Showing posts tagged psychology
•Dishonesty about time spent playing
•Anxiety, anger or when gaming is interrupted
•Thinking about gaming even when not playing
•Over or under-sleeping
•Serious neglect of health.
Are you playing computer, console or mobile games more than you would like? Finding it difficult to stop, and feeling angry, anxious or unhappy when you do? Neglecting other parts of your life in order to game? Then you might be experiencing what clinicians are increasingly referring to as problematic gaming, or gaming addiction.
Although for most people gaming is a harmless and enjoyable past-time, for some of us it can become a focus for an addictive psychological process that can lead to damaged relationships, financial difficulties, problems sleeping, and at the extreme end of things, serious health complications or death.
If this sounds like you, then read on, or get in touch with a clinician experienced with treating addictions.
You may also be able to get help through the the Salvation Army’s addiction services.
Further information is also available on the Net Addiction NZ website.
Gaming can become an addiction
Writing an article on computer game addiction feels like stepping into a minefield of sorts. Gaming has at times been sensationally villainised in popular press, blamed for everything from increased rates of autism and ADHD through to school shootings and cases of severe child abuse. At other times, it’s dismissed as a ludicrous over-medicalisation of what critics see as a harmless and ultimately trivial pastime. So perhaps a good place to start is to make two things clear right at the beginning: gaming can be a fantastic, creative, engaging and highly enjoyable hobby; and computer games can become a destructive and obsessive compulsion for a small but significant minority of players.
Some statistics and research on gaming addiction
The numbers alone make this clear. Within New Zealand, about 95% of people aged 13-25 play video games to some extent (according to recent IGEA reports), and the numbers don’t change a lot when you look at older populations.
The majority of these gamers play games for one to two hours at a time, every day or every second day. So it’s clearly a popular hobby, but it’s hardly a problem for the majority. However, around 3% of women and 6% of men play games for more than four hours every day, and about 2% of New Zealanders play games for six or more hours every day. It’s not sufficient to say that the amount of time spent playing is an indicator of addiction on its own, but it’s hard to imagine that many people could spend six hours playing games every day without it adversely affecting their life in some way.
Studies conducted around the world have indicated that as many as 10% of gamers may play games in ways that negatively impact on other areas of their life, with 3-5% exhibiting behaviours that could be categorised as addiction: experiencing anxiety or anger when not playing, lying and manipulating others in order to play more games, damaging relationships with friends, family or partners in order to game, or missing work or losing their jobs over their gaming habits.
What gaming addiction might look like
American psychiatrist Lance Dodes has spent 20 years working in addiction trying to uncover the psychological roots of addictive behaviours, and makes one important point that I think is highly relevant to gaming addiction: the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviour is in the why. Do you play games in order to escape difficult feelings? In order to get a sense of belonging and being valued by others that is missing in the rest of your life? In order to feel potent or powerful, when in the rest of your life you feel lost and confused? If so, then it might be time to think about what role gaming is playing in your life and whether it’s something you want to change.
On the other hand, if you play games because it’s a hell of a lot of fun and a good way to blow off some steam after a hard day at work, or as a way to catch up with friends in other parts of the world, or simply to enjoy yourself, then you probably have nothing to worry about.
Games can provide us with a way to feel in control, to feel connected with and needed by others, to feel exhilarated and satisfied when we win or overcome difficult challenges, and to feel engaged and intrigued in a compelling narrative. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, until it becomes our only way to experience those things. At that point, gaming can become less of something that we do out of choice, and more something that we feel compelled to do in order to meet these psychological needs.
At the extreme, this can lead to the kind of horror stories we see from time to time in the paper, of gamers dying from exhaustion after 72-hour marathon sessions, or parents letting their children starve to death while they focus on raising a virtual baby in some game.
The Future for gaming addiction globally
We only need to look to South Korea to see the future of gaming in the rest of the world. Considered to be the most connected country in the world, South Korea also has some of the highest rates of gaming addiction to the point that it has become recognised as a national problem. The country now has passed legislation requiring gaming cafes to establish curfews, and there are over 100 government funded treatment centres for gaming addiction within the country. This is our future, and we need to be prepared to address it – not by sensationalising and demonising gaming, but by having informed and thoughtful discussions about the real psychological impacts and consequences of our habits and behaviours.
If you or someone you care about are concerned about the way in which you are gaming:
•Visit the Net Addiction NZ website ( http://www.netaddiction.co.nz ) for further information and resources, or
•Check out online communities focused on overcoming gaming addiction such as: ◦Online Gamers Anonymous (OLG-Anon) or
◦Stop Gaming on Reddit
Thanks to James Driver for allowing us to use this article. James is a registered psychotherapist and founder of Net Addiction NZ. He has worked for a number of years in the addictions field including working with gaming addicts, and is currently completing a dissertation researching the experiences of people who have sought treatment for problematic gaming or gaming addiction.
Published: 13 May 2014