Video game addiction is real, and yet poorly understood

It’s great to do things you like. But can you go too far with a hobby? And at what point does it become an addiction? That’s the question experts are trying to answer about playing video games.

Game addiction

In 2018 recognized the World Health Organization (WHO) for honoringst”gaming disorder” in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

This choice of who’s attracted particularly quick skepticism from gamers,,  experts,  and gaming and tech  websites. For many gamers it was a personal problem: they felt that their hobby was blackened as a social problem. After not going through anything that they don’t feel addicted to themselves, they found that the recognition of the WHO’s addiction was made without good evidence.

Gaming addiction

However, those who support WHO’s choice note that the majority of gamers would experience nothing near addiction. As with most other addictive activities and substances, the vast majority of people who play games are not going to be addicted.

But some people really struggle with gaming addiction – a legitimate medical condition, the WHO argues. The idea behind the designation is to recognize that this group needs health care and other resources for help.

In addition, there are aspects of games that can make them particularly susceptible to addiction, including their unique immersion skills, easy access to them, and the gambling-like mechanics that have increasingly surfaced in games in recent years.

Video games are now mainstream – and that comes with some risks

It was only a few decades ago when video games were seen as a niche activity, gamers were nerds.

With the rise of phenomenon like Pokémon, World of Warcraft, Call of Dutyand Fortnite,games are nowmainstream. The vast majority of these people will not become addicted to video games. Based on some of the best studies loopt 1 to 3 percent of gamers risk.

This applies to other forms of addiction, even to drugs that are considered highly addictive. For example, some studies estimate that about 8 percent of opioid painkiller patients become addicted – still a significant amount, but certainly not a majority.

But when billions of people around the world play games, even a small percent can lead to a large population – literally tens of millions – with problems.

The WHO’s designation is intended to stay ahead of this problem. It creates a basis for the health care system to build a response. It allows more research into the condition. And health insurers will be pushed to pay for treatment if it is recognized as a real medical condition.
Joël Billieux, a professor at the University of Luxembourg who is involved in clinical and gambling disorder research, argued that therefore the WHO designation is necessary.

“It will allow the systemization of education and prevention,” Billieux, who was on the WHO’s gaming disorder committee, told me. “There will also be more resources to do research and better understand the condition.”
“But on the other hand. It is legitimate to be concerned about the risks of pathologization of normal behavior or unnecessary treatment.”


That last concern is what has driven much of the opposition to who’s designation. Coming from researching video games and violence, Stetson University psychologist Christopher Ferguson is especially concerned about a moral panic – a kind of negative overreaction that often follows new trends and technologies.

“Often there are these kinds of visceral, negative reactions to new technologies that in some cases lead to pretty extreme claims,” Ferguson said. “It’s not hard to see that in the video game addiction empire, where you see headlines that video games are ‘digital heroin.’ “
Consider that President Donald Trump has suggested that video games could be to blame for mass shootings. There is simply no conclusive evidence to support this claim. But it’s the kind of thing we’ve seen consistently, from parents calling rock and roll “the music of the devil” to comic book censorship to fears about violent movies..

What is addiction anyway?

There is still a big gap between the public understanding of addiction and the expert vision. It is common to hear people casually call an activity “addictive”, just because it is fun. Some people continue to see addiction not as a medical condition, but as a moral failure, contrary to what major public health and medical organizations say.. There are still misconceptions that addiction requires some kind of physical component – for example, physical dependence that causes withdrawal – or that physical dependence is compelling evidence of addiction.

Experts, however, have long distanced themselves from these old notions of addiction.. According to experts, addiction does not require a physical dependency component.

How gambling disorder is defined

Looking at WHO’s’ explanation of pulpit disorder fits gaming into the modern understanding of addiction:
Gambling disorder is characterized by a pattern of persistent or recurable gaming behaviour (‘digital gaming’ or ‘video gaming’), which may be online (i.e. over the Internet) or offline, manifested by: 1) decreased control over gaming (e.g. commencement, frequency, intensity, duration, termination, context); 2) increasing the priority given to gaming to the extent that gambling takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities; and 3) continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. The pattern of behavior is of sufficient severity to result in a significant disability in personal, familial, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning. The pattern of gaming behavior can be continuous or episodic and recurring. The game behavior and other functions are normally clear over a period of at least 12 months to get a diagnosis, although the required duration can be shortened if all diagnostic requirements are met and the symptoms are severe.

The main consideration here is not some kind of physical symptom. No physical symptoms are mentioned. It is, again, about compulsive use despite negative consequences. This fits with how other addictions are viewed by experts.

This is not an easy diagnosis. You can’t say someone is addicted just because he plays games for more than a certain number of hours a week. In fact, experts like Billieux strongly warned against that kind of interpretation.
“We shouldn’t combine a big engagement with problematic engagement,” Billieux said. You have a high commitment to gaming, if gaming is your main hobby, but you have to do it in a completely controlled way that will not negatively affect your daily life.

An oft-cited example is severe sleep deprivation. If someone consistently loses a lot of sleep to video games, chances are something bad is going on there.

That doesn’t mean that anyone who loses a little sleep to play games or has another hobby isaddicted. But it is a sign that can be used to try to diagnose if someone has a problem.

A good doctor brings together these kinds of data points and anecdotes to gauge whether someone is addicted to games. Are they losing sleep? Are they not fulfilling great responsibilities such as school and work? Are they neglecting family and friends? If you put all this together, and it seems that someone consistently puts games above everything else, despite negative consequences, then that’s an indication of an addiction.

This also applies to other drugs. It’s not enough to just use alcohol, marijuana, opioids, or other drugs to be addicted. Even using them a lot is not a sign of addiction (although it may be unhealthy for other reasons). Addiction is when someone uses these drugs compulsively, despite the damage that follows.

Sommige people are more susceptible to addiction than others

So what makes the minority of people with addiction problems different from the majority? Researchers don’t have a conclusive answer to the question, but they say it’s probably a whole range of factors.

In some, it may be due to mental health problems. Video games give an exhaust blow and put negative feelings aside for amoment. Other mental health problems, such as anxiety, may also play a role. It could also be genetic. Some people simply experience fewer temptations, or have more willpower, than others.

A person’s environment can also play a role. Maybe someone will be forced to move to a place where they have no friends, family, or previous hobbies, so games will soon be the only thing that gives her joy, and soon enough it’s all she does. It could be that, for some people, games are uniquely accessible, making them easy to play toomuch.

And it could be all these things combined or something else entirely. No one knows for sure, whether for gaming addiction or other forms of addiction.

Video games pose unique risks to addiction

There are also factors that can make games uniquely risky compared to other activities, making it more likely that someone will become addicted to them and play way too much.

One is easy access.

Billieux quoted a patient who likened the rush he gets playing Fortnite,a very popular online multiplayer game, he compared it to the experience of skydiving.

Think about what that means for this person. In the past, he would have had to take several steps, from booking a plane to physical travel, to get the adrenaline of skydiving. Now all he has to do is turn on which device he plays Fortnite on and get the same rush right away.

And Fortnite is on every gaming device, including phones. So someone can play Fortnite literally all the time, certainly much more than they can go skydiving.

Another problem is the possibility of immersion. In games, you don’t just follow the stories and actions of certain characters; You’re the characters. In roleplaying games like World of Warcraft,you spendhundreds, if not thousands, hours building a character – going through a story that makes you feel like a part of it, taking on challenges, and building a reputation for yourself among other gamers. This can be further exacerbated if a game such as World of Warcraft,has an online multiplayerelement, compounding the immersion with socialization with other players..

Increasingly, some other games are also taking over gambling mechanics, introducing a whole new layer of addiction. An example is loot boxes, which players buy in games with in-game currency or real money for a chance at exclusive or powerful items.

Video games can also do a lot of good

Part of the concern here is that stifling video games can harm people in substance. But Games are also used in education. In some places, such as the Games for Emotional and Mental Health Lab at Radboud University in the Netherlands, research is now being carried out into the use of video games for therapy.

But outside of a medical environment, video games entertain people. They can let people relax after a hard day. They can offer an escape. These are all real benefits that help people on a daily basis.
For the vast majority of the billions of people who play games, gaming is a form of entertainment and not a problem to solve.