From the moment someone first blazed the digital Oregon Trail (1971) and pinged in Pong (1972), video games were destined to become a favorite pastime for people of all ages. As their popularity grew exponentially, video games became an ongoing topic of controversy.
A research study published in Pediatrics medical journal examined the video game usage rates of 3,034 children and teenagers:
- Average time spent playing video games was 20 hours per week
- Approximately 3 of every 4 American households play video games
- An estimated 9% of study participants showed signs of video game addiction
- Four percent were deemed extreme users, playing 50 hours or more per week
Some studies show that more than 90% of U.S. children play video games, with kids between the ages of 12 and 17 registering at more than 97 percent. Wow. As a healthcare professional with a strong interest in mental health, that’s definitely got my attention!
Opposition to video games ranges from ‘a waste of time’ to the belief that playing certain types of video games promotes violence. The American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics are firmly against children and teens playing violent video games, which seems like a no-brainer, but are video games generally harmful, harmless or somewhere in between?
First, it’s important to note that 85% or more of video games on the market today contain some form of violence. And it’s true – many different U.S. studies have shown links between violent games and acts of violence. The problem? The findings tend to avoid an inconvenient fact: worldwide, people of all ages play exactly the same games without the violence issues the US experiences, suggesting a much more complex series of cultural and other factors are in play.
What has caught the attention of many researchers and healthcare professionals is the addiction factor inherent to gaming. Why? Video games activate the same regions of the brain as those that are activated when drug and alcohol addicts are in proximity to drugs and alcohol.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has closely followed trends and developments in video gaming over the years. Recently, the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse announced that “gaming disorder” – a newly recognized mental health condition – was added to the official listings in their International Classification of Diseases publication. The ICD is a diagnostic standard that defines the universe of diseases, disorders, injuries and other related health conditions.
People who are addicted to video games usually suffer from other conditions like:
- Weight gain from long stretches of time sitting, as well as binge eating and drinking while playing.
- Bad posture from sitting in awkward positions for long stretches of time, which could permanently alter bone structure.
- Delusion – addicts have been known to get so deeply into a game that they can no longer distinguish the game from reality.
Another study by the American Academy of Pediatrics examined the relationship between playing violent video games and increased aggression in children. Statistics showed that children who spent excessive amounts of time playing violent video games displayed:
- a greater propensity towards aggressive behavior in their daily lives.
- poorer grades in school and difficult relationships with their parents.
As the amount of time spent playing video games decreased in the children studied, aggression levels dropped, grades went up and parental relationships improved. It’s hard to argue with success.
Using ‘escape’ as a coping mechanism is one of the key components of an addiction disorder, whether it’s drugs, gambling or video games. Young males are far more susceptible to video game addiction than females. With so many children playing video games, it’s critically important to monitor their usage and intervene before it can become an issue.
Video game addicts will suffer from all the typical withdrawal symptoms when abstaining or quitting games: anger, depression, boredom, loneliness, mood swings and anxiety. The addiction can also result in extreme physical and emotional discomfort, so consult a medical professional familiar with gaming and other addictions. As always, you can count on Bayless Integrated Healthcare to provide the expert help you need.