Recently, the World Health Organization officially recognized Gaming Disorder in the newest edition of the International Classification of Diseases, after years of debate. Excessive technology use has been discussed as a major public health issue among teens for a while, but we are only beginning to explore treatments for gaming disorders beyond just limiting screen time. When the last version of the ICD was published around 25 years ago, the first handheld devices, Gameboys, had just been released. With the introduction of the smartphone and access to an unlimited amount of games at your fingertips, mental health trends have changed along with social and technological trends.
The importance of recognizing Gaming Disorder as a mental health condition is that clinicians have a better understanding of how to decide when playing video games begins to affect one’s daily functioning. Parents may be more likely to overestimate how addicted their kid is to playing video games, especially if they didn’t grow up with a home console or going to arcades with friends. The gaming industry has grown to meet teen’s demands for more characters, better graphics, and more interesting plots. While early games, like Pac-Man, had clearer objectives, recent games are more complex and include multiple goals. While the original goal of games was entertainment, as their difficulty and creativity have increased and games are no longer as predictable, they require more problem-solving skills and time to keep playing.
To Process Addiction
Addiction can occur in many forms. It is harder to recognize the impact of some process addictions as the signs may be more vague than substance addictions. All kinds of addiction refer to obsessive and compulsive behaviors that are hard to stop or control once they’ve become patterns. To be diagnosed to a gaming disorder, clinicians propose that symptoms should be ongoing for at least a year.
Symptoms may include:
- Impaired control over gaming (frequency, intensity, duration)
- Increased priority given to gaming over other interests
- Continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences
- Increased interpersonal conflict or social withdrawal
- Distress when access to technology is limited
Isn’t it Just a Behavioral Problem?
The main concern many parents have is that they can’t control the content their kids are exposed to when playing games. They worry that games are too violent and may teach their kid how to be more aggressive, competitive, and impulsive. As more video games are being designed to resemble a virtual reality, many parents question if the skills their children are learning by playing are giving them a skewed perception of the real world.
Some of the most popular games among teenage boys are first-person shooter games that may prepare them to join the military, but also normalize acts of violence and the trauma associated with war. Games like Grand Theft Auto, which are loosely based on real-life crime may shape attitudes towards risky behaviors, like theft, sex, and driving. However, the real impact of violent video games is not necessarily associated with role modeling violent behavior, but rather in how their brains respond to such intense stimuli by either becoming desensitized to it or reacting to it negatively.
Association with Mental Health
The addictiveness of video games is related to the rush of feel-good brain waves teens experience when playing fast-paced games and the escape it gives them from negative emotions that might drive their excessive screen time. Many teens struggling with gaming disorders are also struggling in other areas of their lives. It is unclear whether other pre-existing mental health problems may contribute to more addictive technology use or whether technology is responsible for additional mental health problems.
Either way, we live in a society where it is impossible for teens to stay unplugged. As the gaming industry continues to expand, it is important to acknowledge how addictive it can be and to encourage balanced and mindful technology use.
How Equinox Can Help
Equinox RTC is a residential treatment center for teen boys, ages 14 – 18. Our students struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, drug use, and other behavioral or emotional issues. Many of the boys we work with are addicted to video games or use technology excessively. We strive to help students develop healthy habits and lead themselves back onto a path of success through meaningful therapy and a nurturing environment. We teach students how to unplug and tune in through adventure activities, teamwork, and community service. At Equinox, teenagers work towards building accountability, respect, and a solution-oriented approach to solving their challenges.
For more information on gaming disorders, call 877-279-8925. We can help your family today!