Video game addiction goes by various names, including Internet gaming disorder (IGD), gaming addiction and pathological video gaming. An addictive tendency to video gaming may be a very recent mental health problem, but it affects millions of gamers across the globe. People with this disorder may spend 30 hours a week or more glued to a computer or device, compulsively playing video games. Internet gaming disorder is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the most recent edition of the guide that health care professionals use to diagnose mental health issues. The DSM-5 calls Internet gaming disorder a “condition for further study” but doesn’t go so far as to classify excessive, compulsive video gaming as an addiction yet.
There’s no question that gaming has become a hugely popular pastime. A survey showed an estimated 671 million people worldwide play at least one online video game a month using a PC or laptop, and 145 million gamers across the globe play daily, according to comScore Media Metrix. In North America, an estimated 30.3 million people are daily online video gamers, with each playing for an average of 107 minutes. Many Americans also play on dedicated consoles like Xbox, Nintendo and PlayStation (51% of Americans households have at least one), according to the Entertainment Software Association, while 41% game on a smartphone and 33% on a wireless device.
Video Games Affect the Brain
Gaming can activate the brain’s reward system in such an intense way that the gamer experiences a strong feeling of pleasure, even a “high.” This feeling may be so powerful that players keep coming back for more – which is when gaming can turn compulsive. For those who develop a video gaming addiction or disorder, the virtual world may crowd out real-world relationships, responsibilities and hobbies, not unlike what happens when someone has a problem with a substance like alcohol or other drugs or with other behavioral addictions such as gambling addiction. The gamer becomes so immersed in getting a high score or reaching the next level that he or she can begin to lie about how much time is spent gaming and may be unable to stop or even cut back. If access to video games is cut off, the person experiences psychological effects similar to withdrawal: anger, upset, sadness, irritability. Check out the “Symptoms” section in Video Game Addiction 101 for a full list of the kinds of warning signs you might see. Without treatment, the problem is likely to get worse and can affect the gamer’s health, sleep, self-esteem, work, school and relationships.
It’s worth making clear that a video game addiction can involve online (Web-based), offline gaming or both, says the DSM-5. Most research to date, though, has been done on Internet video gaming. Asian countries have the highest numbers of compulsive online gamers, followed by Europe and North America.
Studies have found an overlap between excessive video gaming and online gambling. In 2010, researchers published a landmark article in the Journal of CyberTherapy & Rehabilitation noting that the same competitiveness that can drive online video gamers to attempt to rank on global leadership boards is what impels those with a gambling use disorder try to beat the casino, despite near-impossible odds. However, the DSM-5 does not include compulsive online gambling as part of Internet video gaming disorder.
If excessive video gaming is affecting you or someone you love, it’s important to talk to a doctor, health care professional or counselor who can evaluate symptoms and make a diagnosis. Whether you’ve just noticed the problem or you’ve seen it get worse over a long period of time, it’s important to know that there are treatment options and resources that are available to help.