Addiction and Video Games

The word “addiction” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to video games and children. What is addiction? Why are we more akin to be labelled negatively “addicted” to video games but not negatively “addicted” to reading or playing the harmonica. With the recent release of World of Warcraft Classic I’ve seen popular Twitch streamers stream for alarmingly longer periods of time and WOW Classic has become a centre point for the majority of gaming discussions over the last few days. How do we, as adults, ensure children are aware of healthy lifestyle choices and what addictions are?

According to psychiatry.org “Addiction is a complex disease, often chronic in nature, which affects the functioning of the brain and body. It also causes serious damage to families, relationships, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods. The most common symptoms of addiction are severe loss of control, continued use despite serious consequences, preoccupation with using, failed attempts to quit, tolerance and withdrawal.
A more broader definition from healthline.org: “An addiction is a chronic dysfunction of the brain system that involves reward, motivation, and memory. It’s about the way your body craves a substance or behavior, especially if it causes a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of “reward” and lack of concern over consequences.
This second definition gives us the reasons why gaming can become an addiction where rewards from time spent and skills used arise aplenty within a gaming session. You are motivated to continue to get that reward brain buzz again. You want to use your memory of game machine patterns and skills developed to progress. It’s very, very enjoyable.

Let’s be real, gaming addiction is a thing and is recognized by the World Health Organization as “Gaming Disorder”: “Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

So in essence gaming disorder (lets call it that) presents itself as:

  • an impaired control over gaming
  • a priority given to gaming
  • an escalation of gaming despite negative consequences

Mental headbutt time! Try replacing “gaming” with “reading” in the above bullet list. Does your thinking about labelling addictions change? If you can be addicted to gaming, you can be addicted to reading.

The “addictive” behavior “must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
No arguments there…

Why is there a damning stigma based around video games and its close relationship to addiction? Why is it deemed healthier and more light hearted to become addicted to reading and actively encouraged at times? People applaud addictions to reading it seems. You can gain knowledge and develop a wide range of skills (physical, emotional, psychological) with video games. You can gain knowledge from books (or gain knowledge to develop skills). Which activity, in healthy doses, is more beneficial? Does it come down to what type of games we play or books we read? Grand Theft Auto 5 for early teenagers? Does that make sense? The Boys graphic comics for early teenagers? More of a stigma? Addicted to Tetris or addicted to Dickens? Less of a stigma?

The fact is that video games have always been looked on with suspicion. They were and still are something new and strange to certain adults. Newness breeds paranoia. Video games are the devices of family estrangement and isolation. The locked bedroom door. The cold dinner on the table. The homework avoidance. The gape mouthed stares at screens. The no responses. The loss of meaningful conversations. The late night clandestine gaming sessions with the late morning and early afternoon torturous wake up calls.

The rise of popularity of gaming in modern culture has gone hand in hand with the rise of negative backlash. Screen time is questioned, page time is not. Twitch streamers are now bonafide famous personalities with Adidas collabs and monthly earnings in the millions of dollars. Video games like Fortnite are now part of the daily vocabulary in households. All of this much to parents’ chagrin. Every child wants to be famous for playing video games on Twitch or Youtube.

I’ve talked with parents now for over 10 years with regards screen time (mainly gaming) and children. It has always come down to a question of monitoring and moderation on behalf of the parent. My general framework for adults in acknowledging and identifying video games as part of the popular and normal lifestyle for children are:

  • Monitor and moderate screen time in an age appropriate way.
  • Accept that a healthy and moderated diet of video game playing is what it is; an enjoyable past time.
  • Cultivate a balanced lifestyle in your child.
  • Be aware of the negatives and downsides of video games.
  • Be aware of age appropriate games (just like movies and books).
  • Play video games as adults and stay on top of what is popular in current culture. Hard but doable..

 

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