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Cyber Psychology: Internet/Gaming addiction

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What is video game addiction?

According to the Addiction Center (addictioncenter.com, 2022), 

Over 2 billion people play video games worldwide, and the market for video games was estimated to be a $90 billion industry in America in 2020. The average gamer plays for about 6 hours every week. For most players of all ages, playing video games is a fun pastime: a way to relax, connect with friends, and enjoy a challenge. Unfortunately, for some players, a video game hobby can escalate into an addictive disorder which takes over their lives.

In recent years, the smartphone has surpassed the computer and the console as the most common gaming device. Video games are now available on apps and social media. Furthermore, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) continue to be immensely popular. Every day, games like League of LegendsWorld of WarcraftFortniteFinal Fantasy, and The Elder Scrolls Online draw millions of players into their virtual worlds. About 160 million Americans play MMORPGs and other internet-based games every day.

Like all good things, videos games are best in moderation. Adults and children alike can develop unhealthy, obsessive relationships with video games that they love.

Gaming Disorder: Why Video Games Can Be Addictive

Even without an officially diagnosed disorder, some people sacrifice their jobs and marriages to spend 60 hours every week playing on the computer. Some children and teenagers become so attached to video games that they threaten their parents when they’re told to put down the controller.

Many people have read about such cases or have had experiences which show that video games have addictive power. While anecdotal evidence is not scientific research, real-world experience and the growing awareness of other behavioral addictions explain why the concept of video game addiction is becoming increasingly accepted. Recently, the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its official list of diseases.

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

It is important to understand that the amount of time that someone spends playing a video game does not necessarily indicate an addiction. After all, someone could spend many hours playing a video game just because they enjoy it but also stop without much difficulty. By contrast, a person might have an addiction to a video game if they can’t stop playing it even though they know they should. They’re aware that the video game is causing them to neglect their family, friends, work, and education, but they keep playing anyway because they feel best behind the screen.

When someone “needs” to play video games to be happy and feels miserable when they’re not playing, they may have a disorder which is just as real as alcoholism or dependence on prescription drugs. Withdrawal symptoms commonly characterize substance use disorders. While video game withdrawal is still being studied, researchers have documented possible video game withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, insomnia, aggressive emotions, and intense cravings to play video games again.

Moreover, video games affect the brain in the same way as addictive drugs: they trigger the release of dopamine, a chemical which reinforces behavior. For this reason, playing video games can be an addictive stimulus. These facts indicate that addiction to video games may be possible.

Symptoms Of Video Game Addiction

Here are the common symptoms/signs of video games addiction:

If you’re trying to tell if someone has a serious video game problem, consider these questions:

  • Are they becoming isolated from family and friends?
  • Are they lying to others about how often they play video games, and do they often play in secret?
  • Do they become upset and irritable when they’re not playing video games?
  • Are they neglecting work or school to play video games?
  • Are they avoiding activities they once enjoyed?
  • Are they skipping meals to focus on gaming?
  • Are they often tired because they’re not getting enough sleep?
  • Do they have physical problems from gaming too much, like carpal tunnel syndrome, migraines, and eye strain?

Studies show that most people who are struggling with the symptoms of video game addiction are playing multiplayer games on the internet. MMPORGs are especially addictive because they offer an endless adventure inside a fantasy world where players can essentially live a different life as a new person. They provide an opportunity to escape reality and leave behind problems of the real world.

Furthermore, MMPORGs and other multiplayer games host large communities of players where many people feel welcome, appreciated, and useful (something they may not often feel in the real world). An MMPORG player can join clans, help others players, make friends, and develop a status. Although the setting is virtual, the relationships are real. For the player, the sense of being part of something and having a role to play can be important and meaningful. This is especially true if the player does not experience social gratification in real life. For many people with a video game addiction, playing the game is not just a hobby. It is their social life and a pillar of their self-esteem. Video games which exist on social media closely coincide with social media addiction, another behavioral disorder which thrives on the feeling of being accepted.

The desires for escapism and social acceptance may not be the only causes of video game addiction. Numerous studies have sought to establish the relationship between video game addiction and other mental health problems. One 2016 study suggested that people who are depressed and cope with problems in an avoidant way are more likely to become addicted to video games. Another study from 2017 found a strong correlation between video game addiction and anxiety disorders, although it’s not clear whether the addiction causes the anxiety or if the anxiety contributes to the addiction.