The emergence and popularity of gaming
Some twenty years ago, the first videogames have gained popularity and have increasingly become a way of spending leisure time for many people, especially the young. They have become increasingly popular and complex, especially with the emergence of 3D techniques and virtual reality. Over time, however, people began to notice that, for some players, the attraction was turning into an obsession. They began to lose control over the amount of time they were spending in virtual worlds, with negative consequences accumulating in their real personal lives. If, despite the harmful consequences, these people were unable to stop gambling, they met the criteria for addiction.
As of 2018, the World Health Organization also recognizes that video game addiction is a disease that can cause serious problems in at least one major area of life (psychological, physical, mental, and psychological health).
Can it be an addiction?
Parents today are becoming increasingly concerned as they see young people spending more and more of their free time playing video games and less time socializing in the real world. Limiting their playtime and forcing them to take on school and other responsibilities does not work, it generates serious conflicts, similar to those in families with addicted members. Especially young, socially underachieving boys who are skilled at playing video games and can gain validation and even fame in the virtual world are particularly vulnerable to addiction.
Over time, the virtual world can become more important to them than the real one. They become obsessed with gaming, spending more and more time on it at the expense of other activities, slowly slipping into social isolation, neglecting real-world friendships, school, work, and family commitments, and developing physical consequences such as lower back pain, eye and joint inflammation in the hand that operates the mouse. The psychological consequences are also slowly intensifying as players become more and more engaged in the virtual world and become impatient, aggressive, or neglectful towards their friends, and family. The diagnosis of an addiction is warranted, when they are aware of the negative consequences, but are unable to stop or curtail their playing.
The consequences of video game addiction
Wasting time comes at the expense of important developmental tasks that a young person should master: to establish oneself in the company of peers, to succeed in education, to develop a positive sense of self-worth, and to begin to find one's place in the world. In addition, there are also emotional problems. Violent video games can become a valve for expressing intolerance, aggression, and rage at other people.
Video game addiction causes severe psychological, physical, social, and work-related problems. Even should we ignore the huge loss of time that young players would better spend playing sports or meeting friends, gaming is problematic because of the impact on their developing brains. The human brain does not fully develop until the age of 20 and is particularly vulnerable to addictions around 17, so it is difficult to replace losses later.
How do you recognize gaming addiction?
As with all addictions, the bar is not set solely based on time wasted and other objective measures. Addiction is characterized by changes in behavior and experience that are more difficult to define:
Obsessive thinking about the game, even while you're not playing.
The inability to stop in time.
Continuing playing in inappropriate circumstances and despite serious harm (e. g. failure at school).
An escalation of the time that is being wasted.
Restlessness and emotional upset if prevented from playing, craving.
Lying and hiding it.
Repetition of activities that change brain chemistry and bring relief from unpleasant feelings leads to brain changes that become more entrenched over time. The need to repeat this activity becomes constant. There is a characteristic craving to keep repeating the activity; a desire that is stronger than ordinary desire and that has the characteristic of a need.
What should parents do when they see their child is addicted?
It would be much better to take action before a real addiction develops. Unfortunately, parents are usually too busy deluding themselves that it's not that bad because they feel powerless to influence their teenager. The children try to hide the true extent of their play, make excuses, lie, and can be violent when parents try to set limits.
How do I stop my child from playing games if he becomes aggressive?
The aggressive reaction of a player, when you try to restrict their access to the game, is a clear sign of addiction. This means that the best time to take action is lost. Before that, it would have been possible to discuss and reason with the child to teach him or her to limit the activity, and that this is in their best interest. Before the real addiction, strikes and we are rather faced with problematic gaming, various NGOs working on education and awareness-raising programs can be of great help. But where addiction has already developed, professional help will be needed.
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.