Video Games: The Ongoing Questions

keep-connectingI appreciate my colleague Nathan Gehlert’s recent remarks in the article the posted on video game addiction. In my practice, as well, clients bring their worries about excessive playing of video games. Indeed, the phenomena is enough in the foreground of our culture that the APA actually considered adding game addiction to the soon to be published DSM-V in 2012. Although they concluded that there was not enough research or evidence to conclude that it was a disorder, the fact that it was brought before the board speaks loudly of the growing alarm of parents and partners. How do you know if it’s a problem?

Despite the very real concern, it’s also true, as others point out, that a larger percentage, 80% of people, can very safely enjoy playing video games.  Keith Bakker, director of Smith and Jones Addiction Consultants reports this for WebMD.  Additionally, Richard T.A. Wood’s paper entitled, Problems with the Concept of Video Game “Addiction”: Some Case Study Examples, takes on the idea of addiction and shows through his four studies that excessive gaming is “due to either ineffective time management skills or a symptomatic response to other underlying problems that they are escaping from, rather than any inherent addictive properties of the actual games”

There should be some comfort here. Clearly not everyone who plays video games is addicted. Everyone needs a few guilty pleasures. Teenagers need to balance shcool and social pressures. Adults need the healthy escape of video games which, like golf, tennis, film, reading, or TV, simply fall into the category of get aways from the stresses and responsibility of work life. Playing games can provide a healthy break from being in relationship, taking care of the kids, etc.  On the other hand, If your child stays up all night,  your credit card bill shows excessive video-game spending or the gamer becomes irritable when not playing, consider these clear markers, as in any other extreme addiction, that a problem exists and you need professional help.

I particularly appreciate the way both Nathan Gehlert and Wood point to the need to address the underlying problems beneath the “exit” that gaming can become. You might need help managing your helplessness and frustration regarding how to confront, understand and help your teenager or partner.  If you find yourself stuck in shouting matches or, alternatively, paralyzing silence, you could, indeed,  be avoiding limportant discussions about an impending move, stress at work, money worries, the question of whether or not to have children, or the like. Like confronting any conflict, learning how to address the questions raised by gaming can certainly be a way to stretch towards communicating and connecting more effectively.