Gaming isn’t all play if it’s an addiction

It’s all fun with games – until you become addicted. Online gamers may see no problem spending hours in front of a computer screen honing their craft every day, but experts warn that they may be opening themselves up to a condition called internet gaming disorder.

Defined as having impaired control over gaming, the disorder sees the sufferer allowing gaming to take precedence over other interests and daily activities, even if this has negative consequences.

A report compiled by the World Health Organisation (WHO) titled “Public Health Implications of Excessive Use of the Internet, Computers, Smartphones and Similar Electronic Devices” reveals that the use of electronic devices which has increased dramatically over the last few decades in all parts of the world, has lead to a number of documented cases of excessive use.

According to the report, internet usage disorders have been reported in children, adolescents, as well as adults.

The report further states that there are a number of different motives related to excessive internet use, which includes the need for detachment, dissociation and a need to socialise by meeting and chatting to people online.

“Unique motives have been related to online video games including achievement in game advancement and status, competition with peers, social affiliation in game socialisation and cooperation, making new relationships and immersion [playing the role of a fictional character, exploring a virtual world or escapism from real life],” the report reads.

“It is worth noting that motives can be really different from one type of online activity to another.

“These motives are believed to drive adolescents’ or young adults’ failure to resist the urge, impulse, craving, drive or temptation to excessively use the internet – even when it is hazardous or harmful to the person or to others.”

East London-based counselling psychologist Linda Truter said people can become addicted to almost anything, including their cellphones or internet gaming.

Truter describes an addiction as a form of self-medication, used as a crutch by many as a means to cover up personal pain.

“Addiction is the medication they use to try to hide, heal or cope with something which is either too painful for them to face or to deal with,” she explained.

“Anything can become an addiction. If you are using that particular thing as a crutch then you can become addicted to it. Take playing games on the internet, for example. Some are doing it for fun and recreation but others are using it as a means to hide from the world or to heal whatever pain they are feeling inside.”

She said it becomes a problem when internet gamers seek isolation, as well as those who show signs of depression, those who sleep a lot or eat a lot – with most of their time spent on attempts to feed their addiction.

“And they will continue with this behaviour, irrespective of the effects on their friends, family or loved ones,” she said.

The American Journal of Psychiatry – the official journal of the American Psychiatric Association – labelled the condition a new potential psychiatric disorder, admitting that very little information was known about it.

In an attempt to gain a better understanding of the prevalence or validity of the disorder, four survey studies on 18932 respondents were conducted.

Results showed that among those who played games online, only about 1% qualified for potential acute diagnosis as having an internet gaming disorder, while two out of three did not report any symptoms of the disorder at all.

The report concluded: “Comparison to gambling disorder revealed that internet-based games may be significantly less addictive… the evidence linking internet gaming disorder to game engagement was strong, but links to physical, social, and mental health outcomes were decidedly mixed.”

Colin Webster, president of Mind Sports South Africa, said as beneficial as gaming is to the mind, overdoing it can have disastrous consequences.

According to Webster – who oversees about 70 competitive gaming clubs in the country – the problem comes in when games are played in an uncontrolled environment with no limits put in place.

“The problem is not internet gaming at all. Several studies have shown that gaming increases intelligence. It has even been introduced to schools because it has been found to improve concentration and boost general morale among pupils,” he said.

“Internet gaming disorder will only come in when there is total lack of control and there is no limit to the amount of time spent playing.

“This counts for both adults and children. We all know that anything done is excess is not good.

“A child or an adult sitting for hours in front of a computer screen from morning till evening is not good. Some exercise and socialisation is necessary.”

To ensure that the games are not played in excess, Webster said most schools insist that children enrol in at least one physical sport if they are keen to join in on internet gaming.

Adult gamers are urged to meet their respective gaming clans (clubs) in person as often as possible for socialisation.

“I’m sure we have heard many times that [internet] games are the devil but that is just not true at all. We cannot speak ill about gaming just because of a few individuals who lack control. The world is becoming very tech-savvy and we should all want to be a part of it, especially our children,” he said.

Truter said socialisation for the online gamer was important, but the addiction would benefit from therapy. She explained however that one would need to establish why the gamer had succumbed to the addiction in the first place.

“Therapy can definitely help but first you need to find the root cause of the addiction,” she said. — zisandan@dispatch.co.za

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