The World Health Organization (WHO) recently classified gaming disorder as an official form of mental disorder.
Gaming disorder is characterised as persistent offline or online gaming behaviour which impairs a person’s ability to function normally in day- to-day activities due to an escalation of his or her gaming habits. As a result, mental health professionals in Malaysia have indicated their concern over the rise of unregulated gaming behaviour. Gaming addiction amongst children has also become a valid concern for parents.
Below are the three signs of gaming addiction, as advocated by WHO:
- Lack of control over gaming such as time spent on games, how deeply a child is immersed in it, unwilling/ unable to stop a gaming session on his own, or use of dishonest means (lying, skipping school) to continue gaming.
- Gaming becomes the main priority over everything else in real life, e.g. instead of studying for an exam, he stays up all night to level up his game character. Other daily activities and even personal hygiene may be neglected.
- Continues to be more involved with gaming despite negative consequences and being reprimanded, which are completely ignored. This can cause significant deterioration of relationships, academic performance and personal hygiene.
At present, a formal diagnosis of this condition requires these symptoms to persist for at least 12 months. However, if these symptoms are highly severe, the duration for a formal diagnosis may be shortened.
Game life vs real life
A child’s personality is predictive of gaming disorder and certain traits are indicative of a higher risk of developing gaming addiction. Here are some common traits you should be wary of:
- Highly disorganised. Poor organisational skills are indicative of an inability to fully grasp the consequences of uncontrolled gaming.
- Severe social anxiety and thought disorder. The social environment of massively multiplayer online (MMO) games allows some connection behind the screen, without the awkwardness of real- world social interactions. However, this can lead to an avoidance of social interactions due to differences and lack of proper social skills. Gaming environments have little to no “real” social interaction, thus allowing the player freedom to be himself without fear of judgment.
- Intolerance of unpredictability. Change can be intimidating for some, and if your child is especially affected by it, he may be more likely to immerse himself in games which are highly repetitious or predictable.
- Constantly seeks novelty or stimulation. Kids who crave stimulation are vulnerable to gaming addiction because of their consistent efforts to pursue new environments and exposures. There is a higher possibility of addiction for violent games.
- Highly neurotic. Emotional instability can lead to a lack of self-confidence, causing more stress. Gaming helps him to cope with his negative emotions and problems, and studies reveal these individuals have a preference for violent games.
- Elevated self-regard (narcissism). In order to gratify their need for self-bolstering, narcissistic individuals find satisfaction in games with achievement- based systems (i.e. reinforcements are provided upon completion of imposed gaming conditions) and games with avatars (constant investments are needed to upgrade the avatars’ skills and equipment). MMO games also provide them instant access to an admiring audience.
Apart from personality traits, many games do contain certain features that entice or increase the chances of one becoming addicted to gaming. This is especially true of online games, which studies have found to be more addictive than offline games. Games that consistently provide positive reinforcement or rewards to players can cause prolonged gaming sessions.
Put your foot down
As parents, you need to impose limits on your child’s gaming activity. Set clear rules about your expectations for gaming and/or digital gadget usage. To make it easier for you to supervise his use of computers or gaming consoles, place them in a public part of your home, e.g. living room or hall.
Most importantly, be consistent in enforcing rules you set. Just like any other activity, schedule his time in order to limit how long he can play. Consider tying it to time spent on physical activities, e.g. 1 hour of gaming for every 1 hour of outdoor play.
Do not assume it is just a passing phase that he will eventually get bored of. Gaming addiction should be attended to as quickly as possible, before it causes a more significant problem in other important areas of your child’s daily life.
Passionate vs addicted
Gaming can be fun and may even be educational. As long as your child knows how to control the time he spends gaming, and it does not affect his studies, relationships, or health, gaming is still an acceptable hobby. Don’t jump into conclusion just yet. Be vigilant in supervising, but put a stop if you think it is taking up too much of his time.