Video games and addiction

by Gary Gilles

video-game-2_2362669bThe modern day popularity of video games is undeniable. It is estimated that about 150 million people in American alone regularly play video games. And, if you think the majority of gamers are kids, think again. The average gamer is 31 years of age. Only about a third of gamers are under the age of 18. So, video games are not just for kids. But, regardless of whether it is an adolescent or an adult that is playing, the fun of gaming can easily evolve into an immersion that some might call an addiction. What are the signs?

Video games: signs of possible addiction

Some warning signs for video game addiction include:

  • Playing for increasing amounts of time
  • Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety, or depression
  • Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, or your spouse to the point of disrupting family, social, or work life
  • Experiencing feelings of anger, depression, moodiness, anxiety, or restlessness when you’re not gaming
  • Thinking obsessively about being on the computer or playing video games even when doing other thing

Some people say that excessive video gaming is harmless and even educational, especially when compared with other “addictive” behaviors such as drugs and alcohol. The gamer might say that no one is being hurt and friends are even being formed with other people who play the same game and compete with each other. One teen told me recently that the people he games with are his “best friends” although he’s never met any of them in person.

But, virtual friends are not the same as real flesh-and-blood friends regardless of how many levels of a particular game they achieve together. Video game addiction can steal important time away from developing real relationships, building essential life skills and learning to manage real world situations.

Those at greatest risk for video game addiction

Excessive video game involvement is often attractive to the person who feels out of step in their ability to relate to others in a personal and meaningful way. Video games can give a person a temporary but false sense of power and dominance that they can’t find in real relationships. The virtual life becomes more appealing than real life.

When you get to the core of the obsessive tendencies, many of these gamers are using the gaming experience as a way to escape or cope with things that they don’t know how to manage directly. For example, a young adult male who feels inferior in his social skills with peers his age may gravitate to other adult males who are similarly awkward in their social abilities. They may spend hours in competitive gaming without ever realizing that they are merely avoiding people they don’t know how to communicate with. It is not uncommon for gamers to turn to gaming as a means of numbing themselves to their anxiety and/or depression in much the same way that substance abusers medicate themselves with drugs.

Taming video gaming tendencies

One starting point is trying to help the gamer talk about their fears and the relationship of those fears to their compulsive tendencies. Once they are able to make that connection they can begin to make new choices, such as putting parameters around the time they play, reducing hours, taking more risks in real relationships, etc.

If you are a parent you can help your child identify where their fears reside and give them opportunities to engage in real problem-solving in those realms to build a new type of confidence that will never be learned in a fantasy game. You can implement time limits for games and use restricted gaming time as a reward for successfully resolving personal problems or taking new relational risks.

If these efforts are not enough to tame the gaming tendencies, seek help from an experienced mental health professional trained in addictive behaviors who can help you explore these tendencies and help build a healthy balance between creative play and real life.

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