The Rise of Gaming Addiction Among Younger Generations
Video games have become the dominant form of entertainment worldwide due to their wide availability and accessibility. Gone are the days where the only place to play video games were in arcades. Today, video games can be found and played almost everywhere. Home consoles and computers are popular gaming platforms, and smartphones and tablets make gaming possible wherever you happen to be.
Although gaming is a fun hobby for most, for some it can become a serious problem. Cam Adair was a competitive kid who loved to play hockey. But he had a dark secret he kept hidden from those around him. It was something that consumed his life, piece by piece, relationship by relationship. His demon was gaming and by the age of 21 he had been addicted to playing video games for over ten years, to the point where he was contemplating suicide. The Calgary native is now a recovering addict and set up the website Game Quitters in an effort to educate, inform and liberate people who feel that gaming is taking over their life.
Adair is not the only person whose gaming habits have led to an addiction, the number of young people who are becoming negatively affected by gaming is increasing round the globe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now officially included ‘gaming disorder’ in their revision of the International Classification of Diseases due to its increasing prevalence. They define it as a “pattern of gaming behaviour characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
Prevalence of gaming
According to a 2018 study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, 97% of teenage boys and 83% of teenage girls in the US say that they play video games. While many of these gaming experiences are likely to be harmless fun, there are increasing cases of children who have experienced symptoms of “video gaming problem.” A CAMH study released in 2016 estimated that 13% of Ontario students (equivalent to almost 123,000 children) have experienced these symptoms, up from 9% in 2007.
The prevalence of gaming, alongside children and teens not always knowing when to stop playing, has led parents, carers and health professionals round the globe to become increasingly concerned about gaming addiction.
What is it about gaming that is so addictive?
There is no one single factor that makes video gaming so appealing to young people, but it’s believed that games satisfy some of our human desires, like our need for success, immersion and social connections.
Games help to fulfill our human need for success, as games reward those who succeed. Rewards are a key role motivator to the appealing nature of games. Video game designers know what they’re doing and what their users want, and they’re constantly tweaking and improving their product to keep encouraging players to play. Customers are the lifeblood of a company, and it’s the loyal ones, the ones who stick around, that boost revenue. With an unlimited number of games available out there and new ones constantly popping up, developers need to find a way of not only enticing new players in, but of keeping them.
A game reward system is the magic key to this, as it provides a way to give something back for the time and effort spent playing a game. It gives gamers something to show for their time and encourages them to give more time. It’s the same concept for casino games. In order to keep punters coming back and playing the games, casinos employ strategies like bonuses. These bonuses represent a form of a reward for fulfilling certain duties, and can be in the form of things like credit or free spins. Again, these are both enticing for potential new customers and good for retaining existing ones.
While it’s believed that random rewards are pretty powerful, well-placed and well-timed game rewards boost commitment and alleviate levels of frustration for players who are close to giving up. Games are designed so that success feels just out of reach, but not so far from grasp that players want to give up. A well-timed reward can be that glimpse of hope a player needs to continue the game and not throw in the towel. Some scientists believe it’s actually the anticipation and desire for the reward that prompts players to keep playing. The prospect of getting a reward keeps a player’s interest during a game as it provides specific goals beyond just passing the finish line.
While the anticipation of the reward might be a key prompter to keep a player’s interest, the impact once the reward has been gained also fosters players’ dedication. They’re proof of a players’ skills, not only fulfilling our need for competence but also boosting status in the gaming community. This then ties into the social aspect of gaming. When interacting with others, a natural level of competition comes into play. This competition provides the ideal platform to prove your ability and helps to fulfil our desire to want to be the best. By having gaming skills recognised and acknowledged by others satisfies this. Interacting with others and playing in a group or team not only provides competition, but it also provides an environment of mutual and shared enjoyment, forging connections both inside and outside the games. This need for social connections is another driving force behind the appeal of games, enticing youngsters into the gaming community.
The days of single player games focused of mastering a series of jumps and button presses are long gone. Now games are multiplayer experiences, where gamers can become fully immersed in a virtual world, with the ability to design their own characters, start alliances with other players and build digital universes. This immersion component gives young people an option to escape their daily life and embody someone or something else. For some, this is more enjoyable than living in the real world and this immersion can become pretty hard to resist.
What are the common psychological and social problems associated with child and teen video game addiction?
Gaming disorder has only recently been classified a condition by WHO, so research is still in the beginning stages, but evidence is emerging to suggest that young people addicted to gaming can experience a range of social, emotional and behavioural problems. Gaming addiction, like any disorder, will look different from child to child, but there are some common problems.
These young people may begin to neglect hobbies, sports, and friends, allowing gaming to take precedence. They may show anger or physical aggression when asked to stop playing, and can become irritated, angry or depressed when forced to go periods of time without playing. School may become bottom of the list of priorities, leading to poor school grades. Other problems can include irregular sleep patterns, poor eating habits and social isolation. Health professionals are also suggesting that young people who are addicted to gaming may have a greater likelihood of struggling with depression and anxiety.
How can children be encouraged to game responsibly?
The World Health Organisation suggests that people who partake in gaming should be alert to the amount of time they spend on gaming activities. In the case of children, parents/carers are likely to be the ones who need to be alert to this. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting a child’s screen time, including playing video games, to one or two hours per day. Some professionals suggest that gaming should be seen as a privilege that comes after other responsibilities, like homework, have been completed.
In conclusion, while gaming has many negative connotations attached to it, when used correctly, responsibly and in moderation, it can be a fun and rewarding experience. There is also an increasing interest in elements of gaming being used for other purposes, like helping to shape the landscape of education, healthcare and businesses.
Most young people can play video games without becoming addicted and responsible gaming is unlikely to cause social, emotional or behavioural issues. But, if you’re concerned that gaming is beginning to take precedence over daily activities, or any changes in physical or psychological health and social functioning that could be attributed to gaming behaviour are being presented, then it is advised to seek the help and advice of a health professional.