Today, the virtual world of gaming is becoming increasingly relevant in the context of reality. It is now seen as a marketing solution, a sport and a job that earns serious amounts of money. The gaming industry is growing rapidly. In 2019 it was reported that the esports industry surpassed $1billion in revenue, and attracted audiences of more than 443 million.[1] It is seen as the doorway to younger generations – the most effective way to get through to people hypnotised by television screens. Whether it’s gambling, shopping, downloading music, socialising, sharing tips or recipes, technology encompasses all.[2] As digital means continue to evolve and attract, we will likely see far more issues related to technology – just look at online gambling. 95% of young people aged twelve to seventeen are currently ‘online.’[3] There is a dependence on technology, and this will ultimately transcend into addiction in a number of cases.

It is something we should prepare for, and this means gaming too. When children lock themselves in dark rooms for hours on end, staring at screens, we must do more than eye roll. Gaming has many addictive qualities and people – especially children – are vulnerable to these. It is important to understand gaming for what it is. It is more than harmless games and virtual reality; it is a form of escape for those who may be struggling; an irresistible lure for those who may be vulnerable. Of course, not all cases are the same. But neither is any addiction. Here, we take a look at what gaming addiction is; how it affects people; and who is most vulnerable.

What is a gaming addiction?

Gaming addiction or Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) is a behavioural addiction referring to a pattern of frequent or persistent gaming, despite the negative consequences it may cause.[4] It is a disorder that has only recently been classified as such. It wasn’t until late 2018 that gaming disorder was included by the World Health Organisation in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

The WHO have defined gaming disorder ‘as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.[5]

As mentioned, technology is likely to give rise to a number of behavioural issues. These can all be labelled under the broader issue of internet addictions and studies have revealed that gaming addiction forms a significant proportion of these.[6] Do not let it fool you. Studies have also identified that gaming addiction shares a number of similarities with physical and psychological manifestations of substance and gambling addiction – it must be treated with the same vigour.[7] If there are any doubts over whether gaming is a serious addiction, then look no further than Okan Kaya – the Australian gamer who set a new world record of just over one-hundred-and-thirty-five hours of non-stop gaming. Staggering but worrying. Any form of substance or service that generates that level of interest for that much time should be closely observed, especially when young people are the target audience. A world record, yes. But a slightly alarming insight into the addictive qualities of gaming.

How does it affect you?

It is incredibly consuming. A casual gamer may dip in and out. An addict’s life, revolves around gaming. Like any addiction, the extent to how it affects a person is dependent on their use. Some gamers may spend most of the day glued to their screen; some all day and every day. Compared to substance abuse, the consequences – both physical and psychological – are far less severe. But the wider impact can often be just as destructive. Ryan Van Cleave is the author of Unplugged: My Journey in the Dark World of Video Game Addiction. His dependence on World of Warcraft left him addicted, and his real life suffered. Everything made way for gaming. His wife, children and successful job as a university English professor – gaming took over.[8] He described the feeling he got from World of Warcraft as ‘godlike’, adding “I have ultimate control and can do what I want with few real repercussions.”[9]

This is exactly the problem: as people become more absorbed and obsessed by what they are experiencing online they completely disregard real-life responsibilities. This is an extreme case, but one that we will likely hear more of as gaming becomes a more established and popular part of modern-day society. With gaming there have also always been concerns about how certain games will influence real-life perceptions. Parents are of course fearful of allowing children to play violent games, often associated with war. This is understandable and there are a number of cases where violent gaming has prevailed in real-life situations. One study, however, outlined that despite the negative effect of these games, violent arousal ‘has a positive effect on children’s development, particularly self-regulation and thinking aloud.’[10]

There are also physical and psychological consequences to consider. Too much gaming may cause eye strain and potential long-term visual impairment; muscle tension and postural issues, which may lead to chronic back and joint pain.[11] The psychological implications should not be taken lightly. Studies have identified that gamers may experience “diminished real-life relationships, disregard for self-care, sleep deprivation and poor nutrition, decreased school and work performance, low self-esteem, loneliness, increased aggression and hostility, and difficulty with verbal memory.”[12] An addition to gaming is more than moody teenagers and diminished social skills: it can break families, jobs and cause serious psychological damage. It must be approached and managed, with these implications in-mind.

Who can become addicted to gaming?

Anyone. But there are number of traits and similarities many gaming addicts share. For a start, this is largely a male problem. Men demonstrate far more addictive traits than women in relation to gaming screen hours and cravings.[13] Like all addictions, everything is dependent on the individual. That specific personality and their surroundings will define how and how frequently they choose to game. Among adolescents, the topic is also complex. Studies have revealed that it is a problem influenced by a number of neurobiological systems, personality and socioeconomic and environmental variables.[14] They have also identified that gaming addiction is perhaps something people grow out of naturally. For instance, when assessing a child for IGD, that person’s maturity and personality development should be taken into account. It is likely that if they share dysfunctional personality traits associated with IGD, these will likely change or disappear in the near future.[15]

When someone mentions gaming addiction, there is a one stereotype that comes to mind. It is important, however, to understand if there is a particular personality type that gaming addiction impacts. One particular study observed one-hundred-and-twenty-three students at an East midlands university in the UK. It found five personality traits most prevalent: neuroticism, sensation seeking, trait anxiety, state anxiety, and aggression. And all of these shared displayed significant associations with gaming addiction.[16] Research is limited, but it is important to understand the potential type of person most vulnerable to gaming addiction.

For some, when placed alongside other addictions, gaming may seem irrelevant. It may not share the same level of stigma or risks attached as some class-A substances, but it is an increasingly worrying issue among young males. People must take gaming addiction seriously, and realise that it is part of a much broader wave of potential behavioural issues, associated with technology. As technology evolves and more people use it, things like gaming will continue to grow – more cases of addiction will occur. As the connected world wakes up to the potential gains of gaming, so too must the mental-health industry. It poses a number of risks and dangers, and younger people are the target audience. We must be prepared to prevent and deal with the consequences.

Sources:

[1] Forbes. Article. 2019. Global Esports Revenue Reaches More Than $1 Billion As Audience Figures Exceed 433 Million, [online], available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesayles/2019/12/03/global-esports-revenue-reaches-more-than-1-billion-as-audience-figures-exceed-433-million/#52fd88231329 [accessed 12 June 2020].

[2] Başol G, Kaya AB. 2018. Motives and Consequences of Online Game Addiction: A Scale Development Study. Arch Neuropsychiatry. [online], available at: http://www.noropsikiyatriarsivi.com/sayilar/c55s3/en/npa_v55n3_225-232.pdf [accessed 13 June 2020].

[3] ibid.

[4] Priory Group. Webpage. Gaming Addiction. [online], available at: https://www.priorygroup.com/addiction-treatment/gaming-addiction-treatment [accessed 11 June 2020].

[5] https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/gaming-disorder [accessed 22 June 2020]

[6] Başol G, Kaya AB. 2018. Motives and Consequences of Online Game Addiction: A Scale Development Study

[7] Kevin H. Chen, John L. Oliffe, Mary T. Kelly. 2018. Internet Gaming Disorder: An Emergent Health Issue for Men

[8] ibid.

[9] The Guardian. 2011. At war with World of Warcraft: an addict tells his story. [online], available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/aug/29/world-of-warcraft-video-game-addict [accessed 22 June 2020]

[10] Başol G, Kaya AB. 2018. Motives and Consequences of Online Game Addiction: A Scale Development Study. Arch Neuropsychiatry.

[11] Mehroof M, Griffiths MD. 2010. Online gaming addiction: the role of sensation seeking, self-control, neuroticism, aggression, state anxiety, and trait anxiety. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. [online], available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20557251/ [accessed 22 June 2020]

[12] ibid.

[13] Kevin H. Chen, John L. Oliffe, Mary T. Kelly. 2018. Internet Gaming Disorder: An Emergent Health Issue for Men

[14] González-Bueso V, Santamaría JJ, Oliveras I, et al. 2020. Internet Gaming Disorder Clustering Based on Personality Traits in Adolescents, and Its Relation with Comorbid Psychological Symptoms. [online] available at: doi:10.3390/ijerph17051516 [accessed 22 June 2020]

[15] ibid.

[16] Mehroof M, Griffiths MD. 2010. Online gaming addiction: the role of sensation seeking, self-control, neuroticism, aggression, state anxiety, and trait anxiety