When you hear the word “addiction”, some of the first things that come to mind may be drugs, alcohol, or gambling. However, video games may be officially joining that list in the near future. Internet Gaming Disorder has been included among the conditions being considered for future study in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V). Despite the fact that video game addiction is not yet considered to be a mental disorder, video game addiction clinics are beginning to be established all over the world. In the US, there is even an organization that is specifically geared towards video game addictions known as Online Gamers Anonymous.
Gaming usually starts as an enjoyable hobby during the young teen and early adolescent years and gradually turns from a enjoyable past time to an addiction over time. Certain factors such as impulsiveness, higher acceptance of violence, and lower social skills can all make young people more prone to video game addiction. Often times these addictions are co-occurring along side disorders such as ADHD or Depression. Video games, and first person online role playing games in particular can become a vessel for a player to escape their own reality. This can be a helpful coping mechanism to temporarily reduce stress, but becomes dangerous when the player puts more effort, time, and emotion into building/caring for their virtual self, rather than their actual self.
The following factors may make video gamers more vulnerable to becoming addicted:
- Lack of successful experiences in real life
- Low parental support
- High video game use by parents
- Divorce or separation of parents
- Behavioural problems or problems at school
- School anxiety
- Poor school performance
Although research on this topic is generally scarce, a recent two-year longitudinal study of more than three thousand Singapore students found that a longer amount of game time, low social competence, and a history of impulsive behavior increases the likelihood of gaming addiction. The study also found a increased risk of depression, anxiety, social phobias and lower performance in school among addicted gamers.
This information raises the question: Are issues like social anxiety and depression the cause or result of the addictive behavior? A Dutch study which was comprised of 543 gamers found that reduced social skills began to appear 6 months after the problem gaming behavior. found that longer gaming time, reduced social competence, and a history of behavior increased the likelihood of gaming addiction after two years. Among the outcomes of pathological gaming are depression, anxiety, social phobias and poorer performance in school.
Ultimately, video game addiction stems from the same reasons that people become dependent on any other problem behavior. Avoiding life’s difficult situations is not the best way to handle them and that takes time to learn, along with patience and understanding. Like anything, if video games are serving that purpose for you or a loved one, they are best handled in moderation.