Video Games are now “Addictive”? Well…

On my way in to the office earlier this week, I heard (yet another) story about how Video Game Addiction is now a thing. This time it came from NPR, and apparently the World Health Organization (WHO) has now classified “Gaming Disorder” as a Mental Health Condition.

“Here we go again”, right? As an avid gamer, I am supposed to spout off about how, “I’m a gamer but I’m not addicted!”, right? How, “None of my friends are addicted!”, and the go on about the mental health benefits of gaming, right? Right?

Well…

Here’s the thing: I am actually inclined to believe this. I’ve had this conversation with several friends over the years, but I’ve never put my thoughts in an official forum. So here we go!

The first thing that you’ve got to understand is that games, modern games especially, are designed to slam the reward center of your brain with sweet, sweet awesomeness at controlled intervals. Little bursts of those pleasure hormones and opioids for those routine accomplishments, like a little “Hi-5” for a good head-shot, and massive washes of accomplishment when you finally drop the raid boss. These aspects of games are designed, with great attention to detail, to be as rewarding as possible. Is there potential for addiction in this scenario? Probably.

Also, we know that addiction doesn’t always exist independently. There could be other factors at work, including genetics and current life situations. There are many reasons why someone may fall victim to addiction and I am not even going to pretend to be an expert in this field of study.

So why am I writing this if I readily admit my own ignorance in the matter?

Because, for just one second, I am asking that people put their knee-jerk reactions on hold for a moment and actually think about things.

In my personal life I have been fortunate. Growing up, I had just assumed my home life was average, maybe a little below. Looking back, I have come to realize that perception was just my teenage angst acting up and I had to rage against the world for a few years before I figured things out. The truth is my life was pretty stable. I have never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from. My parent’s got along just fine. My extended family was supportive in all my extracurricular activities. Hell, I was involved in extracurricular activities including tech competitions, music, and sports. I don’t have a history of addiction in my family. I don’t have a history of mental health disorders in my family.

But that’s not always the case for everyone. Sometimes, just hitting the baseline for what could be considered “normal life” is a struggle.

Back in Episode 007 with Megan Rodriguez, we talked about how gaming can be beneficial for a person’s mental health. The HUGE caveat for that is that neither one of us suggested that spending all your time in the virtual world would be a good thing. To bring back on of those concepts from the episode, we had mentioned how gaming can help you through tough phases of your life because within the game world, everything makes sense. There’s a certain amount of artificial stability there, where quests and character progression follow a logical order. Things typically happen in a predictable order. When things are random or unpredictable, it is actually an enjoyable part of the game’s mechanics.

On top of that, YOU are the HERO. You are not the one who is constantly ridiculed for shortcomings and everyone (except for your enemies, of course) are genuinely happy to see you and celebrate your arrival and conquests.

Given the choice between how ugly someone’s world can become and a virtual world that you can control and be celebrated, which would you choose?

Finally, Gaming Disorder is currently being classified close to Gambling Disorder, and I can readily see the similarities. Both are based in an external activity that involve risk and reward. In order to identify a potential condition early, here’s a list of signs of Gambling Disorder from PsychologyToday.com:

A diagnosis of gambling disorder requires at least four of the following during the past year:

  1. Need to gamble with increasing amount of money to achieve the desired excitement
  2. Restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling
  3. Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling
  4. Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling venture, thinking of ways to get money to gamble)
  5. Often gambling when feeling distressed
  6. After losing money gambling, often returning to get even (referred to as “chasing” one’s losses)
  7. Lying to conceal gambling activity
  8. Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job or educational/career opportunity because of gambling
  9. Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling

Just to be clear, (if it wasn’t obvious), DO NOT USE THIS BLOG POST TO DIAGNOSE YOURSELF OR ANYONE ELSE! If you have concerns about your mental health, or someone else’s, seek guidance from a professional and not some internet blogger!

In closing, I have my doubts that there are many people out there who are truly suffering from  Gaming Disorder. There are those who game because that is their hobby. It’s what they do; it’s enjoyable and it’s readily available just about everywhere. HOWEVER, please do not be reactionary and toss this development aside just because you and your friends have your gaming habits under control.

While you may have a handle on life, others may not be so fortunate.

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