Online Computer Game and Video Game Addictions

 

Computer games–sometimes children just can’t seem to get enough of them. But could this fascination with each new, eye-catching, and highly detailed game become a problem or even a serious addiction for our children?

Video and computer games have only been around for the past three decades, and much research is still needed to understand all the implications for child and adult health and wellbeing. Sensational stories, such as a 28-year-old man in South Korea who died after attempting to play the game StarCraft for 50 hours straight in an internet café, as well as the experiences of many concerned parents, have pushed researchers to learn whether video game play and online gaming can develop into a diagnosable addiction.

The jury is still out on whether professionals will define video game addiction as a “real” addiction, on the same level as addictions to drugs, alcohol, and gambling. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- 5th edition (DSM- 5) includes “internet gaming disorder” in the appendix, but says that it is a “condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it” can be included as a formal disorder.

But to parents and spouses of those who display addiction-related symptoms in relation to video/online games, there is often no question that an addiction has taken hold of their loved one.

In particular, online games that are Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG’s), such as World of War Craft and EverQuest, can lead to addiction and other issues because of their virtual social network quality. “Compared to players of arcade, console, or offline computer games, Smyth (2007) reported that those who play MMORPGs excessively have worse health, worse sleep quality, greater difficulty in socializing in real-life, and worse academic performance” (Berenuy, et. al, 2013).

The official diagnostic symptoms for gambling addictions are often used as a basis for defining the symptoms of internet gaming addiction, as gambling is a non-substance addiction, built on behaviors that influence chemical release patterns in the brain.

Symptoms given by those that define internet addiction, and those who describe themselves as having been addicted, include:

  • Tolerance- needing increasing amounts of time spent on gaming to maintain the desired emotional effect.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop or take an extended break.  
  • Withdrawal symptoms that include a change in typical personality, such as anger, aggression, and possibly violence. Moodiness and irritability if unable to play.
  • Repeated use of games to escape from stress, loneliness, family problems, depression, low self-esteem, etc.
  • Neglecting to sleep, eat, or take care of one’s basic needs in order to play a game.
  • Threatened or lost relationships, job, or educational opportunities because of the drive to play online or video games.
  • Lying to therapists or family members to hide game play or to be able to play more,
  • Spending excessive money on online games, stealing money to spend on games.
  • Preoccupation with video games or online games for much of the day, when not playing them.

It is important to recognize that playing video games a lot and being highly invested in them is different from being addicted. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction here.

Many parents have reached out for help to professional therapists and support groups because of a child whose life seems to have been completely lost to electronic games. Supportive resources for individuals dealing with a gaming addiction and their family and loved ones include:

  • Online-Gamers Anonymous®, a non-profit organization created by a mother, whose son committed suicide as a direct result from an online game addiction. Online forums are available for parents, those seeking recovery, and professionals.
  • The Center for Internet Addiction– created by psychologist, Dr. Kimberly Young who has spent over 20 years researching internet addiction, and is the author of several articles and books about internet addiction.

Excessive time spent on the internet or playing video games is not healthy for the overall well-being of our children, may impair interpersonal skills, and may lead to unrealistic relationship realities. Some youth today are truly addicted to social media, online gaming, or other apps.

The following tips can help parents prevent their children from experiencing internet and video game addictions.

  • Enforce internet, video game and screen time limits from early ages.
  • Actively encourage real-life activities that help develop crucial interpersonal skills for success in life.
  • Watch for signs of addiction such as your children becoming agitated when they are denied access to the internet or permission to play video games
  • Do not allow cell phones, computers, tablets, or other internet-enabled devices in bedrooms, especially at night.
  • Consider “unplugging” the whole family from screens periodically.
  • Limit your own use of digital media to set a good example, including turning off smartphones and computers during family meals and avoiding texting while driving.

If your child is experiencing detrimental effects due to compulsive or excessive electronic gaming, set limits on your child’s internet use and be consistent, and seek the help of a counselor or therapist with experience in electronic addictions. These pages from the above-mentioned resources and others offer advice from parents who have experienced similar situations:


Other References:

American Society of Addiction Medicine Board of Directors, (2011). Quality and practice: Definition of addiction. Retrieved from: https://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction.

Beranuy, M., Carbonell, X. x., & Griffiths, M. (2013). A Qualitative Analysis of Online Gaming Addicts in Treatment. International Journal of Mental Health & Addiction11(2), 149-161.

Tichelaar, K. (Jun. 27, 2017). Dopamine and its effects on the brain. Retrieved from: http://blog.smartrecovery.org/2017/06/27/dopamines-role-in-addiction/

Young, K. (2009). Understanding Online Gaming Addiction and Treatment Issues for Adolescents. American Journal of Family Therapy, 37(5), 355-372. doi. 10.1080/01926180902942191.

Young, K., Addiction to MMORPG’s: Symptoms and treatment. Retrieved from: http://www.netaddiction.com/articles/addiction_to_mmorpgs.pdf.

Young, K. (2014). Net negotiations: What every parent should know about controlling their child’s use of technology. [Kindle version] Retrieved from www.amazon.com.

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