A recent reader letter submitted to On the Wight came from someone whose 17-year-old niece appears to be addicted to video games. The reader talks about how the young lady does little else but play games to the extent that she barely sleeps, eats very little, and rarely attends a school. The letter further laments the writer’s inability to find help for his niece.
This begs the question of whether or not video game addiction is real. We believe it is. Moreover, although the UK does not officially recognise it as such, more and more experts in America are paying attention to it. According to States Chronicles, a prominent American doctor from the Maryland State Medical Society has even submitted a proposal to the American Medical Association (AMA) to officially recognise video game addiction.
Dr Martin Wasserman said his report is the result of an increasing number of observations among psychiatrists now beginning to notice their patients losing social contact due to excessive video game playing. The loss of social contact is one of the key factors in diagnosing other addictive behaviours, specifically those having to do with alcohol and drugs.
If the AMA accepts the proposal, it would go a long way toward establishing effective treatment for the abuse of video games. It would probably also encourage other medical and psychiatric groups to consider recognising it as well. For people like the previously mentioned letter writer, this would be a big step.
It is interesting to note that the 10-page report drew on a study of 7,000 gamers in Great Britain – a report that reveals some very disturbing trends. The soon-to-be-published study shows that approximately 12% of excessive gamers exhibit symptoms similar to those of already recognised addictions.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) estimates that as many as 90% of all American children regularly play video games. We expect that number is similar here in the UK as well. The fact is, gaming proliferates society to the extent that it is now rare to find a home in the Western world without at least one device capable of playing games.
Help Right Now
Without official recognition from the medical and psychiatric communities, it is difficult to gauge the scope of video game addiction in the Western world. However, that should not stop us from helping people who find themselves in trouble right now. Anyone exhibiting the classic signs of behavioural addiction deserves to be treated if he or she so desires. Perhaps the biggest challenge right now is to figure out what types of treatments are most appropriate.
Assuming that a video game addiction is very similar to a gambling or sex addiction, the most likely course of action is a combination of abstinence and counselling. Counselling could be offered by support groups, community organisations, and even professional counsellors willing to take on the task. We suspect cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) might be one of the more successful counselling strategies.
In the future, it might even be appropriate to begin a 12-step support group for video gamers. Such a support group would operate in the same way as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narconon. It would provide long-term support through group meetings, individual and group counselling, and opportunities for mutual accountability and encouragement.
We believe it is time for the medical and psychiatric communities to take a good, hard look at excessive video gaming for possible classification as an addictive behaviour. With official recognition, we can move forward a lot more quickly to find appropriate treatment options. Without official recognition, we fear any problem that does exist will only get worse over time.