Video games are no strangers to controversy. Whether it’s the predictable outrage that stems from each new Grand Theft Auto installment or the calls to ban pretty much any game featuring an above-average level of violence, some portions of society are inherently mistrusting of this genre.
Some researchers question the narrative, though, and wonder whether demonizing the pastime is leading to some enthusiastic gamers being incorrectly labeled as “addicts.”
The question that presents itself is: how do you tell the difference between somebody who loves playing games and somebody who has a serious psychological issue manifesting itself through a game addiction?
Video game addiction—the basics
The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders doesn’t include video game addiction, but the American Psychological Association and many others in the field maintain that more research is warranted on the subject. If you step outside of the academic and somewhat pedantic discussion on the issue, it can be summed up as follows: video game addiction (or something else that looks like it) almost definitely exists, but we don’t know too much about it yet.
Behavioral addictions, like shopping or gambling addictions, invariably stimulate the release of the same neurochemicals integral to drug addiction. Research has shown that players’ dopamine levels double while they are immersed in games, thus establishing a likely physical basis for the issue, as cocaine and many other substances also stimulate this chemical.
Psychologically, the issues suggesting addiction are clear to anybody familiar with the problem: when somebody ruins relationships, neglects work responsibilities and even puts his or her children in danger to pursue a continuous habit, there is one unavoidable suggestion. Many of the more severe stories stem from South Korea, where the problem is particularly serious.
Video gaming: enthusiasm or addiction
There is a lot of uncertainty in the existing research on video game addiction, and the lack of clear diagnostic criteria is a big part of this issue, not to mention inadequate follow-ups to determine whether treatments are effective. An Indiana University doctoral student, Drew Zaitsoff, suggests that many of the studies assume that any dedicated playing is an addiction. While he doesn’t question the existence of the issue, his point about enthusiastic playing is a very important one. The history of misunderstanding and over-criticism of video gaming reflects the viewpoint of many in the pre-gaming generations; from the outside, gaming seems odd, socially detached and obsessive.
Of course, many experts and researchers understand gamers despite not playing games personally, but it’s easy to see how the desire to beat a level, which persists after numerous failures, could be interpreted as addiction when it could merely be a sign of perseverance in order to achieve a goal. Just because you don’t see retrieving an Elven artifact as a worthwhile goal doesn’t mean no one else does. It isn’t addiction just because you don’t understand the motives behind it.
Are you addicted to gaming?
So how can you determine if you’re addicted to gaming or just a fan? The best way to answer this question is to focus on some core themes in addiction: withdrawal, neglect of responsibility, tolerance and problems with relationships.
- If you can’t play games for an extended period of time, do you feel anxious, uneasy or depressed?
- Do you procrastinate excessively (for days or weeks at a time) because you’re playing games?
- Do you need to play for longer and longer sessions to feel satisfied?
- Has anybody in your family, your partner or your friends commented that you’re spending too long gaming?
If you’ve answered yes to at least a couple of these questions, you could be experiencing some form of gaming addiction, or be at risk for it in the future. Gaming has many positive cognitive, social and emotional effects, but if your life is starting to revolve around gaming or it’s occupying your thoughts more and more, you may be developing a problem.
You don’t necessarily have to give up gaming altogether (in the same way you could still go shopping occasionally if you’re a compulsive shopper or you’d still need to eat if you had a food addiction), but as with any addiction, getting counseling to help you regain control of your life is essential.
Over-gaming: a real problem, poorly defined
Until we have a greater understanding of what separates enthusiastic gamers from addicted gamers, much of the diagnoses have to be made on more general grounds. This means that if you think you have an issue with gaming—if you’re having real-world problems because of it and answered yes to many of the questions above—it’s best to get help. Just because it’s poorly defined doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and it definitely doesn’t mean you can ignore it.