Do you remember playing video games back in the day – like Pong, Tank and Aircraft? Video games have captured our imagination since the ‘70s, with the introduction of some very simple games. Many kids, teens and adults quickly became enthralled with gaming and it soon became apparent that video games had the potential to consume a lot of time, as players repeatedly tried to win. They also discovered gaming could potentially be addictive.
In the early days, most video games were only available on arcade machines and not as easily accessed as they are today. Video games are now one of the most popular features of Social Network sites and they can be played at any time on handheld game devices, personal computers and smart phones. And, the games are much more elaborate – with rich, alternative worlds, multiple characters and complicated storylines. According to the American Addiction Centers, introverted children or teens may find that they can avoid interacting with “real” peers by engaging primarily with other online players, in the guise of characters with awe-inspiring gifts and powers.
Today, video game addiction has been recognized as an addiction similar to compulsive gambling, in which the rush of winning becomes one of the primary motivations for playing. However, not all researchers agree that video gaming is a harmful or addictive activity, and there is some controversy over whether it can be compared with addiction to gambling, drug abuse or alcoholism.
Psychology Today states that the comparison between video gaming and gambling is flawed, because there are no financial stakes or material losses involved with video games. Winning a video game requires cognitive skills and sharp reflexes, while winning at gambling is a matter of luck.
On the other hand, WebMD says gaming addiction can be a type of impulse control disorder. Other research indicates that the process of playing and winning video games may trigger a release of dopamine, a brain chemical that elevates mood and provides a rush of energy – the same neurotransmitter involved in other addictive behaviors such as alcohol or drug abuse.
Today, video game addiction has been recognized as an addiction similar to compulsive gambling, in which the rush of winning becomes one of the primary motivations for playing.
Health Risks & Concerns
Compulsive video-gaming can have negative effects on a developing mind, according to American Addiction Centers. Adult players may suffer from the effects of hours spent sitting on the couch or at a computer desk. A few key concerns for younger gamers include: sedentary lifestyle, lack of social engagement, problems with concentration and attention, avoidance of developmental tasks (confronting painful emotions or awkward social experiences), increased aggressiveness or violence, seizures and repetitive stress injuries.
The British Medical Journal published an article about the risks of gaming for players who have epilepsy or other seizure disorders. The flickering graphics, lights and colors of video game displays may trigger seizure activity in some people. There is also evidence that compulsive game playing may lead to repetitive stress injuries of the wrists or hands.
Compared to other addictive disorders, video game addiction may not seem very serious. However, the parents, partners and children of people addicted to gaming can testify to the negative effects of the behavior.
Like other potentially positive activities, gaming has a place in a healthy, well-rounded life; but when it begins to take precedence over school, work or relationships, the individual needs professional help. While American Addiction Centers do not treat video game addictions, treatment programs are available all over the country that address this new disorder and offer hope to people seeking freedom from compulsive gaming.
Common Signs of Gaming Addiction
Get help for a teen or child whose behavior patterns include:
- Craving more game time, no matter how much they’ve already played
- Chronic dry eyes
- Friends stop calling and coming by to hang out.
- No shower or change of clothes for days
- Gets upset if someone suggests they might have a problem with video games
- Rarely leaves the house, because they feel like they’re missing out on something that might be happening in the video games
- Spends entire allowance on gaming hardware and software
- Lies to parents about how often they play games or video games
- Skips doing chores to keep gaming
- When not at the computer, they’re irritable and snappy.
Ryan G. Van Cleaves’ book, Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Addiction offers a real-life look at video game addiction.
WARNING: This video game may impair your judgment. It may cause sleep deprivation, alienation of friends and family, weight loss or gain, neglect of one’s basic needs as well as the needs of loved ones and/or dependents, and decreased performance on the job. The distinction between fantasy and reality may become blurred. Play at your own risk. Not responsible for suicide attempts, whether failed or successful.
No such warning was included on the latest and greatest release from the Warcraft series of massive multiplayer online role-playing games – World of Warcraft (WoW). So, when Ryan Van Cleave – a college professor, husband, father and one of the 11.5 million Warcraft subscribers worldwide found himself teetering on the edge of the Arlington Memorial Bridge, he had no one to blame but himself.
He had neglected his wife and children and had jeopardized his livelihood, all for the rush of living a life of high adventure in a virtual world. Ultimately, Ryan decided to live, but not for the sake of his family or for a newly found love of life: he had to get back home for his evening session of Warcraft.
A fabulously written and gripping tale, Unplugged: My Journey into the Dark World of Video Addiction takes us on a journey through Ryan’s semi-reclusive life with video games at the center of his experiences. And, as is the case with most recovering addicts, Ryan eventually hits rock bottom and shares with the reader his ongoing battle to control his impulses to play, providing prescriptive advice and resources for those caught in the grip of this very real addiction.