What Is Video Game Addiction?

Video Game Addiction (which has been called video game overuse, or pathological use of computer/video games) like many other addictions, is an impulse control disorder similar in many ways to compulsive shopping or compulsive gambling, rather than an addiction to a substance.

While not yet recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV, there is increasing evidence that people of all ages - especially preteens and teenagers - who compulsively play computer and video games are up against some very real consequences.

Video games, as technology advances, are becoming increasingly detailed and complex, which is a very compelling distraction for a lot people worldwide. More realistic and relatable characters, greater strategic planning, and better graphics mean that video games appeal to a greater and greater audience.

That doesn't mean that every person who plays video games becomes an addict, just like every person who enjoys a beer now and again is not an alcoholic. Most people can find the proper balance between work or school, time with friends, and video games. However, it's important to note that for a lot of people video games have become much more than a way to pass the time.

It's been estimated that 10-15% of people who play video games meet the criteria for addiction, neglecting their friends, family, hygiene, work, and school, interfering with their dreams and goals in lieu of living in a fantasy world.

Especially popular are massive multi-online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like "World of Warcraft," which allow people to interact with others around the world using a much different persona. Someone who is shy may be able to be outgoing, another person may go from being passive (in real life) to being an aggressive character online.

These types of games are especially popular among the younger crowd who feel powerless and invisible in their daily lives as they become able to lead entire armies, stand up for others, drive cars, all without real-life consequences.

Video games can become more than a recreational activity - they can become a compulsion with very real consequences.

Are All Video Games Bad?

Millions of people throughout the world play video games and most are normal, everyday people who don't experience negative consequences of video games or become addicted to video games. So while we do hear about the negative impacts of video games, it's important to remember that the cases in which people become so seriously addicted to video games are few and far between. That isn't to say that there doesn't exist a behavioral addiction to video games or that becoming a video game addict isn't harmful.

In fact, there are some benefits to video games, which include the following:

  • Video games allow you to think in different ways, which is especially important for children. 
  • Video games allow for the creation of new and different problem solving abilities.
  • Video games allow children and teens to learn about the computer - which is one of the more valuable tools we can teach our kids.
  • Playing video games allows for greater cognitive development, allowing for greater test scores, greater amounts of working memory, and critical thinking, all of which are vital to development.
  • Video games allow children to experience autonomy, or the ability to think for themselves and have the freedom to learn and explore.

What Makes A Video Game Addictive?

For those of us who don't play video games, or play them only sporadically, it can be a real struggle to ascertain why, exactly, someone would get hooked on a video game. Let's examine the reasons why certain video games are addicting:

1) Video games are designed to be addictive by manufacturers who are focused upon making games interesting and increase the time the game is played.

2) Almost all video games have an end, so people get hooked on the video game in order to beat the video game.

3) The elusive high score is one of the most common hooks found in video games - being able to beat the high score can keep a gamer playing for ages.

4) Learning something new. Often the discovery of a new area, tactic, or exploring can be a big hook for those who are addicted to video games.

5) Role-Playing Games allow gamers to create a character in the game and start an adventure based upon the character that the gamer has created.

6) Relationships with other gamers, especially in role-playing games, allow the gamer to form relationships with other gamers and allows them to live in a fantasy world where they're better accepted.

7) No ending - in games called Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, there's no ending, the hook and addiction potential lies there: that there is never ending, allowing the gamer to play indefinitely.

What Are The Signs of Video Game Addictions In Teens?

Video game use and overuse is on the rise with pre-teens and teenagers. Similar to other addictions, there are some signs that a teen may, in fact, have a problem with video games. The following are possible warning signs and symptoms of a video game addiction in teenagers: 

Downplaying video game use: it's common with someone who has a compulsion to play video and computer games to downplay the amount of time he or she spends playing; even making excuses to be online, or lying when confronted.

Preoccupation: if someone has a strong addiction to a video game or gaming system, when he or she is removed from the game, he or she may become:

  • Distracted
  • Irritable
  • Discusses the game endlessly
  • Disinterested in other conversations

"Losing" Time: someone who has a problem with video games may sit down to play a video game for "a few minutes" only to lose track of time completely and discover that he or she has been playing for several hours.

Losing Control: someone who has a problem with video games may be unable to control the amount of time he or she spends playing the game - often begging for "just a few more minutes."

Defensiveness/Denial: if someone has a video game problem and is confronted directly about his or her problem, the person may become defensive. Denial of a problem is often the first thing people notice about someone who has a problem with video game addiction.

Negative Impact: as a person who has a video game compulsion will often spend so much time playing video games that he or she may neglect friends and family, not complete school assignments, and neglecting personal hygiene.

Mixed Feelings: as is the case with most addictions, playing video games may cause an initial rush and feelings of joy, but that "high" is soon replaced by crushing guilt.

What Are The Signs Of Video Game Addiction In Adults?

Most people assume that video game addiction is something that primarily affects teenagers and young adults. It's hard to picture adults becoming addicted to video games, but it happens to a range of adults.

Why?

Being an adult can be overwhelming, lives full of responsibilities, stress; life can be a great balancing act for many of us. Video games offer an escape from reality - the ability to be someone else who doesn't have the same problems - to relax and unwind.

So when does video game use become a problem for adults? What are the red flags we see when video game use becomes excessive or an addiction? How do we handle a video game addiction when there's no adult there to stop the obsessive game playing?

Here are some of the signs that there may be a much bigger problem than simply "unwinding" after a tough day:

  • Gaming brings about intense feelings of uncontrollable pleasure coupled with guilt.
  • Lying about the amount of time spent playing the game.
  • Increasing amounts of time spent playing the video game.
  • Withdrawing socially and from family responsibilities in order to play the game, which results in a disruption in work, social, or family life.
  • Increasing feelings of irritation, anger, moodiness, depression, or anxiety when not playing the game.
  • Spending great amounts of time thinking about the game, even while doing other activities.
  • Work performance suffers, especially if the person has spent the night awake playing a video game.

Adults who have a video game addiction may also experience physical symptoms. These physical symptoms of video game addiction can include:

  • Migraine headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Back and neck pain
  • Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
  • Dry eyes
  • Not practicing good self-care (showering, eating, social isolation, proper sleep habits)

Signs You Need Help With Video Game Addiction:

It can be hard to tell when the threshold between having fun and video game addiction begins. Generally speaking, if you feel there is a problem, there probably is. Talk to someone you trust about your addiction to video games and learn to identify the underlying issues that created the addiction.

What follows are some of the signs that you may need help to control video game addiction:

1) You're preoccupied with going online and gaming while you're supposed to be focusing on work, school, or time with family.

2) You spend more time with the computer or video game console than you do other people.

3) You feel very happy when you're gaming, but when you stop, you get upset or angry.

4) You lie about how much time you spend playing video games.

5) You have trouble sleeping, so you get up overnight to check on your game or get in a "quick game" that can last hours.

Why Do Some People Develop Video Game Addictions?

To be able to treat any addiction, we must first understand why people become addicted to video games. Here are some of the common reasons people develop video game addictions:

  • Those who have video game addictions are usually practicing escapism, or trying to get away from other problems in his or her life.
  • It can be thrilling for someone who has very little control in their lives to control the world of a video game.
  • Younger people who have video game addictions may not have any ability to relate to others.
  • Face-to-face interactions may be difficult - or nearly impossible - for those who have video game addictions.
  • An online gaming world offers the opportunity to edit what one says before speaking to another gamer.
  • Teens and preteens who are socially awkward and/or shy are at much greater risks for developing video game addictions than children who are in sports or other group activities.

Understand what the root of the problem is for those addicted to video games is part of the solution.

How Is Video Game Addiction Treated?

Like other behavioral addictions, video game addictions should be treated and handled like other addictions. That's why it's important to understand why, exactly people get hooked on video games. Here are some tips for treating video game addictions:

Help your loved one build confidence in the real world so that they have something to do that doesn't involve games.

Enroll them in after school programs in order to have somewhere NOT on the computer or the gaming system for your teen to be.

Encourage your child to get a part-time job or internship.

Enroll your child or teen in a team sport or extra curricular classes.

Volunteer your time with your child doing something he or she likes together.

Pick a new hobby.

Find a local support group for those who are also suffering behavioral addictions.

Set and stick to limits on time allowed to play video games.

Find a therapist who specializes in video game addictions (or other behavioral addictions) to find a detailed and specialized program for the person who is trying to overcome a video game addiction.

If one therapist does not work, don't hesitate to find a second, third, or fourth until you find a program that works for you or your child.

Related Resource Pages on Band Back Together:

Addiction

Impulse Control Disorders

Compulsive Gambling

Social Isolation

Additional Video Game Addiction Resources:

Benefits of Video Games - article that points out the positive aspects of video game usage.

Video Game Addiction Tied To Depression and Anxiety in Children - article that details the harmful effects of video games for some children.

Surprising Findings About Video Game Addictions: article in Forbes magazine that talks about the growing problems with video game addiction.