Playing video games is often a harmless way of entertainment, just like watching TV or scrolling through social media. However, a parent might worry if they feel their child spends too much time in front of the screen and even an adult gamer can feel they have lost control over their life because of gaming.
So, what is the tipping point that separates entertainment from video games addiction? Is excessive gaming a signal of mental health issues? Is it a problem or is it overrated? We discussed these topics with Martim Nabeiro, who is a gaming expert, living and working in Portugal. You can read more about Martim here.
What is Gaming Disorder?
The World Health Organization defines gaming disorder as “a pattern of gaming behaviour characterized by impaired control over gaming”. This means that the activities of gaming are given priority over other daily activities, and even after this has negative consequences, the gaming behaviour continues.
Usually, this behaviour is only diagnosed after it has reached a severe level and the gamer has significant negative effects on his/her personal, family, social, educational or occupational life.
What Makes Video Games So Addictive?
Scientists have looked at the activity of the brains of gamers and found that the amygdala – the part of the brain that is active when we experience pain or fear – calms down when playing video games. So while playing, we can escape our negative emotions and even overcome them.
The gambling industry also uses graphics that resemble video games. Popular video slots can be similarly stimulative to our brains than computer games. Reputable online casinos, such as Betano casino, which is licenced to operate in Portugal, follow the strict guidelines of responsible gaming, trying to pick up on the signals of gaming mental illness.
Is Excessive Gaming a Symptom or A Cause of Mental Illness?
Video games and mental health certainly correlate. Playing excessively can be a cause or a symptom, however, it is difficult to determine which way it is. Losing control over one’s life because of games can cause conflicts with family members, have an adverse effect on one’s love life, career, finances, health and even personal hygiene. On the other hand, sometimes family issues, money problems or bullying at school can chase somebody into the world of games, escaping the harsh realities of life.
At What Point Should I Worry?
If someone plays for a few hours with enthusiasm but can stop without a problem to get on with normal life, then there is nothing to worry about. The problem starts when the level of gaming impacts negatively on mental, emotional or physical health in any of these ways:
- Concentration problems, due to the fast-paced action of video gaming.
- Obesity, problems with blood pressure, palpitations because of the sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits.
- Neglected social skills because of sitting indoors all day (no romantic partner, no friends, emotionally unavailable parent or child).
- Development problems, as the gamer is not learning anything new (bad grades in school) and cannot discover new things in life.
- Aggressive behaviour, which often comes with playing violent video games.
- Insomnia is associated with flickering light and colours, loud sounds. Seizures can easily be triggered by video games in epileptic people.
Who Is Most at Risk?
Statistical data shows that more men play video games than women and most players are young to middle-aged adults. Income has no significant effect on gaming behaviour. Video games generate the most revenue in China, the USA and Japan.
Portugal is only 56th on the list but the number of players is growing every year. According to the Portuguese General-Directorate for the Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies, almost half of the people who live in Portugal take place in gaming which includes video gamers as well as people who play the lottery or buy scratch cards. The study also found that 46.2% of the population “does not present any dependency problems” when it comes to gaming.
Playing video games can be a harmless way of entertainment but it can easily get out of control, especially with people who suffer from depression or anxiety. It is important to recognize the indicators of the problem and address them in time.