Is video game addiction real? The debate has raged ever since the 1970s when arcades began popping up on neighborhood corners - kids would dump every quarter of their allowance into easily time-consuming games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Human beings already must deal with a plethora of dangerous habits, and many believe video games have become one of these; however, this belief - often held by perturbed parents - doesn't necessarily substantiate what experts would consider a mental health issue.
The question remains: Can you play too many video games? If the answer is yes, the issue is how to treat video game addiction. Multiple schools of thought advise on how to handle the perceived problem - if it's actually an affliction that requires treatment.
The information below will hopefully shed some light on both sides of the issue, whether you're a dedicated gamer or concerned parent. Though professionals seem to have decided video game dependency isn't an actual disorder, the topic remains surrounded by gray areas. As a result, many gamers left untreated for the condition could attest to those gray areas' devastating effects.
There isn't one agreed-upon definition of video game dependency. According to TechAddiction, "[the condition] is not currently considered a diagnosable disorder," meaning it does not appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
While that fact may seem to rule out the condition's risk, its pitfall is readily apparent to those who suffer from what they consider a very real problem - one that has resulted in lost jobs, scholarships, and, all too often, friends and family.
A life-altering video game habit doesn't fall directly into the definition of other known dependencies, though some professionals have attempted to equate it with afflictions like compulsive gambling due to the similarity in symptoms.
Those who claim to suffer from video game dependency often display the same types of symptoms associated with other recognized conditions. While there is no standard diagnosis criteria, video game "addicts" often demonstrate declining performance in work or school, as well as avoidance of personal responsibility, as they may choose to spend their free time playing games.
Additionally, they can lose interest in virtually all activities besides gaming and appear incapable of quitting gaming for more than a few days. While doctors may disagree on whether or not gaming dependency is real, it's clear excessive gaming wreaks legitimate consequences on those who claim to suffer from the condition.
A 2009 study conducted by Dr. Douglas Gentile at Iowa State University found that "8.5 percent of American youths ages 8 to 18 who play video games show multiple signs of behavioral addiction." These statistics indicate more than 3 million American youths could suffer from this affliction - a number eclipsing the Americans suffering from coke dependency by around 1 million.
While medical professionals seemingly can't agree upon the criteria for diagnosing a legitimate gaming compulsion, Gentile surveyed nearly 1,800 gamers and labeled those with more than six of the 11 symptoms of compulsive gambling as "pathological gamers."
The real-world consequences of known conditions, such as compulsive gambling, are often present in those suffering from video game dependency. While many dependent gamers experience devastating effects resulting from their habit, such as financial instability and the dissolution of interpersonal relationships, others may even contemplate ending their own lives due to their self-proclaimed condition.
Charles Bracke, for example, played Mega Man on the NES as a child. Over years, his hobby became more extreme, eventually transforming into a full-blown obsession by the time Ultima Online - a multiplayer role-playing game - was released.
After dropping out of college twice and losing his real-estate job because of his gaming obsession, he contemplated ending his own life. He even planned out and prepared for the entire scenario, including the notes he planned to leave for his family. Fortunately, Bracke's relatives noticed his struggle and enrolled him in the reSTART Center for Technology Sustainability, a facility treating those suffering from compulsive gaming.
Many other gamers suffering from dependency experience similar thoughts, lending further credence to the notion that impulse control - the official codification of the issue by the DSM - may not be a high-enough classification for the condition.