Are Video Games Hazardous?

We have observed several technological/business advancements over the past few years. One among them is the rapid growth of the video game industry. As per the details declared by Entertainment Software Association[1] recently, it can be seen that the revenue of the US video game industry has reached $36 billion in 2017. An 18% increase in just one year. Thus, it is evident that video games became a fundamental form of recreation.

Have you ever wondered whether there could be any mental health problems associated with video games? As you all know there are positive and negative effects that come with playing video games, however, some research shows that excessive time spent on video games can lead to mental illness, particularly in adolescents. In fact, excessive gaming could be considered as a mental disorder in the coming days. The World Health Organization (WHO) has already added a new illness called “Internet Gaming Disorder” to the draft of the International Classification of Disease - 11th revision (ICD-11) for further studies, and which set to be published in mid-2018.

“Gaming Disorder is defined as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) 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.” -World Health Organization

The two critical components need to be considered here are:

1) impairment in important areas of life such as personal, social, occupational, etc.

2) excessive gaming behaviour evident for more than 12 months.

As there is no threshold usage to diagnose the change from normal use to addictive use, we cannot claim that everyone who plays video games for a longer time would be dealing with this disease. However, it is pivotal to understand the warning signs and consequences of this addiction in order to better oneself.

Before we take a closer look at the warnings, let’s dig through the factors that make people addicted to the video games. Many games are designed in an effort to hook the user. For example certain video games pretend to have infinite levels and will continue to the next level without termination, making the player involved in the game for a long period of time. Those who have spent an immense amount of time playing Candy Crush Saga may understand how this feels. Additionally, most games are designed in such a manner that the chosen character might have basic features at the beginning which will ameliorate as the level goes up. In this instance, the players tend to spend more time to attain maximum features for the character. In the Rise of Tomb Raider game, the main character Lara Croft will earn skill points[2] which can be used to enhance the abilities and skills throughout the game. Typically, the basic levels won’t take much time to finish, however, as the level becomes higher more time is required to progress. This seems to spark the competitive spirit in many players pushing them to reach the next level and as a result devoting numerous hours in front of the computer.

In the case of immersive video games, users can immerse themselves in a virtual world where they can attain skills which they do not possess in the real world. A lot of people are attracted to these games as a method of escaping from the difficulties of real life. Moreover, massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft (WoW) allows users to interact with people from different parts of the world at anytime. Sometimes players may experience strong bonding with the anonymous online teammates, which can even lead to real life relationships. These players tend to spend a significant amount of time gaming in order to keep in touch with the other gamers.

Generally, video game obsession appears to be as complex as drug addiction or gambling. Several warning signs can be attributed to this addiction. First and foremost, social isolation can be considered one of the main symptoms. Instead of finding time to spend with friends or family to participate in other activities, they find enjoyment in gaming with their virtual gamemates. Another warning sign is, being anxious about developing strategies in order to win next level of a game. They also tend to fixate on the next game session rather than partake in any other activities. As a result, changes to the individual’s physical appearance can be noticed due to lack of sleep and missing meals. Pathological video gaming can lead to obesity at younger age, which often leads to cardiac related health issue.

On the other hand, several studies conducted in the previous years have nearly confirmed that games with violent contents, such as first person shooter games, can lead to aggressive behaviour among children. A murder reported in 2007 committed by a teenager is a strong piece of evidence in support of the statement.

“A northeast Ohio teen, Daniel Petric, was convicted of shooting his parents after they took the Microsoft game Halo 3 away from him. When his father found that Daniel was obsessed with the game, he kept it in his locker where he stored his gun. Prosecutors said that Daniel managed to find the key to the lock, and removed the gun and the game. He then walked to his parents’ room and said ‘Would you close your eyes, I have a surprise for you.’ His father said he expected a pleasant surprise. Then his head went numb from the gunshot. The teen’s mother died as a result of that shooting but his father survived”.

The defense stated that the video game obsession reduced Daniel’s culpability. He was charged with aggressive murder and was sentenced to 23 years in federal prison. The crimes do not end here, there are several offenses reported including suicides and deaths caused by exhaustion from playing games.

These social impairments and health issues illustrate that the addiction is fairly prevalent and a serious matter. A research conducted by the Pew Research Centre[3] in 2015 claims that 49% of American adults play video games whereas another survey[4] states that 97% of youth play video games. Further studies[5] assert that 1 in 10 adolescent gamers are enslaved by these games. In order to avoid severely affecting the next generation, it is crucial to identify the warning signs among gamers as well as provide awareness about the consequences.

Today, increased awareness about the issue has led to several organizations being established that provide direct assistance to addicts by offering individual therapy. It is always better to seek help during the early stages in order to avoid potential long term damage. Parents can help their children avoid gaming obsession by creating a healthy balance. This can be done by setting limits on the video game genre as well as the time spent playing. It is also vital to engage children with more outdoor activities than the video games.

For those who consider video games and gadgets a means to entertain or babysit your children, remember, the long term consequences could come back to haunt you. In order to avoid this it is crucial to steer your children in the right direction during their formative years. Although the ICD draft is not yet finalized, let’s hope that the steps taken by WHO to add video game obsession as a mental health disorder allow for individuals suffering to get the help they deserve.

[1] "US Video Game Industry Revenue Reaches $36 Billion in 2017 - The ...." Accessed April 23, 2018.

[2] "Gaining XP and Levelling Up / Gameplay Basics / Rise of the Tomb ...." 17 Mar. 2016, Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.

[3] "Gaming and Gamers | Pew Research ...." Accessed April 25, 2018.

[4] "Survey: Nearly every American kid plays video games - ABC News." Accessed April 25, 2018.

[5] "New Facts about Video Game Addiction: Problem More Widespread ...." Accessed April 25, 2018.