video game addiction

By: Nimisha Jain

From the age of board games like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) and arcade-style games like Ms. Pac-Man, parents have been worried about how much time children and adolescents spend on games. So with the widespread use and popularity of video games, what qualifies as a video game addiction (VGA; a.k.a gaming disorder, or Internet gaming disorder), and how do we identify one? 

What is a video game addiction? 

Researchers and psychologists have had a hard time developing a single definition for video game addictions; as such, research on this subject has been varied. Due to these difficulties, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not list VGA as a disorder itself but links it to impulse control disorders. 

Nevertheless, it is possible to draw inferences based on current known information. Habitual video game playing is considered problematic when it cascades into other spheres of a person’s life. That is to say, when excessive video game playing impairs an individual’s ability to function normally in other domains of life such as school, work, or with family and relationships, then it is cause for concern and may need to be addressed. 

Video game addiction is a subject that has generated a lot of discussion, debate, and conversation in the scientific community. Given the mixed research to date, the American Psychiatric Association stated that there is not enough evidence to suggest that video game addictions should be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5), but needed further study. 

Identifying a video game addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), considered the Bible of psychiatric diagnoses and treatment options, does not have a specific diagnosis for video game addictions but states that there is cause for concern if some signs persist for more than a year: 

  • Thinking about gaming all or a lot of the time 
  • Feeling bad when you can’t play
  • Needing to spend more and more time playing to feel good
  • Not being able to quit or even play less
  • Not wanting to do other things that you used to like
  • Having problems at work, school, or home because of your gaming
  • Playing despite these problems
  • Lying to people close to you about how much time you spend playing
  • Using gaming to ease bad moods and feelings

These symptoms boil down to the same markers for substance abuse. There is the ‘craving’ to play video games at inappropriate times; the loss of control over how often/for how long this behaviour occurs; the compulsive urge to play games, and continuing to play despite negative conseqeuences. 

The APA has listed video game addictions as a condition to watch out for while more research is conducted about it. Nevertheless, you can watch out for these symptoms in yourself or the people around you, and seek help when necessary. 

Consequences of VGA

Another important to think about when it comes to video game addictions is considering the impact this condition can have on an individual’s life. As mentioned before, these effects can spill over into an individual’s personal, social, and professional life. 

One can have a poor sleep schedule; miss a meal; have bad posture, or even lead an unhygienic lifestyle due to prolonged gaming sessions. They may miss work/school deadlines or not attend important events (e.g., an office party that would be useful for networking). Their family members, partners, or friends may lose touch with them as they may not take out time to connect with the people in their lives. 

A Few Important Notes About Video Game Addiction

It is essential to remember that differentiating between a gaming enthusiast and a gaming addict is difficult. There is no unanimous verdict on the benefits or harms of video games. For some people, it is simply a way to let off some steam, relax, and decompress. Indeed, companies have been able to create treatment-based video game options for conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). On the flip side, it may be a way to cope or avoid other deeper problems like anxiety or depression. When one crosses the blurry line between loving to play and having to play, one may be engaging in problematic gaming habits.   

While it is difficult to identify if you have a video game addiction, it helps to ask yourself if you’re performing as you normally would in everyday life, then reference the points of concern listed above. If you are a parent worried about your child or teen spending too much time playing video games, you could use some of the following strategies to encourage time away from screens: 

  • limiting internet access times
  • promoting outdoor activities/exercise
  • Engaging in activities outside of school and home (like volunteering or learning new skills like music, drawing, cooking, etc). 

Furthermore, you can approach your family doctor or therapist if you’re worried about your gaming habits. Evidence-based treatment options are also in the early stages of research, with cognitive behavioural therapy at the forefront.