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Video Gaming, Not Always Just a Hobby

In June, I attended the Midwest Conference for Problem Gambling and Substance Abuse. As with every year, this conference was filled with many wonderful presentations. Two that stood out the most to me were both presented by Cam Adair, Founder of Game Quitters. I found these as being very useful and relevant to my practice as they were about issues I have frequently encountered in my practice over the years. During his presentations, I learned some very helpful information about video gaming, video game addiction, and the crossover between gambling and video gaming.

First, I must begin by pointing out why video gaming and gaming disorder is an area that needs some attention. Gaming has been exploding and continues to grow. 10% of students report gaming at least 5 hours per day. Colleges are adding Esports teams and offering scholarships for E-Sport competitors. Esports are may be included in the 2020 Olympics. Some gamers can make a living by streaming online on YouTube or Twitch. There are two billion gamers worldwide and 1-3% of gamers are addicted. As of June 182018, the World Health Organization officially recognized “Gaming Disorder.” Gaming Disorder is a mental health problem, depression and anxiety being co-factors, but gaming itself is part of the problem.           

Mr. Adair’s presentations spoke about the perspective of a video gamer. Gaming fulfills needs: it can be a temporary escape, it’s a social connection, gamers see constant measurable growth in a game, it is a safe place to fail, and it can give them purpose. Games are intentionally designed to keep you hooked using state of the art behavioral psychology. Games are fully immersive and provide dopamine overload. Compared to this, the rest of the world can seem very boring. Overexposure to gaming causes structural changes to your brain and numbs the pleasure response. Games can erode one’s willpower. Gamers can become desensitized to the rest of the world when compared to a video game, where you are immersed in constant action and stimulation. Video games are something where one has much more control than they ever will in the real world. For many gamers, this is their social life and as opposed to in real life, when you don’t like someone, or they are bullying you, you can block them or take other measures to reduce exposure to them. On the other hand, many gamers are on the defensive to those outside of this community because society has shamed gamers for being “lazy,” “wasting their potential,” and being told that their online friends are not their “real friends.” This has created an “us vs. them” mentality. This stigma and shame has created barriers to seeking help. Like everyone, a gamer struggling with a gaming disorder needs to feel understood and not judged.

Gaming can be a healthy recreational activity. However, it can cross over to be a problem. Here are some tips that Mr. Adair provided when battling a gaming addiction. He recommended a 90-day detox to reset the brain, break attachments to gaming, create a contrast, and build new habits. He suggested to fill the void that stopping gaming has left with three types of activities. 1) something that is mentally engaging (such as learning a new skill), 2) resting (at home), and 3) new social activity (make new friends outside of gaming). He suggested adding structure with a daily agenda. Create a system of accountability and support. Family and friends would be great for this. Another option is www.gamequitters.com. Remove gaming devices from the bedroom. Block access to games, apps, and other problematic websites. For parents: stay firm and consistent in setting boundaries. Require exercise and homework to be complete before being allowed to game. When you are still gaming, mix it up by playing less than two hours at a time and not playing every day. Find an alternative to YouTube or gaming after school before doing homework. When trying to cut back from gaming or stopping gaming altogether, expect as with any addiction, that there will be compulsions to play, cravings, and withdrawal, especially in the form of boredom. Stopping gaming will mean losing friends, conversation topics, loss of the “gamer” identity, nostalgia to play, and struggles with time management.

Where gaming is crossing the line into gambling is in the form of something called “loot boxes.” These loot boxes are something that players can purchase and they can contain anything from simple customization options for a player's avatar or character to game-changing equipment such as weapons and armor. They don’t know what’s in these loot boxes, but they’re spending money with the chance of winning something of value. This is the definition of gambling. These are found in many free-to-play games, yet individuals are spending large quantities of money at times to obtain these loot boxes. Fortnite, a popular game has made over $1 billion in less than a year. So, not only can video games become addictive, causing negative affects on one’s life, but it can also cause significant financial loss, much like gambling.

The Nebraska Gamblers Assistance Program (GAP) pays for confidential counseling with certified problem gambling providers to Nebraskans and their families who suffer a gambling addiction.

A list of all GAP-certified counselors in Nebraska is located at

problemgambling.nebraska.gov

GAP 24/7 Helpline - Call 1-800-522-4700 

                             

This presentation is sponsored by and paid for by the Nebraska Gamblers Assistance Program


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Jamie Heng, Mental Health Counselor LLC
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