You weren’t always an outcast to your own family. You even used to shower. There was a time when you had friends, a social life, a GPA that meant something, and this thing called…. Um, what was it again? Oh, yeah: conversations. But something went wrong along the way. Video games were so fun, so fulfilling. It didn’t matter that you had little popularity or respect at school. With a few clicks of the mouse you were “Rothgar, Crusher of Clans!” Rothgar’s special ability was helping you escape the stress of grades and parental expectations. You just didn’t realize that Rothgar’s secret agenda was to also crush your future hopes of happiness and success, so that he could have all of you to himself. But good thing for you, there is hope against video game addiction.
What is Addiction?
Psychiatrist Michael Brody, MD, defines addiction in the following way:
- The person needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him going.
- If the person does not get more of the substance or behavior, he/she becomes irritable and miserable.
Addiction is not just biological, meaning it’s more than just brain chemicals that cause to you repeat a behavior. Addiction also has a psychological component to it as well, a thought process of telling yourself that “you will feel better if you do this,” or that “you can escape this discomfort if you do this.” The pressure of GPAs, AP classes, standardized tests, and extracurricular activities is enough to intimidate even the most talented of students. It is no wonder that many children turn to video games as a way of escaping the pressures they feel at school and in the home. The anonymity of internet gaming and regular gaming allows a person to reinvent himself. Someone who is unpopular or feels unsuccessful at school can become a dominant figure in an imaginary video game world. The same goes for how students feel at home while sitting at the dinner table or attending his/her sibling’s award banquet.
What are the Consequences of Video Game Addiction?
Like gambling, video game addiction is a clinical impulse control disorder. The person cannot resist doing more of the activity, even if there are social and financial consequences of not stopping. Students who are addicted to video games often isolate themselves from social interactions, including those with parents and close friends. In order to protect the habit, the student tells lies, breaks promises, becomes irritable, and fails to fulfill basic social responsibilities of decent human beings. As a result, the student’s grades begin to drop, they lose or fail to gain important social skills, and they spiral into a world of self-sabotage.
Signs of Video Game Addiction
According to the Center for On-Line Addiction and WebMD, warning signs for video game addiction are:
- Playing for increasing amounts of time
- Thinking about gaming during other activities
- Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety, or depression
- Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming
- Feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gaming
What are Some Remedies for Video Game Addiction?
Mild to severe cases require the help of a professional therapist who can create a specific plan of action, but certain practices can help the student on a day-to-day basis. The challenge of overcoming video game addiction is that technology is like food; it’s everywhere, so you can’t just turn away and ignore it – it has become an essential part of modern life. The student needs help understanding that he is powerless against the addiction, which will prepare him to take his problem seriously. WebMD suggests that parents should document the severity of the problem by keeping logs of times that the child plays, and for how long. They should also keep track of problems that result from the gaming, and how the child responds when time limits are enforced.
The student also needs a support system that shows him that real life can also be exciting and that he has worth in the real world; worth that can be gained and expanded by doing real-world pursuits. The self-worth and comfort that a student gains from playing video games must be replaced by real relationships that offer hope, acceptance, patience, and encouragement. Parents should also reframe the way their child understands the parents’ motives. Students need to hear and experience that parents have not paid enough, or the right, attention their beloved child. In some cases, parents pay too much attention and unknowingly create pressure on their child. A therapist, friend, coach, and consultant can sometimes help point out how parents and children keep misunderstanding each other.
Video games are not inherently harmful, even at low doses, so overcoming video game addiction does not necessarily mean completely refraining from playing any video games at all. In fact, channeling the interest in video games into a productive writing, coding, video, or leadership project might be a good thing for getting into college.
Other practical things to do include spending more time away from computers or the game console, such as studying at the library instead of alone at home. Students can purposely hangout or study with friends who help with accountability. Students can gradually wean themselves away from video games, such as reducing game play to only certain hours per day or days per week. The time they free up should be replaced by an activity that they, their parents, and friends recognize as having real world value. Again, the student needs to feel that they are not alone against their habit. They need a support group to show them patience and acceptance when they fail against the addiction, so that they continue on the gradual journey to freedom.
Sherry Rauh. “Video game addiction no fun.” WebMD, Last accessed 2/3/16.
Romeo Vitelli. “Are video games addictive?” Psychology Today, August 9, 2013.
Daria J. Kuss. “Internet gaming addiction: current perspectives.” Psychological Research & Behavioral Management, 2013; 6: 125–137
Georgia Dow. “Overcoming video game addiction in children.” iMore, Mar 25, 2015.
By David H. Nguyen, Ph.D.