The gaming population is split fairly evenly between men and women. Women tend to play more puzzle and word games, while men favor multi-player online roleplaying games such as Call of Duty or Halo. And it’s the type of games men play that are resulting in video game addictions and adverse health effects.
Jason Conover, a licensed clinical social worker at Utah Valley Hospital, explains, “It’s almost like the gaming world and the real world flip, and the person is spending more time in the world of the game than out of it. As with any addiction, the brain shifts from pre-frontal cortex activity to limbic activity and it runs on urges and emotion rather than wisdom and compassion.”
When that happens, Jason warns it can lead to a disconnect from reality, and cause the gamer to neglect other facets of life including hygiene, sleep, and proper diet and exercise habits. Jason believes the effects of the game world must be considered carefully and soberly.
For example a gamer should ask himself:
- What am I viewing over and over?
- What emotions and body sensation do I have while playing?
- How is this affecting the way I view others in real life?
- Am I closer to reality, empathy, and compassion?
- Do I care more or less about the needs and feelings of others? How am I doing in regards to helping others in need and being sensitive to others?
“Time spent playing a game is time NOT spent doing something else,” says Jason. “Some gamers I know would rather play a game than spend time with their families, exercise, or even take the time to eat. When video gaming trumps basic needs for sleep, food, and connection, you can be confident that it is an addiction and a serious clinical problem.”
The Entertainment Software Association reports the most frequent gamers are spending 6.5 hours per week playing games with others, with many gamers reporting 10-15 hours a week spent online. Jason, giving users an experience similar to pornography, including:
- Intense, drug-like stimulation
- Challenge and excitement of a quest or problem to solve
- A sense of power
- A sense of heroism
- An alternative life
In fact, Jason says, many video game addicts conduct their social lives through games, rarely connecting with friends in real life. The success, friends and excitement they find in the alternate reality leads to increased social isolation. “Priorities tip and video games become the new number one,” says Jason.
Jason believes video game addicts are a vulnerable population who seek out video game communities for friendship and belonging. “Often these men feel a sense of obligation to the group they game with and are more committed to the game and what’s going on within it than they are to real life responsibilities.”
There are warning signs of a gaming addiction. Many gamers experience depression and anxiety when they’re away from the game. Gamers may lie to hide the amount of time they’re actually spending online or struggle with weight gain because of their sedentary habits. They may also react with anger or irritability when their gaming time is limited or questioned.
As with any addiction there is no easy ways to solve the problem. The American Pediatric Association recommends finding balance between time spent in front of a screen and time doing other activities, and it’s a good rule for adults as well Jason says.
Establishing and sticking to time limits for gaming will help adults deal with video game playing compulsions. Replacing the activity with something else, like reading a book or watching a movie with the family may also help to curb the addictive pattern.
Treatment is also available and is often as close as your local hospital. “The Psychiatry and Counseling Clinic at Utah Valley Hospital is a great resource for those trying to overcome addictions of any kind, including video games. We provide therapy and counseling services for individuals and families. We’re here to help,” says Jason.