While strolling around a nearby supermarket the other day, my eyes fell on a local newspaper with the headline “Kids’ video game survey shock.” The article discussed a survey carried out in a local primary school by a UK’s only short-term treatment center for gambling addictions. The results were, indeed, shocking. Children as young as eleven years old were playing video games for at least eight hours every day. The youngsters admitted that their personal hygiene, health and eating habits suffered because of their addiction.
Experts at the Broadway Lodge rehabilitation center who carried out the survey say that the results of the questionnaires show that some youngsters are developing “a dangerous addiction to their Xbox or PlayStation.” The surveys also points towards another problem that may make treating video game addiction a lot harder than previously thought: mobile gaming. Both gamers and non-gamers are spending increasingly more time playing games on their mobile phones. And then there are the casual games on sites such as Facebook. Even my mother - who has hated video games all her life - plays Farmville and I often catch her saying “Time to check my farm, crops to harvest.” If she feels the addictive call of gaming I doubt there are many able to escape it.
Following the results of the survey, counselors are now entering schools to hold workshops with students and parents to create awareness for the problem. It’s not a moment too soon either as the situation has already become so bad that some children are missing school. Many schools are now seeking counselor support for their pupils too, proof that they want to do something to improve this worrying situation. While I am seeing these problems being brought out in the open in my local area, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a problem affecting kids all over the world.
The article in the paper points the finger of blame not just at the parents, but the culture kids grow up in. I’m inclined to agree. Parents are scared to let kids outside and there is great comfort in knowing that your kids are safe in their rooms rather than out on the streets amongst their pot smoking peers, pedophiles and child killers that apparently plague our streets. Like anything, gaming is good in moderation. Many parents are not aware of the effects of excessive gaming and when they are suddenly faced with an aggressive or overweight child, they push the panic button and label gaming as dangerous and addictive. They should, instead, look at their own inaction first.
Parents should be far more aware of the fact that gaming addiction may have lasting, negative effects to last a lifetime. Kids who are ‘addicted’ from an early age will miss out on their education and possibly start to risk their long-term health as well. I recall my 13 year old sister saying that a few of the boys in her class were feigning sickness the week that Black Ops was released. Now, I doubt these children were ‘addicted’ as such, but it is an example of a growing trend among teenagers and young adults. Gaming has lost its ‘geeky’ status and hundreds of millions of people are playing games.
Online gaming – the apparent culprit for gaming addiction – has become a major platform to socialize with others, causing unhealthy amounts of peer pressure for kids to be online too. It is the drive of wanting to play with their friends and ‘belong’ to the cool group that makes kids skip school and play whenever possible and keep on playing straight till bedtime unless a curfew is set and enforced by their parents.
Another aspect of games that may cause addiction can be found in the ‘pleasure principle’ similar to drug addicts simply getting addicted to feeling good. Researchers have zoomed in on the sense of satisfaction that gamers feel when they have performed a particular achievement. We all know the triumphant feeling of reaching a prestigious new rank or unlocking a particularly hard trophy. Similarly, receiving cheers and praise from online friends after pulling of a difficult feat can be an incredibly pleasurable and rewarding experience as well. Rewards are not necessarily a bad thing and are usually harmless. The problem begins when a person starts substituting this pleasure (a usually healthy dopamine shot created by the body) for other pleasures in real life to the point that they replace their life goals with game ones.
Addictions are usually found in people with addictive personalities, not just anyone. Saying this, it is possible for anyone to be driven to an addiction if the circumstances are right. A bout of depression can cause a person to seek the sensation of pleasure released into the brain more often than normal. In these terms, gaming is naturally addictive; it is designed by default to be this way.
Yet it cannot be held solely responsible for causing an addiction.
While I don’t want to downplay the problem, the recent media coverage irks me as capricious. There has been a call for gaming addiction to be recognized as an official disorder, but it lacks the evidence and research to be such and for good reason. Sure, some of the children that the media are putting forward as examples are developing some health worries and they may even be showing signs of addiction, but it is a rare case at best. The media’s claim that this addiction is a widespread epidemic is utterly ridiculous and shows that they are failing to understand the issue at hand. Online gaming is a new form of popular social interaction, not a new addiction. By not understanding this, the media are putting everybody on the wrong track by blurting out unfounded and sensational words aimed at getting more eyeballs.
I fully support the actions of the local counselors in my area. Signs of video game addiction need to be nipped in the butt at an early age and I am glad that they are trying to instruct parents as well. Our children simply cannot afford ignorant or unaware parents, the real source of the problem.
Gaming addiction is a very real issue, but only on a very small scale. This ugly side of our hobby is undeniably affecting the youngest generation of gamers much more than it did mine. The media, however, are creating an unjustifiable hype that instills fear in parents worldwide. While I think we need to acknowledge addiction as a serious issue and do what we can for those affected, there’s no need to demonize this otherwise harmless hobby.