Do you have a loved one who demonstrates insatiable hunger for playing digital games? Do they stay up late to play at the expense of other important tasks? Do they make excuses not to go out of the house only for you to realize they spend that time playing video games? Are they now missing school, work or family functions to create time for such games?
They could be having a medical condition called gaming disorder.
What is gaming disorder?
By simple definition, gaming disorder is excessive playing of computer or video games that interferes with one’s daily life. The games can be online or offline. This compulsive behavior can come over both children and adults who love playing digital games.
In 2018, the World Health Organization released the 11th edition of International Classification of Diseases (IDC-11). In this revision, the organization added compulsive video game playing in their list of “Disorders Due to Addictive Behavior.” Just like gambling disorder, gaming disorder is now a diagnosable mental health condition.
With this classification, the WHO described gaming disorder as a behavioral pattern that influences gamers to:
- Increasingly prioritize gaming over other important daily activities or interests.
- Demonstrate an inability to exercise control over gaming.
- Continued playing even after noticeable negative consequences.
The WHO further proposed that for a condition to be diagnosed as a gaming disorder, the above behavioral patterns must be severe and demonstrated for more than 12 months. Additionally, there should be evidence that the gaming tendencies have led to major impairment in the functioning of significant areas of one’s life such as family, school, social, career and others.
This classification came at a time when many medical bodies and researchers still disagree on the diagnostic criteria of the condition. For instance, prior the classification, the American Psychiatric Association in their 5th edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders had already called for further clinical research about Internet Gaming Disorder before officially classifying it as a psychiatric condition. Due to this controversy, policymakers, as well as many households, cannot clearly determine how to handle people who tend to have abnormal video gaming behaviors.
Another reason for the debate is that only a small percentage of such players struggle with video game dependency. Based on expert research, it’s just about 3.1 percent of digital game enthusiasts who are at risk or show signs of addiction. Consequently, some gamers argue that the problems could be associated with underlying mental problems. Even if the small percentage is a cause for concern, some medical and psychological experts hold the view that the WHO’s classification of gaming disorder was based on weak scientific evidence.
Signs and Symptoms of Gaming Addiction
The signs and symptoms of a psychiatric disorder related to gaming can be classified into two categories;
- Psychological Signs and Symptoms
- Withdrawal signs like feelings of lethargy, cravings, sadness, anxiety, irritability, and boredom when the games are taken away.
- Agoraphobia – fear of leaving their houses
- Telling lies to friends and family when talking about the time spent on video games
- Avoiding other social activities or dropping past interests to create time for video games
- Absorption in digital games – the person always thinks about the last game they played and looks forward to the next gaming session.
- Physical Signs and Symptoms
- Sleep deprivation
- Poor eating habits or poor diet
- A decline in personal hygiene
- Physically aggressive
- Skipping school or work to continue playing.
- Migraines related to eye-strain
Gaming disorder: A cause for concern or not?
Let’s look at it this way – 3.1% in a world full of 7.7 billion people means that we are talking about 238.7 million people of the world’s population battling with digital gaming disorder. They could be children, teenagers, and adults. Add to this number the parents, wives, sisters, brothers, and children suffering because their relative is hooked onto online or offline video games.
By classifying this condition as a health disorder, the WHO simply recognizes that this affected population shouldn’t be ignored. It should be facilitated to get the necessary help. Besides, there are known short-term and long-term dangers of gaming disorder.
Dangers of digital games dependency
If you want to know if excessive video games can affect you negatively, look at the effects of other addictive activities – gambling, drug abuse, and others. Any compulsive disorder has serious consequences that can be short-lived or long-term depending on how the problem is handled. Let’s see what some of the poor habits of computer gaming can lead to;
• Sleep deprivation
Avoiding sleep will make one to always feel lethargic and fatigued. The short-term effect is that one is unable to attend to their daily duties effectively. If the habit continues for long, it is possible for one to develop sleep disorders.
• Poor diet/eating habits
It goes without saying that this person will experience hunger and feelings of lethargy in the short-term. However, a poor diet in the long-run can lead to various health problems such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, just to mention a few.
Staying alone to play games can make you miss important activities like family gatherings and friends reunions. This is a short-term consequence. Continued isolation can lead to long-term challenges like loss of significant relationships involving family and friends. Actually, addictive behaviors have led to divorce in the past.
• Prioritizing games over school or work
It is possible to spend a lot of time playing and fail to complete school or work tasks on time. Other addicts do not attend school or work at all. Pre-occupation with such games can also lead to poor performance in both school and at work. Such a trend can lead to termination of work or discontinuation from school.
How to get rid of gaming disorder
Gaming addiction doesn’t affect the gamer alone. Those around the addicted will also be affected. For instance, if a child drops out of school for reasons related to addiction to video games, the parents will bear some part of the burden. If this is a father or mother who loses a job, then the spouse and children suffer. This makes the need for getting rid of gaming disorder a collective responsibility. If affected, you have various options;
• Reduce the time spent gaming
This involves a deliberate effort to take responsibility for the time you spend playing online games. It’s the first step and easiest for someone who isn’t in advanced stages of gaming addiction.
• Counseling and therapies
Therapies exist for people with abnormal gaming behavior that they have been unable to control on their own. They lack the willpower to stop, slow-down or reduce the time they have been spending on gaming. Counseling can also be given to people who live with someone addicted to digital games.
• Online gamers anonymous
You can join programs designed for those striving to quit games and beat their addiction. Here, you connect with people battling a similar condition and can find support or receive counseling that will help you to come clean.
• Seek medical treatment
It’s common for people to treat the short-term symptoms of gaming disorders like migraine and diet-related illnesses on their own. They just buy over-the-counter medications to deal with the current problem. However, medical practitioners can still prescribe drugs that control addictive behaviors. The most important consideration here is to get advice from a certified practitioner before using any medication.