Sometimes It Really Is A Problem: Addiction In The Gamersphere

The gamersphere. That wonderful world of worlds full of choices and options. We can be heroes, villains, warriors, and magicians, but we can also become addicted!

On May 28th, the term “Gaming Addiction” will have its fourth anniversary as an officially recognized mental disorder by the World Health Organization. Considered a cognitive-behavioral disorder, it falls under the same title as some major heavyweights like PTSD, anxiety, and OCD. This is due to the consistent abuse of gaming showing similar symptoms in how they affect the person in their day-to-day life. Drug addiction is also listed, and coincidentally what gaming addiction symptoms mirror most closely.

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

• Allowing the game they wish to play to dominate their thoughts, causing them to lose track of current tasks or deadlines they are supposed to meet. This can result in low job performance or failing to adhere to duties in the home until the conditions are impossible to ignore or someone else gets it done.

• Lack of personal hygiene, drive, and self-preservation. The gaming addict chooses to be alone most of the time. Often, like depressive personalities and drug addicts, this leads to a lower expectation of self-care. Less bathing, eating at will with no health-conscious decisions being made, failure to change clothes or “living in their pajamas.” Sometimes the player will opt not to eat at all, allowing dehydration and hunger to take second to the game they are invested in.

• Mood swings can range from emotional (crying and moping) to extreme (screaming or violent outbursts).

• Sleep patterns are disrupted, often by a gamer’s will to remain in darker areas to avoid glare or distraction, making the day and night pattern almost non-existent. Or they tend to undersleep and then binge sleep in sporadic patterns. Whether you agree time exists or is a human fabrication, time patterns are considered a necessary part of a human’s sanity, with it being proven that deprived people can suffer debilitating and permanent effects according to J. Leach.

One can read up further on the psychological effects by reading the full thesis of J. Leach

Psychological Factors in extreme, exceptional or torture situations.

Additional information on the actual physical and psychological effects can be found among the several studies and online published literature of the wonderful Sarah M. Coyne who conducted a 6 year study into the subject.

On October 15th, 1971, Computer Space was introduced at the Music Operators of America Trade Show Chicago. November and December would see it to shelves available to anyone and everyone, making it the very first commercially available title in gaming history. Between 1971 and 1980, several runners would emerge in the industry, but Atari would take the lead, boasting the highest sales and most success on both in-home and arcade versions of their games. Pong especially took off with a fervor that still makes occasional appearances today, being offered on everything from PC to your phone. By 1980, many mental health experts had already begun to see an addiction pattern emerging with the new electronic trend and began studying the psychological and physical effects of its abuse. The specific focus was “computer catatonia,” most associated at the time with the popular title from Atari called Space Invaders. Players would seem to disconnect, becoming both incomprehensive of events going on around them, thus leading to the question, is it a willful obliviousness, or was it more similar to a drug’s forced focus based on involuntary triggers?

1983, many families reported symptoms that are now recognized as gaming addiction, with many doctors and specialists preaching the necessity for limiting screen time. Children and adults alike were falling victim to the symptoms, becoming almost zombies in the face of their little electronic escape.

Nintendo tipped the scales in 1989 with the creation of the Game Boy, making games and possible addiction mobile. The first study on gaming addiction concluded that year, showing that gaming did show addictive qualities but posed none of the dangers of typical substance abuse. Therefore, it was not considered an addictive activity.

By 1990, home consoles were just as common as TVs or stereos, boasting as many games as popular TV shows airing during that time.

In 1998, gaming mania really began to take a public interest. With upticks in violent events, music and gaming would be under fire for several years to come, being blamed as culprits and influencers in violent behavior and young people’s ability to differentiate between reality and make-believe. Ultimately this idea was discounted, and disclaimers were included to inform parents of adult or gory and violent themes. These are the rating labels we now see on almost every DVD, game, or cd case today. Mature (M) is the highest rating a game can have. They can include themes of sex, violence, and various other taboos that have become the norm in major gaming titles.

The year 2000 changed the whole dynamic of gaming forever, introducing online community gaming, now more well known as MMOs (massive multiplayer online), as well as mobile games one could play on the newest craze released, the smartphone. Leading to a 2008 study that concludes we emit 100% more dopamine during gameplay than we do during the normal course of a day. It is accepted this would lead to a major potential for addiction.

This opened up the world to a whole series of new and improved ways to game and become addicted. Between 2000 and 2013, a huge increase occurred in gaming-related disturbances. Some suffering from addiction became unable to maintain jobs, spending their time and resources maintaining memberships in online gaming communities instead of paying bills. A whole other array of problems had become recurring and impossible to ignore. In 2013, the idea of gaming addiction was recognized on an international level. The World Health Organization did not apply it to the “official index,” so it remained a mere theory for the following years. Many behavioral specialists began offering private studies and providing therapy to treat the symptoms in hopes of ending the pattern before it became a full-blown cycle. Yet, gaming continues to grow and remains one of the largest industries to date, with many people spending upwards of 80 hours a week in their choice of virtual escape, sometimes at the cost of friends, family, and even themselves.

Thankfully, 2019 and the WHO changing the index opens up so many more options for those who feel they suffer this condition. Many insurances will now cover it as cognitive behavioral therapy, most major mental health centers and top specialists offer some means of treatment, and most importantly, more are calling focus to it. While many earn a living by playing games and flexing their cyber gaming skills on podcasts, they also often stress the need to take a break. Sometimes not playing at all during a cast and having family time for the world to see and remind them you need this, they need this. It is a heavy burden for those who love to play yet also love to live. Be sure to protect you, yours, and the gamer generations to come. If you genuinely feel you or someone you know needs help, first approach them. Never seek outside help before approaching them yourself. Sometimes that caring word is enough, and most of the time, the addict already knows it is a problem, but someone else confirming it provides major validation. If they prove resistant to small hints, it may be time to consult an outside source and see what method would best work for your specific situation. Taking a moment to ask for help can save a whole life.

Do you think you need help but don’t know where to look?

SAMHSA’S national helpline: 1-(800)-622-Help (4357) is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year treatment referral service. They will quickly and discreetly assist you in finding a professional who can help you in your area. They are non-invasive and always looking to help those who cannot help themselves! Do not hesitate to seek assistance if you or someone you know truly needs it! Gaming is a wonderful way to be who you want to be in any capacity you want to be it. But like any escape, it can become a trap.