It’s great to do things you enjoy. But can you go too far with a hobby? And at what point does it become an addiction? That’s the question experts are trying to answer about playing video games.
Even though gaming has been around for almost 50 years, studies about its harms are still in the early stages. Different groups have come to different conclusions about whether problem playing should be called an addiction.
The World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to the 2018 version of its medical reference book, International Classification of Diseases. But the American Psychiatry Association’s manual, the DSM-5, didn’t. (So far, gambling is the only “activity” listed as a possible addiction.)
Signs to Watch For
The DSM-5 does include a section to help people and doctors know the warning signs of problem video gaming. These problems can happen whether you play online or offline.
Here’s what to look for in yourself or someone close to you -- your partner, a child, or a friend. You need to have five or more of these signs in 1 year to have a problem, according to criteria that were proposed in the DSM-5:
Thinking about gaming all or a lot of the time
Feeling bad when you can’t play
Needing to spend more and more time playing to feel good
Not being able to quit or even play less
Not wanting to do other things that you used to like
Having problems at work, school, or home because of your gaming
Playing despite these problems
Lying to people close to you about how much time you spend playing
Using gaming to ease bad moods and feelings
Of course, not everyone who plays a lot has a problem with gaming. Some experts say that it’s harmful to label people who might just be very enthusiastic about gaming. One thing they do agree on is that the percentage of players who meet the proposed criteria for addiction to video games is small. It’s estimated to be somewhere between 1% and 9% of all gamers, adults and kids alike. (It’s more common in boys and men than girls and women.)
It may help to start by asking yourself a few questions: Does your video gaming get in the way of other important things in your life, like your relationships, your job, or going to school? Do you feel like you’ve crossed the line between loving to playing and having to play? Might you be using gaming to avoid a deeper problem, like depression?
It can be hard to see a problem in yourself. The amount of time you spend gaming might seem fine to you. But if people close to you say it’s too much, it might be time to think about cutting back.
If you’re a parent who’s concerned about the amount of time your child spends gaming, look at how well they are doing at school and with friends. Having good grades and a good relationship with parents are signs that a child’s video gaming is unlikely to be a problem.
Get help from your doctor or therapist -- or your child’s pediatrician, if the person you’re concerned about is your son or daughter -- as soon as you think that gaming time is getting out of hand.
Studies about treating video game addiction are also in the early stages. One therapy that can help is called CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy. This is mental health counseling that teaches you how to replace thoughts about gaming to help change behavior.
If you’re the parent of a gamer, a therapist can show you how to place limits on your child’s playing time if you have a hard time saying no. One study found that making parents part of a child’s treatment makes it work better.
Preventing a Gaming Problem
To keep the amount of time spent gaming under control, try these tips for adults and kids alike:
Set time limits for play and stick to them.
Keep phones and other gadgets out of the bedroom so you won’t play into the night.
Do other activities every day, including exercise. This will lower the health risks of sitting and playing for long stretches of time.
No one knows whether certain kinds of games are more likely to lead to problem gaming. For the time being, make sure that your child is only playing games rated for their age.