Gaming Addiction

Gaming Addiction

Roger recently posted on the topic of WHO declaring Gaming Addiction as a recognised disorder. It’s an interesting topic and still one subject of much debate. As you might expect, the ESA is up in arms about it — but even within the profession, it is by no means a decided matter. The DSM-5 notes it as an area worthy of further investigation, but without sufficient evidence to categorically state it is a condition in and of itself as opposed to a further symptom of other underlying issues.

Although it is possibly worthy of note that the DSM-5 was published in 2013, and there have been additional years of study since.

Roger’s post already talks through some of the potential issues with this becoming a recognised disorder and I noted some others in my reply comment but the topic has stuck with me in the days since. And in particular that my initial response possibly lacked a certain degree of care and empathy. It was by and large reflective of a younger-Nait’s way of thinking, a less-informed-Nait’s way of thinking.

I can claim no particular expertise on the topic from a professional standpoint. I have no way of knowing whether my own experience is typical or atypical. Nor can I absolutely claim it would have met the diagnostic criteria set out by the WHO.

But as implied by that paragraph — I have been through a time in my life where I suspect I would have met the criteria.

The False Alarm

Before getting to that — there was another time in my life when I was not addicted, but nonetheless my Mother was worried enough to send me along to a psychotherapist for a chat over it. Luckily I had a good one who listened and understood, so it was a positive overall experience regardless. But it could have been worse and I share the worry Roger expressed of parents equating a lot of gaming with problem gaming.

Essentially, I’m very far along the ‘Introvert’ end of the Introvert / Extrovert scale. I had friends at school — and Mum knew this, as I both had them visit and I visited them on fairly regular basis — but I still needed a lot of me time to recharge after the average day of school or in preparation for such an event.

Gaming was not only a hobby, but it was my vehicle for gaining that necessary social charge. Plus of course, the fact I loved it in and of itself too. It was fun.

So I did it every available moment — which I suppose is where Mum’s concern came in, despite the other healthy indicators. Also of note here, when I say ‘available moment’ that is not meaning that I put aside school homework / projects. I did my work, I studied, I did pretty well — if I may say so myself.

I maintained social contacts (offline) as noted and so overall was very much not letting gaming run my life. Just my free time. (Incidentally, Asheron’s Call was a part of it at this point in my life too!)

Probably the Real Deal

Later on though, after I’d left home something did change.

I was now at University, studying Computer Science. First year was pretty good — I remember getting an A+ in CompSci 101 and being pretty pleased with myself. Math 108 I think I only got a B+, but even that I was OK with given my general dislike for Math. Heck I even joined the student council that year.

Second year, I started down the path of falling off the rails.

I started prioritising raiding in WoW (on a US schedule, whilst living in NZ) over attending classes. I prioritised playing over getting out with the friends I’d made the year before.

Projects were given a backseat, any work I deemed as optional (i.e., I thought I could reach the mandatory class percentages without it) were not done.

In short, I did the bare minimum to not fail. And I did that only grudgingly. When I did attend lectures, or tutorial classes I was always giving thought to being back at home and playing more WoW.

Worse still, at the time I was lying to my family about my attendance and sometimes going to lengths to achieve the deception such as leaving the house by car in the morning only to return when I knew the house would be empty again.

This carried on for the better part of a year — and it is only the fact it was less than 12 months in duration that make me doubt it would have met the current WHO criteria. The criteria state a duration of 12 or more months unless driving especially severe consequences.

I was fortunate. Very fortunate. While I tanked my GPA to be sure, I maintained a pass grade in all classes (barely). On the home front it certainly caused tensions with my now-Wife, then-Partner. As even after Uni hours, I still wanted to do very little else but play WoW.

Here’s where the diagnosis might be key…

…And partly why I cannot say for sure whether my experience was typical or not.

As bad as my behaviour was — I always knew that for me it was a choice. It was something I was doing to myself and to others. It was a selfish and terrible choice, but it was one nonetheless.

In my case at least, I don’t feel that I was under the thrall of some disease and therefore had no agency (or blame) in the matter.

I don’t mean to say it was an easy set of choices to start reversing — because it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. I’d put it on par as being at least as difficult as establishing a new set of habits around eating or exercise for someone not used to maintaining these disciplines.

I was helped too, in a way, by there coming a tipping point wherein the obvious upset I was causing my partner — someone I still loved very much through the gaming haze — was simply not worth the in-the-moment transient joy of playing the game.

In fact, thinking on it further… I’m unsure I would have possessed the strength of will and necessary discipline to change my behaviour otherwise.

Huh.

And with that realisation, I wonder if I otherwise would have even sought to change my habits. Or what the trigger might have been. Or whether I would then have required professional help.

Another way I have been lucky…

…Is that unlike substance addictions or the other behavioural addiction currently recognised (gambling), it hasn’t been necessary in my case to cut gaming entirely from my life.

I have no way of knowing whether this is going to be the typical experience or not.

But once I set the proper checks and balances back into place, and even more importantly — made sure I clearly understood my priorities?

Gaming has been able to make a full return as my means of recharging my social batteries. I can still enjoy it as a hobby without it taking over. I’ve even been able to return to raiding in WoW without letting the game run rampant over my life. (Although of course part of this was switching to an Oceanic timezone, too!)

I guess in closing just a final word to a couple of different groups…

To the parents of kids who game: Long hours alone does not a problem make. Not if they’re still meeting their other school commitments and getting the sleep and exercise they need to remain healthy. It’s OK for kids to be introverted and need time alone. If they need this — let them have it. At the end of the day, the key questions are: Are they happy? Are they healthy? If yes — then try not to worry.

…To anyone who thinks they might have a problem: I think you will know. That you wonder it is quite likely indicator enough. If you are sacrificing your health to play more, if you are sacrificing your offline relationships to play more — it’s time to really buckle down and make a change. And just like a personal trainer or nutritionist can help you stay motivated and sticking to your health goals — seeking help from a professional might just be the best thing to keep you on track with the necessary changes here.

This need not come at cost, either. If you can’t afford professional help — there are any number of avenues to check down. Employed? Check in with your EAP (Employee Assistance Program). If you’re at school, approach the school counselor. In the US, check out this link. In New Zealand? This one.

There will almost certainly be a page similar to these for your own country if you live elsewhere. Just look for it now while its top of mind.

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6 thoughts on “Gaming Addiction”

  1. Thanks for your candour. Your final comment about “I think you will know” is spot on. MMOs became more than just an emotional crutch during my divorce. But I did have an epiphany and subsequently radically altered my relationship with gaming.

    Overall, I think WHO are on the right track but the devil is in the detail and how you apply that to each individual. I certainly worry that “ambulance chasing lawyers” are going to capitalise on this at some point. I’m waiting for the TV adverts stating “did you play a game that made you an addict? Then call Bastard, Bastard, Shotgun and Bastard, Solicitors”.
    Roger Edwards recently posted…Yet Another PC UpgradeMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comment, Roger. And I’m pleased to hear that for you too, you were able to make the changes you needed to.

      It is also heartening to hear that you were also able to make the changes necessary without a full cessation of gaming as a hobby. A sample of two is a pretty small sample indeed — but if that experience holds up, it would be the only ‘addiction’ I think in existence where that is possible.

      In terms of the ambulance chasing lawyers — I mostly agree. Where I waver is that there is quite a history of games being designed quite intentionally to keep people playing, with dopamine hits doled out to scientifically calculated frequencies.

      That on its own, I’d still be inclined to agree with you though.

      But more recently some of the patents uncovered by Activision and EA, and the depths they go to in order to manipulate players into not only playing longer but also buying more is *chilling*. And if it could be adequately proven as a cause of someone’s disorder or inability to control their spending… then damn.

      I think that potentially goes a little beyond the realm of suing McDonalds over a cup of hot coffee for being ‘too hot’. (Although actually, even though I use this example — I did later hear there was a fair bit more to the story, and perhaps the lady in question was not quite so unreasonable after all.)

    • I’ve taken that survey too actually, just last night in fact while looking into this piece a bit more. :)

      I scored 6/20 at the moment, with only 14% of respondents scoring lower than me. (With higher scores indicating a higher likelihood of experiencing the disorder).

      I’m half tempted to run the survey again answering as near I could to what I would have to back during my bad patch with WoW. I would expect that to be much higher up the chain at the 18 or 19 / 20 mark at least. xD

      Only thing putting me off doing it so far is how danged long the survey is!

  2. I have huge issues even with the concept of “gaming addiction”, without even getting into exact definitions. Human beings are, or should be, allowed to make bad choices. Even exceptionally bad choices. If we don’t have freedom over our own behaviors, not matter how terrible, what freedom do we have?

    When those choices impinge on others then it become their choice how to react. Parents have a duty of care because children do not have sovereign authority over their own actions but partners and friends have choices to make. That’s part of – indeed most of – being an adult.

    We already have (at least in most countries) legal definitions of competence. If an adult’s behavior fails those tests there are specified consequences and responses. It may be then become a choice for affected individuals whether to bring matters to the attention of the authorities, whereupon qualified professionals will be able to make the necessary assessments and take the appropriate action. These should be extreme and rare events, not expected and routine interventions, instigated by anyone who happens not to like the choices of others or to find them personally awkward or inconvenient.

    For alchoholism, a substance addiction for which there is much stronger evidence than for psychological addictions, it’s widely accepted that the desire to change must come from the individual. It’s a choice. The same should be true, surely, for all addictions, if the result is to be positive for all concerned.

    The WHO decision was, reportedly, driven by political considerations in China. China, for all its evident merits, is not widely considered a solid social or political role model by Western governments, nor by their populations. The kind of personal freedoms that underpin most Western societies and particularly the leading Western culture, the United States, are to some extent absent from the country thought to be behind the attempt to change atitudes and behavior on this topic. I personally do not want to see a cultural move in that direction.

    It’s not just about gaming, either. If a culture of “addiction” becomes embedded and accepted, the list of activities which can be legally restricted and from which individuals can be legally restrained will grow. It’s semantically possible to be “addicted” to any activity. Currently many behaviors that are seen as eccentric and obsessive pass under the radar because there’s no political or media focus on them. That could all too easily change and will if legislative channels to do so become routine.

    The goal of protecting everyone from their own bad choices may be worthy (I’m not entirely convinced even of that) but the consequences could be very much the opposite.

    • Hrm.

      I think we agree insofar as there is a requisite need for someone in the throws of addiction — be it substance or behavioural — needing to make a choice to change and holding onto a desire to do so. I agree that no addict of any kind can get better without that.

      I think after that your concerns (as I’ve understood them, feel free to correct if needed) about it becoming a legislative issue maybe turns down a bit of a wrong track. Now I also concede I’m considering mostly examples of NZ law here — it’s possible there is some critical key detail I’m missing in UK (or other) law which is driving your commentary.

      But considering NZ examples — even with gambling, the other longer recognised behavioural style addiction — we have laws controlling age of access. We have laws controlling to whom adverts can be targeted. There is regulation on where *commercial operators* can run (and it might be a better example to consider alcohol here, where the law and advertising laws still apply — but it is entirely possible for a person of legitimate age to purchase said alcohol and consume it in their own home at their own discretion).

      There are then laws of a more general nature that can apply when poor judgement is used to provide consequences for say, drinking and driving resulting in harm. If you take your kids and leave them in a locked car for over 24 hours while you’re in the Sky City gambling, you bet your ass some neglect charges are coming.

      And as they should.

      I (thankfully) haven’t seen any recent stories on it — but there is one that still haunts me from years ago about a pair of parents who played MMOs together (I forget which, so I shan’t cast aspersions) and left their toddler in a nearby play pen for hours upon hours, unfed, unchanged, unattended when crying.

      On the one hand — those assholes deserved to have the book thrown at them, says a very real but kneejerk part of myself. In that particular instance, a quieter voice but one that also needs to be listened to says they need some serious help.

      Creating an awareness of the symptoms, and how to treat the disorder in the professional community is a good and necessary thing. Whether it should be classed as an ‘Addiction’ semantically or not essentially doesn’t matter to me at this point, I think, more important than that is that there is a real issue and some people who have a desire to get better will need help to do so.

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