video game addiction

Game Over: The Truth About Video Game Addiction

As a race, we’re no longer the cave-dwelling, spear-hunting people that we were hundreds and thousands of years ago. Over the course of our existence, we’ve developed the sciences, arithmetic, medicine, and countless inventions and innovations that were intended to make us healthier, more efficient, to live longer, to entertain us, and so on. On the one hand, we live in a much simpler time now: We wake up on a Saturday morning, take our time getting out of bed, maybe take a shower or maybe not, head to the fridge to pop breakfast into the microwave and get the coffee pot going. Long gone are the days when each day meant fighting for survival.

On the other hand, we’ve also complicated our lives with our inventions and innovations. Cell phones make it impossible to disconnect from a network of constant communication, interrupting our schooling, business meetings, and sleep. There’s also a television with more channels than days in the year several times over and our computers have been distilled to just a screen that we hold in our hands and control with the touch of a finger. Inside our devices and gadgetry, a complicated web of interconnected components ensures that the electricity these devices used is converted into the text messages we read and the games we play. If we could travel back in time—which, surely, is only a matter of time—and give our hunting-and-gathering ancestors an iPhone, they would likely see that it can’t be eaten, can’t be used as a weapon for hunting, and would likely determine that it was useless.

Interestingly, as we’ve complicated our lives with a variety of overstimulation, we’ve likewise complicated many aspects of the human condition. In particular, as a race we now suffer from countless more ailments than our distant ancestors ever did. It’s difficult to allow yourself to succumb to depression or to have body dysmorphic disorder when you’re thrilled at the end of the day simply to have not been eaten by a tiger or trampled by a mammoth.

However, today we suffer from a variety of psychological and emotional disorders, too many to name here, but one of which includes addiction, which is typically considered a substance abuse disorder. While addiction most often takes the form of physical dependence on alcohol or drugs, it’s becoming increasing common for individual to develop behavioral addictions, such as food addiction, gambling addiction, and video game addiction.

What is Video Game Addiction?

Similar to addiction to alcohol and drugs, video game addiction is characterized by individuals feeling a compulsive, obsessive need to play video games. While this might initially sound a bit extreme in reference to adolescents’ fondness for and overuse of video games, an addiction to video games occurs when gaming has begun to take over the individual’s life, making it difficult or impossible to refrain from playing video games whenever there is an opportunity to play video games. Despite not being fully recognized as a diagnosable disorder, video game addiction is more and more frequently considered an impulse control disorder similar to sex addiction, food addiction, and exercise addiction.

Video games have something very specific in common with drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and exercise: They are fun to do. They are fun because they release certain chemicals and hormones in our body, such as adrenaline and dopamine.  We notice that we feel excited when we play video games, so we do it more and more often until it soon becomes a problem. According to the American Psychological Association there are nine components of video game addiction, which are summarized as:

  1. Obsessing about video games even when you’re not playing.
  2. Feeling restless, bored, angry or anxious when you’re not playing.
  3. Do you need to play longer or more frequently to get as excited as you used to?
  4. Have you ever tried to reduce or stop the time you spend playing?
  5. Have you lost interest in other activities due to gaming?
  6. Do you continue to play even after experiencing negative consequences?
  7. Have you ever lied about playing video games?
  8. Do you play video games to cope with thoughts, feelings, and personal problems?
  9. Have you lost or do you risk losing things, such as relationships and opportunities, because of video games?

A Substitute for Reality

Individuals who suffer from this addiction will often prefer multiplayer games that are played over the internet, which includes massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and the somewhat different multi-user domain games (MUDs). The former, MMORPGs, consist of sometimes vast networks of numerous users who play together and interact—frequently while using headsets, which allow them to speak to each other verbally while playing the video game—in order to either compete against one another or to work together to complete missions and achieve goals.

By contrast, MUDs typically take place in a chat-like environment with minimal or no graphics, requiring the participants to verbally describe their actions in order for the game to progress. In both MMORPGs and MUDs, video game addicts are using the fantasy world of the video game as a substitute for real-life interaction, connecting with others almost solely through video games. It’s not uncommon for video game addicts to form strong emotional attachments to the individuals with whom they play games, who could be living anywhere in the world and are still, more or less, strangers.

Unfortunately, video game designers make video games in such a way as to encourage individuals to continue playing the games long-term. Especially for those games that have turned into series like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, game designers want individuals to become loyal to a game so that they’ll continue to play future installments, which makes the game companies much more money. The goal for each game is to make it just challenging enough to entice the individual to continue playing in order to beat it, but not so challenging that the game seems unbeatable and the individual gives up. In short, beating the game always feels just the tiniest bit out of the player’s grasp, which makes video game addiction very similar to gambling addiction.

Due to the tendency for video game addicts to use the virtual reality of video games as a substitution for real-life, most video game addicts will strongly prefer multiplayer games over single-player games as it provides them with a means of meeting and socializing with others without having to do so in person. The strong attachment that video game addicts form with other players is often used to justify the amount of time they spend playing video games, explaining that if they refrain from playing it will let their co-players down or disappoint them.

Recover From Addiction Today

According to statistics, males are more likely to develop an addiction to video games than females. Additionally, video game addiction is most commonly seen in adolescents, pre-teens, and teens with approximately 10 percent of gamers between the ages of 8 and 18 having an impulse control disorder attributable to video game addiction, making it a very significant threat to school-aged children.

If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction to video games, or even to alcohol or drugs, Drug Treatment Center Finder can help. Our specialists are standing by to help addicts find the programs that will deliver them to lives of health, productivity, and fulfillment. Don’t wait; call us today.

  1. I concur with Dennis and Scott that adoictidn is a chronic condition. Assuming I worked at a public treatment center there are several things I would do to further the work of aligning this belief to what is actually practiced in our profession. Direct work with clients and families would include the education piece about how adoictidn is like having cancer, not like having a really bad case of the measles. Framing the issue of chronic vs. acute this way is crucial to helping all involved take the long view of success. Group work with a mixed-stage set of clients over an extended number of sessions as in Weegmann and English, skyped or cell phone based assertive continuing care, in-person quarterly RMC’s, would all be woven into my practice (assuming my agency was supportive). Much systemic work is needed to spread this vital reframing of adoictidn as a chronic condition. From an education standpoint, this concept and practice is not a hard shift to sell, but many of these shifts will cost money. When it comes down to dollars that is a different story. From all levels within the agency, to community, state and federal funding sources both education and advocacy is necessary. I am ready to sign up for the sustained push that is required for progress to be made. Taking these sytemic changes even further into the very critical need for overall change in our nation’s adoictidn treatment and aftercare structure. Toward that end I agree with McClellan and Meyers and say increases in funding support are needed to implement best practices in treating adults, adolescents, those who are dually diagnosed and incarcerated.

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