Is video game addiction even real?
Video game addiction is real and The World Health Organisation recognises it as ‘Gaming Disorder’ (addictive disorder) in their International Classification of Diseases (ICD – 11) and describes it as ‘a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behaviour, which may be online or offline, manifested by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences’.
It is important to note that video game addiction often co-occurs with mental health conditions and substance use disorders. There are many overlapping physiological similarities between video game addiction and substance use.
Video games are developed and designed using state of the art behavioural psychology, basically to keep the ‘player or gamer’ hooked. The developers use ‘manipulative game design’ features, like in-app purchases, micro-transactions and loot boxes to enhance the probability that the ‘gamer’ will go back to the video game time and time again.
This form of addiction exists because the video game industry is a multi-billion-pound business and the more people that buy and play such games and become hooked, the more money they make.
According to experts, some of the most ‘addictive’ online games are:
- Fortnite Battle Royal
- Call of Duty
- Angry Birds
- World of Warcraft
Types of video game addiction
There are primarily two types of video game addiction:
- Single Player – standard video games are normally designed to be played by a single player. The games generally involve a clear mission or goal such as collecting or rescuing something to score points. The addiction is related to that mission or beating a high or pre-set level
- Multiplayer – these video games are generally played online or with a group in the same room. Such video games can be highly addictive because they generally have no ending. The ‘players’ involved generally have a game persona and become that online character. These role-playing games involve an ongoing story, encouraging players to return over and over again – there is NO END!
Relationships are built between the players as an escape from reality. This type of community may be a safe haven for some and give them a sense of acceptance.
Signs of video game addiction
The American Psychiatric Association has identified NINE warning signs:
- Preoccupation with video games – the player thinks about gaming activity, constantly reviewing the previous game and anticipating the next game. Video gaming becomes the dominant activity in daily life
- Withdrawal symptoms – if access to gaming is taken away or restricted, certain symptoms are seen to arise, namely irritability, anxiety, boredom, craving or sadness
- Tolerance – the need to spend more and more time engaged with and playing video games. This could be motivated by the need to complete intricate, time-consuming or difficult missions to achieve a feeling of satisfaction and/or reduce the stress of missing out and/or failing
- Unsuccessful attempts to control participation – not being able to stop or limit the time spent participating in video games
- Loss of interest – not being interested in other activities, previous hobbies, social activities or relationships with family or friends as a result of, and with the exception of, video games
- Excessive use – continued and prolonged use of video games despite the knowledge of the negative impact and psychological problems that can occur
- Deceit – basically ‘conning’ family, friends or even maybe the therapist about addiction to video games and time spent playing
- Escape – use video games to alleviate negative mood and/or life in general
- Jeopardy or loss – normal daily activities/routines such as work, educational commitments and relationships are significantly and detrimentally affected because of participation in video games
The connection to other addictions
- Drugs – In recent years, it has become evident that there is a correlation between drug use and video game addiction and several studies have identified this as such. Particularly in young teenagers/adults, the use of drugs has been shown to affect video game addiction. Naturally, the effect is dependent on the type of drug used and whether it’s a stimulant or a depressant
- Alcohol and Tobacco – In October 2016 the University of Nottingham published their study ‘Teenagers influenced by video games with alcohol and smoking content’. It concluded that adolescents and teenagers who played video games were TWICE as likely to use these substances
- Cannabis – A study conducted in 2012 ‘Personality factors related to substance use, gambling and gaming’ high-lighted that there exists a correlation between gaming and the use of cannabis and alcohol
- Stimulant use – cocaine, methamphetamine and caffeine are often used by ‘gamers’ to enable them to stay awake longer and to be more stimulated thereby giving them more time to play video games
A study conducted in 2011 ‘Playing video games whilst using or feeling the effects of substances; Associations with substance use problem – produced some startling statistics’ stated that: –
- Approximately 1.6% of study participants (video gamers) were problem gamers
- 41% of participants used caffeine concurrently
- 61% of participants used tobacco concurrently
- 38% of participants used alcohol concurrently
- 80% of participants used cannabis concurrently
This study suggests that using substances whilst playing video games is extremely common in both problem and non-problem gamers.
Treating video game addiction
Recognising that you have a problem or that your family member or friend has a problem with video game addiction and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder is the first step to getting help.
The first port of call should be to obtain medical advice whether it’s a family doctor, a psychiatrist or via a charity specialising in video game addiction and/or substance use disorder.
Treatment may involve cognitive behavioural therapy, medications that decrease the ‘euphoric’ feeling experienced from playing video games and/or using a substance. As well as one-to-one therapy, group therapy sessions and the introduction of relaxation techniques may be used.