The Growing Gaming Culture In The US Is Destroying The Next Generation

When people think about addictions, they normally think about drugs and possibly alcohol. But increasingly, there is a growing concern over gaming addiction in the United States. Video gaming started in the eighties with the first Nintendo gadgets and has grown to become a multi-billion dollar industry spanning the globe. Boosted by the internet and more sophisticated graphics, gaming has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon.

But this has come at a price. Gaming addiction has become a modern scourge across the world but particularly in the United States. It is estimated that at least 72% of homes in the United States have users playing video games with at least 2 to 3% of the sample study of 19,000 users saying they can’t stop gaming without some level of distress.  It is estimated that 150 million Americans regularly play video games with the average age of a video gamer being 35 years old.

How Video Games Cause Addiction

The science of video game addiction is not well understood but it is thought to work in the same way as that of gambling. It has been noted that for people with a gaming disorder, the process becomes less about entertainment and more as a coping mechanism. Usually, gaming becomes a problem when it affects the normal functioning of the individual. If a gamer shuns social interaction, neglects key responsibilities and spends irresponsibly on video gaming, then that is a sign that the habit has gone out of control and intervention is needed.

One particular group of people that are badly affected by the scourge of video gaming is children and young people. Video games are a form of escape and people who spend hours and hours playing video games are unlikely to develop strong social skills to help them in their personal and professional lives. This, in particular, affects young people who ideally should be developing those skills at that stage. The result is a growing number of teenagers and young people who ends up with stunted social skills.

Because a considerable number of video games are based on violent activities, there is also a growing concern about the effect of such games on the minds of children. Being exposed to violent video games for a long time can lead to the desensitisation of an individual to death and violence.

Public Debates About Video Gaming In The US

Since the advent of video gaming, there has been public debates and legislation discussions around the issue in the United States. The controversy on whether video gaming is harmful or not has been as old as the gaming industry itself. Here are some highlights of the long and controversial public debates about video gaming:

  • As early as 1980, there was an attempt to ban video game arcades from being in proximity to schools in Long Island. The move, spearheaded by administrators of local schools, was driven by the obvious draw the gaming arcades had to children in the area.
  • In 1994, the Entertainment Software Rating Board came up with a rating system to help the public know the appropriate age of users a game was meant for. The rating system came about after sustained pressure from both the US House of Congress and the public over inappropriate content in video games. The rating system classified video games according to the amount of sexually explicit content, violence and profanity.
  • Video gaming has been long linked with increased levels of aggression among users and it is therefore no surprise that this addictive habit has also been linked to school shootings in the US. The issue came to a head during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting when it was discovered that the shooter had a long history of playing violent games. In the debate that ensued immediately after the shooting, people argued that violent video games were – in reality – killing simulations. These simulations, it was argued, train children to kill while at the same time desensitizing them to death and violence.

Behavioural Symptoms of Video Gaming Addiction

Addiction to gaming follows the same pattern as addiction to gambling. It can be very hard to diagnose especially in teenagers as gaming is regarded as a normal activity. Some of the things that might give a parent a clue to the problem are as follows:

  • Inability to function or concentrate when not playing. Heavy gamers often play video games as an escape mechanism and so when not playing; they tend to be restless and irritable. This then further increases their social isolation and which then in turn makes the user resort to spending more time gaming. At the end, it becomes a vicious cycle in which the gamers are unable to extricate themselves without outside intervention.
  • There is an unusual preoccupation with gaming sessions, whether it is the last session the individual was involved in or anticipation of the next one. While there is nothing wrong with talking about your last game or looking forward to the next one, what makes this a problem is the importance that video gaming is placed by the video gaming addict to the exclusion of everything else.
  • Concealing the truth about the time and money spent on online gaming. This usually indicates a sense of shame about the time the gamer is spending on video games and may suggest an inability to stop without outside help. In addition to refusing to be honest about the time spent gaming, video addicts will often conceal the amount of money spent to sustain the habit. New video games and video gaming equipment might be hidden away from the view of parents and guardians and the video gamer might attempt to conceal their gaming history from computer devices at home or school.
  • Failing school grades – for children and teenagers, one of the first casualties of excessive gaming is school grades. This is because gaming takes over the child’s life and leaves no time for studying or homework. In addition to this, long nights spent playing video games lead to fatigue and eye strain that make it very difficult for the child to concentrate in school. The net result of this is failed school grades.  Poor performance in school is usually one of the early pointers that the child is grappling with a video gaming addiction and requires help.
  • Denial – Quite often, victims of video gaming addiction do not perceive they have a problem and will deny that the habit is out of control. This denial comes from an inability to confront the problem but could also be as a result of the fact that the addict may not realize that the habit has become a problem. This is as a result of the gradual nature of video gaming addiction that sees an activity that was harmless fun turn into an obsessive compulsion.
  • Aggression – Because of the violent nature of video gaming, there are many studies that link video gaming to aggression. A parent or guardian might notice that a child who used to be sensitive is now unaffected by scenes of violence or gore. Because video games allow a user to be an active participant in acts of violence, it leads to such acts becoming normalized in the mind of the child.
  • Isolation and social reclusion. This happens when the need to play video games supersedes any other social activity. A video game addict will shun family occasions, friends and other social activities in order to engage in video games.

Physical Signs Of Video Game Addiction

In addition to behavioural signs, there are some physical clues that might help you know if a loved one is addicted to video games. A lot of these physical signs are related to the time that is spent playing video games to the exclusion of everything else. Some of these symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue:  This is caused by spending too much time video gaming and not getting enough rest. When we talk about fatigue here, it is particularly associated with a lack of sleep.
  • Headaches – This occurs because of the time spent staring at a screen and trying to concentrate on the game. Another giveaway might also be if a person is suddenly consuming painkillers in an attempt to deal with the head and muscle pain.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – This is characterised by pain in the arm caused by prolonged use of game controllers or computer mouse when playing games.
  • Decline in personal hygiene – This again is as a result of prioritising computer games over everything else. Video game addicts might neglect to wash and shave so as to have more time to play video games.

Side Effects of Video Game Addiction

The effects of video gaming can be both short and long term. Short term effects include poor health due to fatigue, hunger and poor hygiene. Long term effects include the following:

  • Social isolation – Spending too much time on video games leads to complete social disconnection. This makes it hard for the affected person to lead a normal life. Social skills such as team work are critical in work environments and poor social skills lead to an inability to hold jobs for long.
  • Financial problems – Gaming addiction can lead to debt problems because the affected individual has to spend money to keep the habit going. Gaming equipment is expensive and there are many other costs associated with video games. Because of this, a video game addict can find themselves using most of their income on video games to the neglect of other things.
  • Obesity – excessive video gaming has been linked to poor nutritional habits. Just like excessive TV watching, video gaming follows a largely sedentary lifestyle which, combined with the need to reach out for junk food, puts an excessive gamer at risk of becoming obese. A study conducted in 2004 by Nicolas Stettler, a paediatric nutritionist in Philadelphia found that each hour spent playing video games by a child doubled their likelihood of being obese.
  • Vision problems – Spending prolonged hours in front of a screen has a detrimental effect on video gamers in the long run. The American Optometric Association coined the term Computer Vision Syndrome to describe the eye strain caused by spending too much time in front of a video game screen. Signs of computer vision syndrome include dry eyes among other symptoms. Video games are particularly bad for eye vision as they require the user to keep his or her eyes focused on the screen most of the time. This is unlike other digital viewing devices such as televisions or mobile phones were users can move their focus from the device.

Help For Video Game Addicts In The US

When you recognise these symptoms in a loved one, it is best to seek help immediately. Gaming addiction is treated through the following approaches:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Treatment – the aim of cognitive behavioural therapy treatment (CBTT) is to change thought patterns in order for the gaming addict to develop new and less destructive coping mechanisms. Because gaming addiction is about escape from reality, CBTT helps an addict deal with the problems he or she is running away from and thus remove the need to escape into the world of online gaming.
  • Isolation from gaming environment – this is often used in tandem with CBTT and involves removing the addict from destructive environment for a period of time until the addiction can be overcome. Gaming addicts may be placed in locations where there are no modern electronic gadgets such as televisions and mobile phones which might trigger the craving for gaming.
  • Group Therapy and counselling – This is meant to help the gaming addict get social support from other people going through the same challenge. By interacting with other gaming addicts, the patient begins to understand that their case is not unique and that there are many people who can identify with their challenge and can support them through it.

Gaming addiction requires intervention as soon as possible in order to prevent long term effects from setting in. There is nothing to be ashamed of if a loved one is addicted to gaming. There is gaming addiction help available for people with gaming disorders and swift intervention will ensure that you or your loved one are back to living a fruitful life without the chains of gaming addiction holding you back.