How much is too much when it comes to time spent playing video games?
A group of parents listened to a presentation on video game addiction last Wednesday to learn more about the developing phenomenon.
Rainy River District School Board mental health lead Tracey Idle hosted the presentation to educate parents on what to watch out for, what the symptoms are, and potential solutions for those struggling with the disorder.
The presentation was modelled off of research done by Dr. Brent Conrad PhD out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who has dedicated much of his work to studying video game addiction.
While the affliction can create many problems, he said there is good news for parents of kids who are struggling—it is probably temporary.
“He says to look for the signs and symptoms but generally and for the most part they grow out of it and they go onto other interests,” Idle explained.
“I think the message is that our kids don't have that filtre when gaming and don't have that 'off switch' always and we need to be that off-switch for them,” she noted.
“Just to make sure we're keeping them safe and watching how much they're playing and what they're playing,” added Idle.
She noted that most people who actually game won't ever come anywhere near developing an addiction, but said there are 2.7 billion gamers worldwide, so if only three percent develop an addiction that's still over 81 million people effected.
During Idle's presentation she told attendees that the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized gaming disorder in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases in September of last year.
“They say for the gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of significant severity to result in significant impairment of a personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning and normally is eminent for about 12 months,” she explained.
Idle said the disorder is similar to other addictions.
It is identified by a pattern of impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other aspects of life, and continuing to game despite experiencing negative effects associated with the activity.
“The reason WHO identified it was because they really felt there was some advantages,” Idle remarked.
“The advantage they thought is it creates a basis that the healthcare system can respond and there are actually people who do specialize in this kind of treatment,” she added.
WHO also recognizes that there are some aspects of games that make people particularly susceptible to the addiction.
One of those susceptibilities include gaming at a young age, particularly under six.
As well, children with above average intelligence may be more likely to develop an addiction to gaming.
“Video games provide a challenge, especially some of the online games, where it's always changing, so children who are always looking for a challenge or looking for ways to challenge themselves are very attracted to these kinds of games,” Idle explained.
Kids who don't play sports or participate in extra curricular activities who have large periods of unstructured time are also more susceptible.
Having a gaming console in the bedroom is another factor that can make a child much more likely to develop an addiction.
“As parents we can't monitor that as well, if it's in their room,” Idle noted.
“You'll find sometimes kids are up very, very late at night playing video games and you're not even aware of it, because you're already asleep,” she added.
As well, children who have few real world friends and struggle socially are at a higher risk of addiction.
“Those who have difficulty making social connections, that don't have a wide range of actual friends to do activities with, kind of fall into gaming because that fills the need for them,” Idle said.
Kids with attention or concentration difficulties could also be more susceptible.
“It may sound surprising but actually if they're not doing all that well in the classroom attending and following instructions, they do quite well in the video games,” Idle explained.
And she said typically gaming addicts are male and from middle class or upper middle class families.
“The thought being here because their the ones that have the gaming systems and have the high speed internet and that have access to being able to purchase their game,” Idle remarked.
She warned parents that the single most addictive type of video game is massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) such as Fortnite or World of Warcraft.
These games have a “very much above average” potential for addiction, Idle said.
“They exist as an online fantasy world and the world is always revolving, and that's the risk of these games it's always changing,” she explained.
“There's always something new happening and a new update you can buy, new characters come into it, you get new weapons and you can upgrade your looks,” added Idle.
Idle said there's also risks associated with online gaming because of the open communication players have with anonymous players.
Real-time strategy games such as Age of Empires or Command and Conquer came in at “above average” addictive potential because the games usually have no ending and offer infinite unique gameplay experiences.
Also ranking above average in addiction potential are first person shooter games, which often have engaging single player modes and an interactive online component where players compete against other humans.
Action games such as Grand Theft Auto or Assassin's Creed were ranked as average for addictive potential but Idle warns that the ratings for these games are often “M” for mature (17 and up).
The types of games that came in at below average include racing games such as Need for Speed, music games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, and platform games like Super Mario.
Casual puzzle games like Bejeweled or Candy Crush are considerably below average in addictive potential for youth but these are actually most addicting for adults.
There are many symptoms to video game addiction and one of the main ones is tolerance, Idle noted,
“People build tolerances . . . so that they would need to engage in gaming more and more and more to get that need satisfied,” she explained.
Others may give up on or lose interest in previously enjoyed activities and continuing to game despite developing health problems, academic problems, and discord with parents.
Deceiving family members about the amount of time spent gaming is another symptom.
“So if they're lying about it," Idle said. "When people are very, very into gaming they do kind of have that loss of sense of time—they don't realize how long they've actually been playing.”
As well, those who risk jeopardizing or losing jobs and relationships because of gaming could be addicted.
An exhibition of withdrawal when gaming is taken away or not possible is another symptom of gaming addiction.
This may take the form of sadness, anxiety, irritability, and anger.
“I think if you look at the symptoms, you'd probably see that they're very similar to more traditional types of addictions that we think of,” Idle remarked.
She encourages parents to educate themselves on the games to become more aware of their content and avoid relying on games to entertain their child.
Joining in on your child's gaming is another recommendation she made to help monitor how much they're playing and see the kinds of games they play.
Introducing family rules around technology can also be beneficial.
“Some people have technology free days, or at least technology free times, for our family it's no technology at the table,” Idle explained.
“Have a conversation with your child on setting and enforcing new limits on play.”
Idle also suggests a “weekends only” schedule, to keep the week free to do school work and ensure the kids are getting to bed on time.
As well, she reccommends encouraging other activities like playing with friends outside, participating in organized sports, and doing household chores.
Idle also highlighted the RRDSB's existing supports for children who may be struggling with a video game addiction.
“If you are interested in having counselling or anything like that we do have school based counsellors," she noted. "They have lots of great resources and are happy to talk to their kids about their gaming.”