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Video Game Addiction: All you need to know

Medically reviewed by

Written by Aditi Sahu

The truth about gaming addiction

India has witnessed a massive technological leap in the last ten years. With affordable smartphones and a cheaper internet connection, access to gaming platforms, websites and social media has increased the craze for gaming amongst kids and youngsters. What might look like a ‘favourite pastime may actually be an obsession that you might be completely unaware of? Having said that, it is not a defined medical condition yet (unlike other addictions like alcohol) thus making it a controversial topic for researchers and scientists. Though it may take more time for science to categorise gaming disorders as ‘addictions’, it is an undeniable fact that many young kids are losing themselves in the fictional world of gaming. Talking purely from a psychological standpoint, it can be considered a threat to the overall wellbeing, especially for adolescent children. 

What is gaming addiction?

WHO defines gaming disorder as, “a pattern of gaming behaviour (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterised 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.”

It is important to notice if your child is losing a sense of reality as a result of being completely engrossed in a digital world of characters. 

What makes gaming addictive?

Any app be it gaming or a social media app is designed to make the user spend as much time as possible. You must be familiar with the word dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter produced by our body and plays a major role in making us perceive feelings of excitement, pleasure and well-being. Video games eventually become a major stimulator of dopamine in our body as they instil feelings of thrill, winning and validation in our minds. Video games turn into an addiction when an individual resorts to a game to seek these emotions instead of having real-life experiences. (like playing a real sport) They would start refraining from real-life social interactions but would be making online friends with a mindset that the people in their gaming world are the only ones that truly understand them. The sense of belonging one gets from these gaming platforms is what makes it addictive. There have been multiple cases when an individual has been found fantasizing about gaming characters in a way that they start treating them as real-life personalities. 

When should gaming become a concern for a parent? 

“Observation plays a major role in identifying what your younger one is going through in actuality. The number of hours he or she is spending on the game might not be the only parameter that can be considered a red flag,” says Neha Cadabam, Psychologist, Cadabams Group.  You must discern the overall routine of your child. Look out for anything that strikes out as an abnormal change. Is your child able to distinguish between the real and the gaming world? Is it affecting his/her decision making or behaviours? These can be some questions, to begin with, while trying to identify signs of gaming disorder. 

Here are a few online gaming addiction symptoms:

  • Getting extremely angry, irritable or anxious about not being allowed to play 
  • Not taking care of one’s hygiene and personal wellbeing
  • Neglecting other hobbies 
  • Avoiding meeting friends and close family
  • Feeling restless when not able to play 
  • Zoned out with thoughts of previous or next gaming session
  • Declining performance at studies and other areas of work and responsibility
  • Playing a video game just to relieve stress or any mental burden
  • Isolating from everyone to have more time for gaming 
  • The obsessive need to play and win 

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Consequences of gaming addictions/ risks 

Excessive gaming habits can hamper the overall development of the mind and body especially in the case of teenagers and young adults. Adults who are addicted to gaming also suffer due to long sitting hours, no physical activity and minimal social interaction. 

1. Personality: Spending an unregulated amount of time on video games steals away the time which must be dedicated to keeping the body and mind healthy. Most gaming addicts grow up having weaker personality types. This is a result of isolating oneself from the world. 

2. Lifestyle: Gaming obsession not only affects the physical and mental health but also disrupts every aspect of your lifestyle- right from sleeping and eating habits, hygiene care and much more. It happens so as most of the time and attention is drowned into gaming – barely leaving scope to incorporate other activities that constitute a healthy lifestyle. 

3. Confidence: Most gaming addicts develop an introverted or under-confident personality. This is not only toxic for their self-image but also makes it difficult for such individuals to have healthy relationships in future. Learning to communicate and deal with other individuals is a critical growing up skill. With barely any social interaction and exposure, such individuals are prone to losing trust in themselves. 

4. Health: Due to compromised mental and physical health gaming addicts are more likely to suffer from health issues like low immunity, anxiety, vitamin deficiency, poor metabolism, depression and even seizures. Many children are seen developing anger issues and choosing violence as a solution to their problems.

5. Career: Many video game lovers start dreaming of making a career in gaming. While it may be a great career choice for some, it should not be at the cost of one’s education. We live in an extremely competitive environment where it only becomes further difficult for individuals who are addicted to the gaming world. 

Preventive Measures: what can be the first steps 

If you start noticing any of the above-mentioned traits in your child or family member- know that it's never too late. It is always better to start acting at the earliest to prevent things from worsening. Here are a few ways to prevent gaming addiction:

1. Children do what they see around them. Try cultivating an environment where discipline is practised in a non-forceful manner. Think of new ways of encouraging them to pursue sports or a hobby of their choice.

2. Set the rules right from the beginning. Take charge of how much time your child will spend on video games. Be aware of what are the games he/ she is playing and what are activities they are involved in on the internet.

3. Have activities that involve participation. It could be a picnic or a Sunday brunch, movie nights, camping or even a short trip to the nearby park. With such activities planned- your child will look up to these and would be excited to even participate.

4. Enroll them in a course. There is a wide range of art forms, sports or skills that your younger one could master. What’s key here is that it gives your child more opportunities to make new friends, interact with new people while learning and being productive at the same time

5. Communicate! Communication is the most important thing while dealing with an individual who is prone to gaming addiction. The more you try to hear, the more they will trust you. You can only persuade them when your opinion matters to them and they aren't scared of you.

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Video game addiction Treatment

The first step is to consult a psychiatrist or child psychologist. The course of therapy can only be derived once the individual suffering from the disorder has been assessed and diagnosed thoroughly. Gaming Addiction Treatments vary from patient to patient depending on the behavioural symptoms and the severity of the problem. One such therapy is called CBT- cognitive behaviour therapy. CBT is a psychotherapeutic treatment that helps an individual replace negative thoughts related to gaming. With this technique, one is able to learn to focus on the current reality and think about the present-day goal. 

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