationships and tasks of their real lives. Of course, that would be impossible, were it not for the enablers – parents or partners, who provide for them in the actual world, making it possible for them to escape into their illusive fantasy (that part will be covered in a blog about codependency).
While most people who play video games do not exhibit issues as a result of their gaming, some experts suggest that around 10 to 12 percent of gamers can be considered addicts, spending ten hours a day on the hobby. Statistics from a study that appeared in the medical journal Pediatrics revealed Americans spend an average of twenty hours per week playing video games, and members of an estimated 72 percent of all American households play video games. Of these people, 9 percent show signs of video game addiction, and 4 percent were extreme users who played video games an average of fifty hours per week. But are these games innocent—or a dangerous trap?
Video game addiction, or gaming disorder, is a behavioral addiction characterized by a person’s excessive and compulsive use of computer or video games—so much so that it interferes with everyday life. The condition presents itself as compulsive gaming, inability to stop gaming despite harmful consequences, social isolation, mood swings, diminished imagination, and hyperfocus on in-game achievements, to the exclusion of real-life events.
Test yourself. Are you:
Obsessively playing video games at the expense of other important activities (e.g., school, work, dating, friends, family, etc.).
Losing track of time while playing video games, or playing longer than you originally intended.
Spending a lot of time thinking about video games, even when you are not playing them (e.g., reliving past experiences and/or planning your next game session).
Needing to play longer to achieve the same level of satisfaction you originally did.
Seeking ever more stimulating (i.e., exciting, new, or more challenging) video games, or using more powerful equipment, to achieve the same level of satisfaction.
Feeling restless, moody, angry, anxious, bored, sad, or irritable when you attempt or are forced to cut down on the time you spend playing video games, or when you are unable to play.
Playing video games as a way to escape or forget about personal problems or reduce negative feelings (e.g., boredom, frustration, anxiety, anger, shame, depression, etc.).
Lying to family members, therapists, or others to hide the extent of your gaming.
Committing illegal or maladaptive acts related to the use of video games.
Losing work, educational opportunities, and/or relationships as a direct or indirect result of playing video games.
Performing poorly in school as a direct or indirect result of playing video games.
Experiencing health problems as a direct or indirect result of playing video games, and continuing to game despite these problems.
Feeling intense anger if parents or friends take away your computer, tablet, smartphone, or gaming console.
Neglecting sleep or recreational activities, such as hobbies you previously enjoyed or meeting with friends, to play video games.
Getting angry at and insulting players who play poorly or make mistakes while playing a video game.
It’s not only the time that is lost, although it’s your life, not just any time! What makes the difference between a pastime and addiction is the emotional involvement of the player. The most addictive games often imitate the real world and place the player in the role of a hero who fights epic battles between good and evil, offering ever greater rewards in the form of more power, greater reputation, and apparent social acceptance as players are encouraged to form groups and clans whose members value solidarity, hierarchy, and respect. Games also offer an outlet for releasing aggression, as many games are based on some kind of warfare.
For someone who is unsatisfied and feels incompetent and lonely in his real life, the virtual world offers escape, denial and numbing of the bad feelings about themselves, replacing them with easily achievable virtual rewards. Real or imagined, these rewards stimulate the reward circuits in the player’s brain and after a while, the vicious cycle called the addiction system develops in the brain ( See Is it true that addicts cannot just stop their using?). That’s when the disease of addiction has been formed and, try as they might, the players can’t stop playing or obsessing about the play, even if they wanted to.
Sanja Rozman is a medical doctor, psychotherapist and author of 8 books on behavioral addictions.
Read more in her book Serenity: How to Recognize, Understand, and Recover from Behavioral Addictions
that is about to be published by Brandylane Publishers Inc., Belle Isle Books.