Healthy or Hurtful? Gaming Addictions in the Gaming Community

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We’ve all been there: just one more level, just one more boss fight – just one more hour. But when does gaming turn from a casual day-off activity into an all-consuming, life-altering experience that negatively impacts the gamer? Video game addiction comes in many forms, and the more educated we are about it, the less likely we are to fall victim to it.

Simply put, video game addiction is a compulsion, and one that directly interferes with a person’s everyday life. This can be through the consumption of time, misappropriated priorities, or even going as far as psychological and behavioural alterations. This can affect people of any age, sex, or culture. Bear with me, as this may sound frightening, but the average gaming addiction affects only an approximate 10-15% of gamers.

We can relate this type of compulsion to anything in our lives: reading, working out, or even writing. That necessity to see something through to the end, only to find more work tacked on to your ultimate goal, or a new goal rising up right past the finish line. It’s that compulsion that everyone needs to hold him- or herself accountable to, and to watch for signs of abuse in others.

What Gamers Need to Look For:

So you’ve got a new patch launching for your favourite MMO, or a new FPS is hitting the shelves and you want to be the first to devour all the new content. You think to yourself: ‘I can just call in sick or take a vacation day, it’s really not a big deal.’ It’s only one day. Take a step back and think about what that means. It means that you are consciously pushing your job aside for a fantasy. If it’s really something you want, sure, everybody takes a day here and there to do something they love.

But what if you find yourself justifying doing this more frequently? Suddenly, you don’t feel like working, so you’ll take a day here and there. Maybe you start to call in sick enough for your work to reprimand you, which starts a depression and then – you guessed it – you turn to your fantasy world to tend to your wounds and hide you from the reality of your miserable mindset or situation. The next thing you know, you’re unemployed, cut off from people you used to call family and friends, and you have no idea how it got so bad. This is a serious issue and you really need to either take a step outside the gaming world for a while and get your life back together, or seek professional help.

There have been many occasions where this type of problem becomes more than just a fleeting ‘skip work’ day and becomes a negative spiral that can break apart the very ground you’ve built your life on. There was a lawyer in 2007, Mathew Eshelman, who lost his job to his gaming addiction. Eventually he lost his private practice, went bankrupt, and by 2011 was suspended for three years from practicing law because of his obsession with gaming. This is no small matter, and much like any other addiction it can become all-consuming if not stopped before it becomes a problem.

I know from personal experience that when a new Legend of Zelda game was coming out, my brother and I would plan a vacation day for the same day of the launch, so we could spend the day together experiencing the new content. This has been a tradition for us, and the only time I have personally taken a day off specifically to game. In fact, if it weren’t for my brother and I sharing this tradition together, I would probably never take a day off for any video game. There needs to be a balance in someone’s life no matter what their hobby is, and when a hobby becomes more important than real life, it’s time to take a step back from that hobby.

Remember that horrible story about the couple in South Korea in 2009 whose child died of malnutrition because they were spending all of their time raising a virtual baby? For those of you who don’t remember the news story and are reading this for the first time with their jaws halfway to the floor, this is how extreme any addiction can get, and how ridiculous it sounds to those watching from the outside. Someone in the world actually let their real live baby die of starvation while tending to their virtual baby. It sounds absolutely absurd, even to gamers! But in the end, people with real, psychological addictions stop thinking in a logical thought pattern, and will go to any length to justify their actions.

These are just a few basic examples that highlight how easily someone can fall into a downward spiral involving video games. Gaming itself isn’t inherently evil, or dangerous, but, like drinking or gambling advertisements like to remind us, people need to be responsible. Know when to stop, and set yourself a limit. While this may not work for everybody, it is imperative that every gamer take responsibility for their real life over and above their gaming life.

What Non-Gamers Frequently Misunderstand About Gamers:

With all the negative hype involving video games, it’s hard not to fall into the mob mentality, especially as an outsider. We fear what we don’t understand, and people don’t look at the virtual world and the activities within it the same way they look at activities in the real world. This can be a really hard concept to a non-gamer, and it’s no wonder gamers complain about being in the dog house – again – because of a late night raid, or Saturday afternoon spent playing the newest Call of Duty.  There are very simple things that non-gamers can look for in order to determine if someone in their life is truly addicted or just participating in a healthy gaming lifestyle and community.

Firstly, people need to look at habits. Does this person take time off of work regularly to engage in a virtual world, or do they only restrict it to their free time? Has it suddenly become a struggle to have them stop gaming and go visit their grandmother for her 80th birthday party, or did they just skip coffee with friends because they weren’t in the mood to go out that night, and they’re doing coffee with those friends two days from now anyway? As a non-gamer, when you really want to catch a movie, or read a book, or go for a bike ride, do you sometimes do the same? If you do, chances are this is just a normal hobby for them and it’s nothing to be concerned with. Addicts will tend to miss multiple special occasions, forget plans that they’ve made, and come up with constant excuses of headaches, stomach aches, or even the flu in order to squeeze more hours in. They’ll opt out of social situations early and come home late on a constant basis in order to game more game time in. These are the signs of an addict in any form, and should be carefully considered before automatically assuming they have a legitimate issue.

Secondly, there are the spenders. It’s normal for a gamer to invest in new gear every now and again, and frequent game purchases are a necessary part of the hobby. These are normal signs of an active hobby life, and shouldn’t be thought of as more. But, like shoe addictions, gamers can get into the ‘spend, spend, spend’ mentality and spend beyond their means – consistently. When this happens, and they start trading in things like their appliances, forgoing food, or even selling their cars (yes, it happens folks), this has officially become a big problem. Watch for signs of gamers spending beyond their means on a regular basis, as this could indicate a real problem that they need to evaluate and adjust before it causes a lot of harm to their lives.

Lastly, we come to the scariest of issues: the rage gamers. Irrational anger towards games and everything around the gamer when they aren’t getting their way is a major indicator of a bigger issue. Not to be mistaken with a “come on!” or “you’re dead, buddy!” at the screen during gameplay, or even an irritated remark that they are busy while involved in a game. There are some people who have legitimate rage issues associated with gaming and that is something that may require professional guidance to overcome. There was even a case of a woman in Florida back in 2010 who physically shook her baby to death for interrupting her while she was playing FarmVille. If a gamer seems to become verbally or emotionally tempered and abusive when they cannot play a video game, this is something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible, even if no other symptoms of addiction are present.

When it comes to time actually spent playing games, keep in mind that there are different types of gamers, and different habits that form based on the platform they prefer. In a study done by Ignite Gaming Technologies, PC Gamers typically spend twice to four times as much time gaming as console gamers, and are usually playing with actual people more often, as opposed to the console gamers who statistically play solo more often.  The average gamer in the UK spends 2.5 hours a day playing games, while the average American children under the age of 19 spend roughly 1.9 hours glued to their consoles each day.  Non-gamers need to keep this in mind, and really look at how much time is being dedicated to the activity to gauge what is normal behaviour.

Most Importantly – Don’t Let Your Team Down:

As gamers we tend to see obsessive behaviour in friends from time to time.  While all of us understand there are different types of gamers with different schedules and commitments, it’s important to watch for signs of abuse, and call your friends out on it if you think it’s beginning to become a real problem. Sometimes people don’t even realize they have an issue until they’re already so far in they can’t find a way out by themselves.

By ignoring the warning signs and enabling them by inaction, your friend may eventually log out for good because he/she could not maintain a healthy balance in his/her life, and could even potentially ruin his/her real life in the process. Don’t jump the gun, and don’t alienate people for their love of all things gaming, but understand there are real warning signs that point to bigger problems, and it’s our responsibility as a community and as a gamer to keep ourselves in check, and know when to log off for the night.

For more information and resources regarding gaming addiction, check out: http://www.video-game-addiction.org/.

About This Post

August 28, 2013 - 1:23 am

Feature, Gaming Life, Opinion

  • EnSabac

    Well it’s good to hear that my gaming sits as a hobby and not an addiction. At 3-4 hours a night I was considering that it may be an addiction.

    • Will Anderson

      My Xbox tells me to get a job and move out of my mom’s place. Best. Hobby. Ever.

    • Rachel McBurney

      Your wife wouldn’t let it become an addiction, dude. Remember what she did to your beard? Yeah, I don’t worry about you so much. ;)