Gaming Addiction – from the board to the screen

Sandwich, is the go to food for most of us and for some it might be an emotion all together! You must be wondering why I am talking about food all of a sudden. Interestingly, sandwiches emerged out of Gaming Addiction. John Montagu, an eighteenth-century lord was excessively addicted to poker and couldn’t spare time to eat an elaborate meal leading to the discovery of a much more manageable food item. So the origin of Gaming Addiction could be traced way back in time and is not exclusively a 21st century problem. What is different now is probably a shift from the board to the screen.

If we remember Luke Davies in his book Candy (1998) had used a very pertinent phrase which captures the nature of any addictive behaviour. It says, “When you can stop you don’t want to, and when you want to stop, you can’t.” The phrase resonates that the trademark of any addictive behaviour would be an uncontrollable repetitive behaviour or an ongoing physical and psychological dependence on a substance as well as a non- substance (games) despite knowing its harmful consequences. Just like John Montagu who completely disregarded his health as he was engrossed in playing poker.

But why does one get addicted? As we all know that human beings are creatures of comfort; we all seek pleasure. Addiction primarily has to do with gaining pleasure out of something. When we consider excessive Gaming, the ‘pleasure pathway’ or the reward center in the brain gets activated when one plays a game and makes the person crave for more exposure to the game. The satisfaction derived from playing a game surpasses other events in their lives, so they keep turning to games again and again to stimulate this pleasure pathway. For instance the sense of satisfaction derived from being the ‘last surviving player’ in PlayerUnknown’s Battleground or Project IGI would be way greater than reading a book.  In the long run the more you indulge the more the craving increases.

Apart from the biological mechanisms contributing to Gaming addiction, psychological factors could also play a role. The end goal of any online or video game is to strive towards winning. There is no mid-way – it’s either do or die. Studies have shown that people who are often glued to such games try to attain a sense of power/achievement through the virtual world by reaching a target or completing a level of a role play game. Many believe, people who are impulsive or low on self control have a propensity towards developing an addiction. Another important aspect of online gaming is that it can become a source of socialization. Those individuals who are not confident in building relations in real life might seek company of others in the virtual world through online gaming communities. Think about the television series Big Bang Theory where the four friends who are socially awkward are a part of a similar gaming community.

            Having said quite a bit about Gaming addiction it is inevitable that prolonged screen time and staying up till the wee hours of the day to play games would have negative repercussions on one’s health. Headaches, back pain, sleep difficulties, digestive problems along with changes in mood, palpitations, symptoms of anxiety and irritability are associated with dependence on and compulsive gaming. There have even been reports of death owing to uninterrupted indulgence in online games. In India a 16 year old boy from Madhya Pradesh suffered from cardiac arrest while playing PUBG six hours at a stretch. Another death related to Gaming addiction that shook the world was the death of Brian Vigneault. He was playing an online game War of Tanks, for almost 22 hours with the aim of raising money for Make- A-Wish Foundation. And Remember Pokémon Go? Many deaths (although not from exhaustion) were reported when people recklessly walked/drove on the streets to catch Pokémons.

            With the rapid increase of Gaming addiction cases much of the effort is invested in managing the upsurge. When a person is addicted to games there are a couple of things to be kept in mind before intervening. One aspect would focus on reducing the excessive indulgence in gaming and another would focus on enhancing self esteem and addressing changes in mood such anxiety, irritability etc which might result from stopping the behaviour. In order to reduce the time spent on gaming one could structure the day. With the help of an activity schedule allotting a screen time and gradually reducing the time spent would help. Likewise finding an alternative activity or hobby to keep oneself productive can enhance self confidence. Sometimes there are certain cues a person can identify which triggers off the addictive behaviour. Keeping a track of these cues and reinforcing oneself to refrain from it could be effective. For instance, if the sight of the gaming chair induces the urge to begin gaming the person could reward him/her if they manage to not indulge. But most importantly the remedy to any addiction primarily depends on the motivation of the person to change. Equipping the person to create the readiness to change through generation of self motivating statements, using pros and cons analysis to address the addictive behaviour and planning small achievable goals might be beneficial. Ultimately, as Nelson Mandela puts it “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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