In March 2019, BBC Technology reported on a Government inquiry into technology addiction. The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee invited gaming addicts to describe their experiences of problem gaming, including when it progresses to addiction.
In this blog, we’ll look at the testimonies given by two gaming addicts to the DCMS Select Committee about their technology addiction. What does their evidence reveal about the nature of gaming disorder? And which underlying processes are common to all addictions?
10 Insights from Gaming Addicts about Technology Addiction
1. For gaming addicts, nothing compares to the high from playing games
“Games fire up response systems in your brain and other things don’t bring you as much joy.”
Similar to all addictions, gaming addicts find that other experiences in life don’t match up to how they feel when they’re playing games. They live to game, over and again, because it’s the most stimulating or pleasurable activity.
As gaming addiction progresses, people also return compulsively to their games for a reprieve from uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
2. Technology addiction and escaping reality
“I escaped my problems via games.”
Gaming addicts often spiral deeper into their addiction, if they are playing games to escape from painful problems. Gaming offers an alternative reality to everyday life, which can seem more welcoming, exciting or fulfilling than the real world.
As problems remain unaddressed, however, the pressure mounts up. In these circumstances, gaming addicts will usually increase the time they spend gaming, to avoid escalating distress.
3. Gaming addicts can binge
“I played for 32 hours straight.”
Just as a binge drinker and drug-taker might use substances on a Friday evening after work, then not stop until Sunday, gaming addicts can also binge uncontrollably. During binges, gamers often don’t eat properly or sleep.
Coming down from gaming binges can result in the most extreme withdrawal symptoms, due to the extended length of the session and poor self-care.
4. Gaming addicts are often isolated
“I was thinking, ‘Why would I spend time with my friends when I can play video games?’
As with all addictions, gaming addicts cut themselves off from good friends and family – especially people who have no interest in playing games. The high or escape they find in gaming becomes impossible to resist. They turn down or cancel social activities that they once enjoyed.
Isolation always compounds addiction because there are fewer people to question or challenge the addictive behaviour. It also tests even the strongest of friendships, when people are continuously unavailable or unreliable.
5. Technology addiction can lead to ill health
“I didn’t eat, sleep or leave my room. [In withdrawal], I was getting headaches, moods and I had to lock my computer in a cupboard.”
Some might ask, what’s the real harm in gaming or technology addiction? It may seem strange, reclusive or compulsive behaviour, but can it really harm someone’s health?
For gaming addicts, the compulsion to play games to the exclusion of everything else can cause increasing health problems. It might start with neglecting basic elements of self-care. Gamers might go for long periods without eating properly or drinking water, for example. It’s common for gaming addicts to play late at night, then have difficulty sleeping – or play games through the night. Mood swings, anxiety or depressive episodes can set in. Other addictive habits can develop to prolong and enhance gaming sessions or to deal with gaming withdrawal, including drug or alcohol abuse.
6. Games are designed to fuel competitiveness and desire to win
“It felt good to get points, trophies, beat people. It fuelled my competitiveness – but I realised I wasn’t truly happy.”
Video games are rewarding. The most popular titles have compelling characters, powerful narratives and extraordinary worlds to explore. There’s a sense of quest and there are always challenges in games to overcome. The sense of achievement can be a positive source of pleasure for many gamers, but for some this becomes the most addictive aspect of gaming. Addicts return to their favourite games compulsively, to seek a sense of personal accomplishment. Often, this sense of purpose or achievement can be missing in real life.
7. Gaming addicts often develop obsessive cravings to play
“I had to delete all my passwords so I didn’t play. I had urges every day.”
This loss of control that gaming addicts describe is a common feature of all addictions. Gaming addicts play games because they can’t not play. There comes a point when will power is no longer effective.
In the later stages of gaming addiction, people may desperately want to stop or reduce the amount of time they play – but they find it impossible to do so.
In the final stages of gaming addiction, gamers will no longer derive pleasure from playing games – they may simply feel numb or detached when playing, whilst also feeling powerless to stop.
8. Gaming addiction amongst students
“I was falling behind. My grades were slipping as a result of playing too many games.”
It becomes harder to focus in lessons. There’s an assignment to complete for college but games seem so much more exciting. Suddenly, university lectures feel boring or too much hard work, compared to the thrill of playing games. It’s hard to get up in the morning after playing games all night.
With an obsessive and addictive process, things that once seemed important get sidelined. Students who are struggling with their work turn to games, feeling a greater sense of control, success or achievement in their gaming worlds.
9. Gaming and chasing losses
“Sometimes I’d come home and I’d want to go to bed but knew I had points so had to play a game. Then if I lost I had to play another game.”
All addicts seek certain sensations, often pursuing them relentlessly. As with gambling addiction, losing can trigger gaming addicts to play for longer. They chase the feeling associated with winning or accumulating more.
In general, technology addiction centres around this need for an experience or effect. Social media addicts, for example, often associate a low number of likes or comments with feelings of disappointment or low self-worth. They post more frequently and spend more time online, to chase validation. With gaming, leader board positions and accumulation of points or status in games are also features that can feed into personal validation and addiction.
10. As with all addictions, gaming disorder is a symptom of underlying problems
“Gaming becomes a problem because you let other things slide – but it is not the root cause of the problem.”
Addiction treatment focuses on understanding the root causes of why people use or act in the way they do so that change becomes possible. When removed from the addictive habit, what strong emotions come to the surface? Are there problems or memories that feel overwhelming or hard to face? What is so uncomfortable about real life that addiction seems to be the only answer?
In residential rehab, intensive addiction treatment can uncover life-changing insights within a matter of days or weeks. Outpatient counselling can also be effective but it usually takes a little longer to get to the root of why people are addicted and how they can recover.
Addiction Helper can advise on addiction treatment in the UK and overseas, including specialist help for gaming addicts. If you recognise symptoms of gaming addiction in yourself or a loved one, please call us in confidence today.