How To Recognize Online Gaming Addiction

Gaming

When StarCraft II was released in July 2010, I resisted buying for as long as possible, staving off pre-ordering. But that didn’t last long. My husband called on release day, asking me to pick up the game. All his friends at work had either been or were going to play. I knew of a web developer who went to buy it at midnight, playing until 4:30 in the morning before going to work.

I was between jobs at the time, so that early afternoon, I picked up the game and started playing.

And then kept playing.

It was a full seven days before I voluntarily left the house. I remember this, because unbeknownst to me, the map light in my car had accidentally switched on before I parked it, then drained the battery completely. In the midst of my neighbourhood anti-idling campaign, I hypocritically left the car running in our driveway so I could gather my things (of course, uncharacteristically all over the house) to take it to the dealership to recharge it.

After that, I played StarCraft II until mid-October, then decided I was terrible, couldn’t level up while playing cooperatively, and lost interest.

I also lost 16 pounds over the first six weeks, and part of that I attribute to forgetting to eat while playing the game. Sure, I had meetings and projects, but on StarCraft II, time ran away. I would look at the clock and see that several hours had trickled away. It was fun and beautiful, the storyline probably one of the best I’ve ever played, and enchantingly captivating. I often joke that the Chilean miners trapped for 69 days might have whiled away the time with greater ease had they been given StarCraft II to play.

While my gaming addiction experience was definitely on the lighter side with minimal detriment, it breaks my heart to read of such severe cases of online gaming addiction that a family is now without their son. Recently, a young Taiwanese man died after playing World of Warcraft in an Internet café for 10 hours, then no one realized it until 13 hours later. He had bought a 23-hour pass, and a clerk came to tell him that it was expired.

Shockingly, the other patrons of the Internet café were reported to be disinterested. They kept on playing and paid little attention to the police investigation going on.

Now … that’s a problem. And while this case is not unique in terms of an online gaming addict dying at the computer, which happens every so often in South Korea, it’s more shocking that no one noticed for so long.

Last March, Dr. Matthew Edlund wrote a Huffington Post article about Internet gaming addiction. He cited six specific reasons why online games are so addictive, which were that they provided:

  1. A completely immersive environment
  2. Social interaction
  3. A better reality
  4. Multi-sensory impact
  5. No closure
  6. Competition

* The unusual high that comes from long hours of sleep deprivation.

With online gaming, it’s sometimes difficult to recognize, because teenagers can be moody and make less-than-stellar decisions anyway. Since the teenaged/young adult brain hasn’t yet fully developed the prefrontal cortex, teenagers have a lesser sense of risks and outcomes and a heightened sense of need for rewards. In some cases, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) and other games can cater to this, outweighing the need for sleep and encouraging the want for victory.

But like any addiction, there are veritable signs of unhealthy behaviour taken to the extreme. Here’s where to intervene if you suspect an online gaming addiction, particularly to MMORPGs:

1.     The player becomes socially isolated. The player would rather just play the game than engage in social interaction with other members of the household or with friends. Conversations focus on virtual events rather than actual events.

 2.    The player has drastic changes to his/her regular schedule. This includes refusing meals for not being hungry, not sleeping at standard times, and missing school or work. The game becomes a top priority.

3.    The player consumes a high quantity of super-caffeinated beverages. Depending on the makeup of these beverages, they can cause irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) and anxiety.

4.    The player racks up unusual costs on your or his/her own credit card. In-game purchases become costly and take a toll on the player’s finances.

 5.    The player shows uncharacteristic behaviour. S/he may become dishonest and starts hiding activities related to playing. You may notice mood swings or a sudden obsession with needing to be online.

For help, contact your provincial health line, a family doctor or guidance counsellor who may be able to refer you to other resources. You can also try organizations like Online Gamers Anonymous.

Seeing a therapist or counsellor may help, because an online gaming addiction may be a form of self-medicating a larger issue. Games, after all, provide an escape from the real world.

Image Source: Tech Addiction

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