by Dr Rodger Meyer
What Is An Internet Gaming Addiction?
An Internet Gaming Addiction (also known as “Gaming Disorder” or “Video Game Addiction”) is generally defined as “the problematic, compulsive use of internet or video games that results in significant impairment to an individual’s ability to function in various life domains over a prolonged period of time”.
Internet Gaming is a popular activity around the world and has many alluring aspects to it – one of which is becoming part of a community.
However, there are growing concerns about the number of people who are becoming addicted to this activity. An Internet Gaming Disorder can be diagnosed when an individual engages in gaming activities at the cost of fulfilling daily responsibilities or pursuing other interests, with no regard for the possibility of negative consequences.
Understanding Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG)
To understand Internet Gaming Disorder in more depth, it is important to first understand “Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games” or MMORPG. This is the most popular genre of internet gaming. It allows users to assume the role of a character, take control over the character’s actions, and interact with numerous other players.
The more a user plays the game, the more goods they collect, awards they receive and the higher status they achieve. It is this, combined with the far-reaching, real-time game play, that attracts gamers to play incessantly, leading to the development of addictive behaviors.
What Are the Possible Causes of Internet Gaming Disorder?
Video games are designed to be addictive, using state-of-the-art behavioural psychology to keep you hooked. Games are immersive experiences that provide you with a high amount of dopamine. It’s easy to play for hours and hours without even noticing that a minute has gone by.
They allow an individual to escape the problems and issues of real life and it is possible to see measurable progress in the game. They are sometimes social (online multiplayer games) and create an environment where the individual feels safe and in control.
This is unlike the real world of today, and the game provides a place to escape to, leading to more repetition and further immersion into the fantasy world. There is little doubt that the software developed drives a compulsion for repeated engagement – “just one more…”
According to studies, the average age of internet gamers is 30, and while adolescents do tend to play more often during the week, adult gamers tend to play for a longer period per session.
It was also found that males were more likely to take part in internet gaming activity compared to females. Four out of five MMORPG users are male, and many of these games are geared toward male customers.
This could explain why males have a higher vulnerability towards internet gaming disorder, however, some females can also become addicted to internet gaming in much the same way as males.
The reasons behind why players take part in internet gaming, specifically MMORPG, provide deeper insight into why it can become addictive:
- Achievement: Achievement involves advancing through the game by working through levels, acquiring status, and challenging others. Gaining a better online reputation as a result of skills is also a large part of the achievement of internet gaming, which encourages gamers to play for longer periods of time.
- Sociability: The virtual space of the internet gaming world allows players to interact with others, form new relationships, and build friendships. It can also provide a space that offers social acceptance however, some virtual social attitudes can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
- Immersion: Internet games allow players to escape real life and immerse themselves in another world. This aspect is often used as a coping strategy to avoid negative emotions and situations. Immersion has the strongest association with addictive behaviours because of this.
How Is Internet Gaming Disorder Diagnosed?
There are nine criteria for characterising Internet Gaming Disorder:
- Pre-occupation. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about games even when you are not playing, or planning when you can play next?
- Withdrawal. Do you feel restless, irritable, moody, angry, anxious, or sad when attempting to cut down or stop gaming, or when you are unable to play?
- Tolerance. Do you feel the need to play for increasing amounts of time, play more exciting games, or use more powerful equipment to get the same amount of excitement you used to get?
- Reduce/stop. Do you feel that you should play less, but are unable to cut back on the amount of time you spend playing games?
- Give up other activities. Do you lose interest in or reduce participation in other recreational activities due to gaming?
- Continue despite problems. Do you continue to play games even though you are aware of negative consequences, such as not getting enough sleep, being late to school/work, spending too much money, having arguments with others, or neglecting important duties?
- Deceive/cover up. Do you lie to family, friends, or others about how much you game, or try to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you game?
- Escape adverse moods. Do you game to escape from or forget about personal problems, or to relieve uncomfortable feelings such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness, or depression?
- Risk/lose relationships/opportunities. Do you risk or lose significant relationships, or job, educational or career opportunities because of gaming?
What Is the Best Treatment Approach?
One of the more effective forms of treatment for Internet Gaming Disorder is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This identifies the challenges a patient faces and tries to reframe the patient’s cognitions and core beliefs about the world and themselves.
CBT identifies and analyses the unhealthy, habitual negative ideas about the self, others, and society that lead to problematic behaviours.The patient will create therapy goals that they agree upon, will be educated on how to use the internet in healthier ways, and will be provided with relapse prevention and coping tools.
Inpatient treatment is of great benefit, as it provides a safe and contained space for these core beliefs and behaviours to be challenged. Apart from the containment, emotional support, individual counselling sessions, and psychoeducation, most importantly, it provides a real community to connect with.
As a large aspect of Internet Gaming is building relationships and being a part of a greater community, this is a healthy substitution to build real, and emotionally healthy relationships and be part of a human community. This will alleviate some of the need to immerse oneself into a virtual reality.