Illustration by Stephen Sitton
Throughout the semester, we’ve discussed numerous reasons for why people choose to play video games. Some use it for escapism, some as stress-relief. Some feel more comfortable socializing in an online setting than they do person-to-person. In the same way, some people are more casual gamers, while others go so far as to devote their lives to the world of video games. But where is the line drawn between a career or a lifestyle, and addiction? Does gaming addiction even exist, by a technical definition?
It is difficult to define what addiction actually is in terms of gaming — normally, the word is associated with drug addiction, which is easier to diagnose, define, and treat.
Does Video Game Addiction Exist?
The Society for the Study of Addiction published a study in 2010, which attempted to research and list a set of criteria they used to help define gaming addiction, in this case, online gaming. They looked specifically at MMORPGs and First Person Shooters, as they are the most popular type of online gaming. The researchers in this study looked for changes and developments in certain behaviors of adolescent gamers participating in the study, among which were: “withdrawal symptoms, loss of control, salience, conflict and coping (mood modification)” (Rooij et. al, SSA). Along with that, they recorded the amount of “Compulsive Internet Use (CIU)” and the amount of hours/days spent gaming per week, and any changes in schoolwork or grades. The study found that two distinct types of gamers existed: heavy non-addicted online gamers, and addicted heavy online gamers. However, they also found that there was only a slight difference between the two in terms of psychosocial health. They did find one significant fact though, that”. . .in 2009 the addicted heavy gamers were more depressed than the non-addicted heavy gamers” (Rooij et. al, SSA).
What is interesting about this particular study is that their results represented two different outcomes for the possible existence of gaming addiction, and the effects its existence has on a gamer. The first being that for some, symptoms of depression and social anxiety may decrease in time through online gaming, because it opens up a different social dimension for them to interact in. The second being that, if this second dimension were to dominate “real life” social interaction and the gamer spent too much time in a virtual setting, their feelings of depression and social anxiety may actually increase over time, because the virtual socialization may not satisfy the psychosocial needs of having real life relationships (Rooij et. al, SSA).
If the latter is true, then what about the gamer who didn’t leave their house for over a year?
Kotaku.com writes about Troy, a video gamer from Pennsylvania who also goes by the pseudonym, Beef Erikson. Troy suffers from agoraphobia, and video games are his only connection to the outside world. The video game streamer used to drink alcohol to cope with his social apprehension, but turned to gaming as a sober, healthier option in his late 20’s. After some ups and downs, Troy found his calling in online game streaming as a way to interact with those who have the same interests as he does, without the anxiety to weigh him down. He says that streaming is “as invaluable as medication” (Kotaku.com).
So in this case, could Troy even be considered “addicted” to gaming? You could argue that his dependency on gaming inhibits his ability to be independent, because it acts as a crutch. But I think that is a far-fetched argument. The article further writes that Troy actually ventured out of his house to visit a Gamestop for a Wii U game, because one of his viewers sent him a Wii U console. This fact alone defeats the argument that Troy or others like him are addicted to games or mentally dependent on games in such a way that would be counterproductive to his recovery.
Video-Game-Addiction.org defines the symptoms of video game addiction as such:
- Most non-school hours are spent on the computer or playing video games
- Falling asleep in school
- Falling behind with assignments
- Worsening grades
- Lying about computer or video game use
- Choosing to use the computer or play video games, rather than see friends
- Dropping out of other social groups (clubs or sports)
- Being irritable when not playing a video game or being on the computer”
The website argues that people, especially youth and adolescents, are at risk for video game addiction when the video game opens them up to a world where they can be whoever they want. A shy kid can be outgoing in the virtual world, a preppy girl can be goth, a jock can embrace his nerdiness, etc. Addiction happens when the gamer engages in compulsive interaction, meaning they cannot control their desires to play the game. For example, they should be doing homework, but the pleasure and support they get from a game may outweigh the cons of not doing homework or putting it off, so they play the game. In severe cases, they will lose track of time and forget to do the assignment. With video game addiction, these behaviors begin to repeat themselves and overtime, takes a toll – whether it be physical, mental, social, or academic.
Video game addiction can have lasting physical effects on a person. Video-Game-Addiction.org lists several, including migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome, back aches, poor hygiene, eating irregularities, and sleep disturbances. I have seen some of these take effect first-hand when I was younger. Some games would hook me in so bad that I didn’t sleep before 2 in the morning until I completed it. I’ve also seen it in my sister, who hoards dishes in her room, food going bad on the desk next to her. I’ve commented on the smell of her room at times, but like other gamers, she is used to the smell or is not aware because she is so engrossed in the game.
Emotions and Anger
We’ve all seen the videos of people throwing violent, destructive fits of rage when they discover someone has messed with their games. If you ask me, (some) of that rage is pretty understandable. Gamers tend to spend lots of time and energy in a particular game, and when all that effort goes to waste, how could one not get angry? But the question I ask is how much of that anger is justified and “normal”? Is destroying the computer or television worth it? Where does that anger even come from?
One study published by the Australian Psychological Society found that when it comes to anger and video games, exposure and length of play is an important factor to consider. They studied male and female gamers, as well as the types of games each one played, and the length they usually played. They found that short-term play was more likely to trigger anger in gamers who were not exposed to violent games on a daily basis, while longer play was less likely to trigger it. They also found that in those who played vi0lent games regularly were not as likely to experience anger after any duration of play (Devilly et. al, APS).
I found this study to be intriguing, but I think that it is very difficult to find the root cause of anger in gamers. There are too many factors to consider: is the game itself violent? Is the gamer themselves prone to anger or violence? Do they suffer from an undiagnosed mood disorder? How long have they been playing? Does this game frustrate some, while not bother other gamers as much? How much time was invested in this particular game? Do they have a particular social/emotional attachment to this game? The list goes on and on.
After reading these articles, I’ve come to the conclusion that existence of video game addiction is plausible. The effects of it are certainly real, and I think that if someone you know is dependent on video games in such a way that it begins to take negative effects on them, help should be offered. Therapy exists for video game addicts, and depending on their age it might not be so hard to get that person away from the screen for some time. I also think that there is a fine distinction between addiction and “kids being kids,” but limits should be set. Use the game as a reward system: don’t let your child play games until they’ve done all of their homework, or done some chores first.
Games can be life, but make sure it doesn’t take over your life.
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