Addicted to Video Games
By: Pulkit Sharma
Published on: February 26, 2015

Dr Sooraj a 21-year-old young adult was kindling his parents' worries as an addiction seemed to govern his life. His parents were desperately looking for help to cure his addiction. No, he was not addicted to alcohol, cannabis or marijuana. He spent practically the whole day with video games- whether he played them or not they were on his mind and in his fantasies. He was suffering from video game addiction. His interest in studies and socializing with friends had dropped. All he enjoyed was trying to win the next level of the video game on his smartphone. Once playing it, he became so engrossed in it that he did not have the sense of time and surroundings. He forgot that he had to eat, sleep, study or make some important call. When his parents reminded him he would get enraged and yell back. On several occasions, they tried explaining him that he was trapped in an illusion but he refused to budge saying that whether real or illusory the games made him happy. He could not imagine a life without games.

Many children, adolescents and young adults are passionately immersed in video games. There is nothing problematic about playing video games as such. In fact, it can be fun and a de-stressing activity when done once in a while but an increasing number of video gamers are getting addicted to them. For these people playing, collecting and fantasizing about video games is one of the top priorities of their life and in order to do this they may neglect their diet, sleep, studies, work, friends and family members. While working as a psychologist in Delhi, I have observed that an increasing number of parents get their children and adolescents for counseling with video game addiction as one of the chief complaints.

Video Game Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Following are the commonly observed signs and symptoms of video game addiction:

. Mental preoccupation with the video game: the person having video game addiction fantasizes about the game, wishes to get back to it as soon as possible, plans new gaming strategies and is always on the lookout for new games.

. Decline in useful daily activities: video game addicts avoid investing time and effort in useful real world activities that they are required to do. They cut down the time required to study and as a result have poor academic performance. Once inside home they may lock themselves in their room, may not take great interest in spending time with the family and rush through the meals. They can stay up the whole night and resist sleep and fatigue to carry on with the game.

. Denial of problem: people suffering from video game addiction usually fail to see it as a problem. They come up with a number of arguments to justify the behavior such as 'everyone does it, it is harmless', 'you can't understand it as this was not available in your times', 'it just helps me relax and unwind', etc.

. Discomfort when gaming behaviour is thwarted: if parents and close ones restrict their gaming behavior they feel sad and enraged. A sense of gloom and boredom inhabits their mind till the time they get back to the game. Video game addicts may find it extremely difficult to be away from the video games and get into arguments and fights with those who try to restrict them.

. Loss of control: People suffering from video game addiction acknowledge at some point that it is becoming a problem however they feel helpless as whenever they try to restrict it they experience a loss of control similar to what a typical drug addict experiences while trying to abstain from the drug. They experience a sense of emptiness which compels them to go back to the game. When they see their helplessness they experience guilt and shame which heighten the existing negative emotional feelings on their mind.

. Poor interpersonal relationships: Some individuals having video game addiction tend to have poor interpersonal relationships. They do not feel like making an effort in establishing and sustaining intimacy. They prefer to spend less time with friends and family members so that they can devote it to playing games.

. Physical problems: People who are addicted to video games may also suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, backaches, sleep disturbances and itchiness in eyes.

Causes of video game addiction

. Underlying personality issues: Although people tend to view video gaming as a straightforward undesirable habit or behavior it may not be so simple. Usually people suffering from video game addiction are trapped in an endless cycle: they feel intense frustration, emptiness and boredom at the core of their self and wish to escape from this sense by seeking the excitement that the video games provide. However once they get back to the real world they feel deep despair as they realize that the excitement and happiness was illusory and the demands of real world confront them. This heightens the sense of frustration and emptiness and they get back to video games for relief.

. Fulfillment of fantasies: Video games are a medium for many children, adolescents and young adults to fulfill the fantasies that they find difficult to accommodate in the real world. For instance, children and teenagers who underachieve at school or college and have a low self-esteem derive personal worth from winning the game and defeating the enemies in it. The need to be powerful, achieve something and defeat one's enemies is universal- almost everyone has it. While other people realize these needs by working hard in the real world, those addicted to video games fulfill these by investing time and effort in the virtual world. People who appear unmotivated at college or work are highly motivated when it comes to video games.

. Search for easy victory: Very young children fantasize about easy victories, that they can get things magically but as they grow up reality dawns upon them. They understand that nothing is free or easy in the world and they have to work hard to get things. Individuals who are addicted to video games have not understood this well and they continue to have some hope for easy and illusory victories. Video games offer a quick and easy victory for these individuals. The pain of defeat can also be easily overcome- they just need to restart the game and try again.

Video game addiction treatment

Usually, when people think of video game addiction treatment they imagine the use of excessive control and prohibitions. The simple truth is that controls and prohibitions never cure any addiction. It only spoils the relationship and enrages the addict. If someone close to you is hooked to video games try and understand what meaning does the addiction has in their life- what are the needs that are being fulfilled by it? Once you understand that try creating a facilitating environment that can help the person in realizing those needs in the real world. This offers a permanent and lasting solution to video game addiction.

Additionally, rather than always discouraging them from playing video games, encourage and reinforce their involvement in real world activities. Rather than trying to stop them from playing video games and fostering a sense of isolation, go along with them for a while and participate in their video games. Once they see that you are taking interest in what they like they may become more open in trying what you want them to do. A video game addict is usually suffering from intense negative emotions. Your support will enable the person to trust you and confide in you. Addressing these negative feelings and working through it is the second important step in the treatment of video game addiction.

No one likes to be controlled and no one can be controlled. Therefore, encourage and reinforce the person to moderate their own time and set limits while playing the video games.

Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist & Spiritual Therapist in private practice at Pondicherry (Puducherry), near Auroville. Email:- info@thepsychologistindia.com