Video game addiction is real, but it's not all black and white

Video game addiction is real, but it's not all black and white

This story about video game addiction, boiled down, in 4:18 minutes.

What's the fuss?

The pandemic has forced the lot of us to reside within the confines of our homes, resulting in children and adults alike to turn to video games as an escape from the new normal. Despite video game consumption skyrocketing to unprecedented levels, there are some factors to consider before labelling increased play time as a byproduct of addiction.

The situation

Video game addiction has always been a hot topic, even being recognized as an official disorder by the World Health Organization. Many individuals, including professors and self-proclaimed experts, liken this level of obsession to a drug and/or alcohol dependency.

Dopamine is a natural chemical produced by the brain which provides the signal of pleasure to the nervous system when a delightful activity ensues. According to McGill University professor of psychiatry Jeffrey Derevensky, the dopamine rush of excitement when gaming can be comparable to cocaine abuse.

CTV News, a Canadian news network, recently released an article to inform parents on six ways to recognize video game addiction in children:

  1. Does your child think about games even when they’re not playing?
  2. Does your child feel restless, irritable, moody, angry, anxious, bored, or sad when they try to cut down or stop gaming, or when they are unable to play?
  3. Has your child felt they should play less, but are unable to cut back on the amount of time they spend playing games?
  4. Has your child lost interest, or reduced participation in other recreational activities due to gaming?
  5. Has your child been deceptive, or lied to family, friends, or others about how much they game? Or tried to keep their family or friends from knowing how much they game?
  6. Does your child game to escape from or forget about personal problems, or to relieve uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression?

This methodology comes from Game Quitters, an organization dedicated to providing support for video game addiction. These are certainly valid questions to consider when evaluating any sort of addiction, not just a gaming-related one. However, the answers to these questions should not be binary when in contemplation.

Boiling it down

One of the reasons that certain drugs, such as cocaine or heroine, are considered dangerous because when consumed they cause a massive surge of dopamine production in one's neural system. Thus, repeated drug use raises the tolerance to gain the same level of pleasure. This means you need to take more to get the same high while making your body less able to produce dopamine naturally, resulting in emotional lows when in sobriety.

Cocaine and heroine raises dopamine levels by approximately 10 times the normal resting level. Playing video games raises it to approximately 2 times - comparable to eating a delicious slice of pizza. The pleasure of playing video games may feel like it's raising dopamine levels by 10 times because gaming activates supplemental parts of the brain compared to drugs, relating to the cognitive activities within the game being played such as improving visual acuity. Furthermore, dopamine isn't just found in drugs and gaming, it can be generated by anything such as reading a book, watching your favorite TV show, or any other form of escapism.

We are social animals. In a world where we cannot interact as we once did, getting lost in such escapism is not a bad thing. Time and time again, video games have been proven to reduce stress and improve mental health, very relevant afflictions in the pandemic world. "Forgetting about problems" is a motivation for a multitude of different activities, including ones not under the radar for being addiction-inducing (knitting, for example).

Some other thoughts:

  • Thinking about hobbies, even when not participating in them at the moment, is normal. I'm sure many Toronto Raptors fans think about our lamentable 17-17 record while taking a shower.
  • Feeling restless, irritable, moody, angry, anxious, bored, or sad when not doing something you love to do or are passionate about should be relatable, depending on what that "thing" is to the individual. Of course, there are extreme cases where these feelings become excessive, especially when such behavior becomes harmful to others, in which case the reevaluation of this criterium is appropriate.
  • Excessive gaming is commonly brought on as a symptom of an underlying condition. Thus, the distress felt when not being able to address said condition may be warranted.
  • This isn't the 80's anymore. As a society, we have gone all-in on technology which has permeated almost every facet of life. Having said that, hobbies transitioning to tech-related ones (including gaming) is not a far-fetched prospect, especially when we're currently restricted on what activities we can participate in.
  • Lying about gaming habits, such as the amount of time dedicated, can be borne of shame - often generated by misunderstanding parents who place gaming outside of their own cultural norm. Parents - the next time you binge-watch the next season of your favorite show in one sitting, maybe don't scold your son or daughter about getting their screen-time in their own way.

Of course, gamers should balance their passion with other activities such as exercise and as with anything else, addiction is possible. However, the permeation of placing video games as the culprit of despondency in children shouldn't take hold unless other situational factors are considered. Please be kind to one another and take the time to educate yourself and understand the root problems before making conclusions.

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