Articles

Online Gaming Addictions

By Peter S. Silin, MSW, RSW

About On Line Gaming

Since the 1990’s a number of computer, video and online games have been developed. Some of these are what we call RPG’s (Role Playing Games). Of these some are relatively small and have a small number of players. Others are what are MMP (for Massive Multi Player) on line games, in which people play with other people around the world. There can be thousands of people involved in these games, in what make up a virtual world. Some of the more popular ones are called World of Warcraft, Everquest (popularly called at times Evercrack), Guildscape, Eve, and Runescape, and lately, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

The basis of the MMP’s are that people take on roles or characters, there are levels, and themes, and a social structure. People can form alliances, have means to communicate, can form guilds, clans, unions, etc, and so become part of the larger social structure in this world. They develop their characters, their skills, win points, and can win notoriety and fame. Within the game, they can develop power and influence.

On line games can become very compelling. For some people they become an addiction—a strong compulsion to use the game which has become out of their control. Partly this is due to the nature of the games themselves. There is the pull of “more,” --towards winning points, character development, and the admiration and support of the groups or culture. If the game is always on, then it can become difficult to leave because one “loses contact” with the groups, the game, the responsibilities, etc. that they have entered into. It is an enticement and an excitement. It is exciting to develop strategies in which one can win over others, aspects of the game, or the world. On line games allow players to disassociate from the “real” world around them, not only from friends, families, and work, but also from stress, hurt, and other psychological or physical pain.

Risk Factors for Addictions:

There are no easy answers as to why some people become addicted to gaming ,and others do not. However, there are certain risk factors which will increase the likelihood of an addiction occurring. Even without the risk factors, some people will still develop an addition. Risk factors include:

  1. History of other addictions
  2. Large amounts of unstructured time
  3. Family history of addictions
  4. History of physical or sexual abuse
  5. Other recent or distant traumatic incidents which have not been dealt with.
  6. Poor social skills, loneliness, or social isolation
  7. Depression
  8. Feelings of powerlessness and ineffectiveness
  9. Stress in the family or at work for which the player can find no effective way to handle or resolve.

An addiction to Online Gaming is similar in many ways to other what are called process addictions, such as sex addictions, gambling addictions, compulsive shopping, and others. ( Drug and alcohol are considered “ingestive addictions,” because one has to take something to attain the high.) People do not generally become addicted to the process addictions overnight. There is an addictive process that occurs during which an activity starts off as fun, a diversion, and interesting, and then gradually takes over someone’s life.

A gaming history can start with video games, or console computer games such as Play station, Wii, and Nintendo, and move on from there into the more complicated RPG’s or MMP games. Or they may start with MMPs Any one of these can become addictive in themselves. A note of caution, however about these and any games---the vast majority of people use them, and do NOT become addicted.

However they start, Gamers gradually become more involved with the game, and deeply involved with the gaming culture. Little by little, people spend more and more time as they gaining proficiency, more complicated roles, clans or guilds or other groups. It takes more to get the psychological hit, and finally they are involved in gaming until they “can’t” choose to stop.

Symptoms of Addiction:

Here are some of the symptoms of an Gaming Addiction. Several are similar to any other addiction:

  1. Spending time playing the game to the point where they interfere with friends, marriage and family relationships, and work.
  2. Finding a spouse or family angry with them and arguing with them about their gaming.
  3. Hiding how much time or how much money they are spending on the games.
  4. Finding ways to access or game when away from home or in other activities
  5. Reminiscing about gaming when they are not playing, or planning strategies, or talking primarily about the game
  6. Experience intense excitement and adrenalin rushes at different points in the game, and needing more intensity of some kind to bring on that same rush..
  7. Loss of sleep due to gaming time.
  8. Choosing gaming over sex, intimacy, social activities.
  9. Anger and irritability if someone suggests they have a problem, or somehow tries to limit the amount of time the Gamer is spending on the game.
  10. Feelings of guilt or shame about one’s involvement in gaming.
  11. Finding they have “lost” large blocks of time or their day playing and not knowing how it went on so long.
  12. Spending a lot of time reading about games, gamers, reviews of games, in chat rooms or forums about the games
  13. Promises to self or to others to quite or “cut down “ on the amount of time one spends gaming, and not being able to follow through with.

A gaming addiction can be extremely serious. If unchecked the results can be destroyed marriages, suicide, lost jobs, and bankruptcies. These can occur before anyone beyond the addict knows how severe the dependency is, and before they can intervene to help the addict.

Recovery:

Recovery from MMP gaming addiction can be quite difficult. Some people who have had a concurrent addiction, have said that the hardest one to quit was the gaming. The unique aspects of the gaming situation mean that people are not only leaving behind the addictive behaviour which becomes like a friend, but also leaving behind the people and characters with which they have been interacting. This can engender severe grief. When considering quitting, many addicts have a profound sense of sadness, and wonder what they will do without it. They may believe that their lives will be boring, have little meaning, and be empty. They may visualize a huge gap that is frightening to them. For some, it means facing some of the underlying issues that led to the out of control habits— work stress, marital stress, loneliness, and feelings of depression or inadequacy.

Gaming is still rather new in our society. This means that it is still easy to deny there is an addictive issue, or the extent of it. Denial is one of the most common reasons people do not get help with any addiction, but with gaming still being so new and many gamers being young, it is hard to see how one’s behaviour may be different from other gamers who are just out having a good time. People can convince themselves that others do not understand them, or gaming.

Quitting and recovery can take a long time, but people will begin to feel better after just a few weeks or a month of being without the game. Some people try to modulate their usage (a “harm reduction” approach) so that they will be gaming a limited and proscribed amount of time within strict parameters. This is a risky approach and begs the question, “if it is such an important part of your life that you cannot give it up, what does that say about it’s hold on you?” For those who have an addiction, why would you want to try to hang on to the habit?

When people try to quit, they often end up promising themselves that they won’t do it anymore, and finding that they cannot adhere to that promise. They may tell someone, ok, if I don’t stop by such and such a day, then you can take it off my computer, and not follow through on that. The process of quitting can be a long one in which people try over and over again, until they fully commit to quitting, and acknowledge how serious the hold is on them, and how much damage they are doing to themselves and their families.

Gaming addiction research will show that the “highs” and excitement that come from the gaming aspects release the same chemicals and stimulate the same centres of the brain as other addictions. This means that there is a biochemical component to the addiction, not just a psychosocial component. As the brain gets used to and dependent on the stimulation and chemical and hormonal release, stopping the activity that leads to it, means that the body will have to adjust. Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  1. Anger, irritability, loss of sleep, restlessness
  2. Depression
  3. Anxiety
  4. Boredom, fear
  5. “Using” dreams, in which one dreams one has gone back to playing.
  6. Difficulty experiencing joy or happiness

Actions To Take for Recovery

Recovery from an addiction is difficult to do on one’s own, by sheer willpower. Some hints to make it easier:

  1. Plan for other activities which will help fill the gap in time.
  2. Let other people know what you have been doing ,and ask their support in helping you to stop.
  3. See a physician for antidepressants.
  4. Be aware of what you may go through.
  5. Exercise
  6. Meditate
  7. Put the computer in plain view of others in your home
  8. Delete the game, your account, the tools etc., that are on your computer or with the manufacturers of the game. Make sure they cannot sell you anything else or contact you. Cut off subscriptions, dues, etc. Let go of anything that you can sell through your game or character. Delete all passwords, cookies, etc.
  9. Consider saying good bye to the community, and ask them not to contact you in any way. Do not necessarily preach to them, just say you are leaving. Some gamers have said not to do this, as the others, especially those also addicted, will try to talk you out of it. If you find that happening, just leave—you do not owe anyone an explanation.
  10. Avoid fantasizing about what you used to do when you were gaming or the fun you had. Think instead about what it cost you.
  11. Put some kind of net nanny or other programme on your computer which will limit your ability to access games and gaming sites. Make sure someone else has the password.
  12. DO NOT make your spouse or partner your monitor or the one to check up on you. This can make your relationship more stressed. You need a partner from your partner, not a jail guard.
  13. Read as much as you can about addictions and gaming addiction in particular. Use the books of twelve step groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, or others.
  14. See a therapist with experience in dealing with gaming or at least with process addictions in general.
  15. Participate in self help, such Olganon, On Line Gamers Anonymous at www.olganon.com

If Your Spouse is A Gaming Addict

People who have a spouse who is a gaming, or other addict, often feel angry , abandoned, and betrayed by their partner or spouse. It is also easy to feel helpless in the face of an activity over which it seems their partner has no control and which can be destroying your relationship, your children’s relationship with your partner, and your social network and financial security.

It is common for a partner or spouse to blame oneself, or at least ask if there was something they could have done differently, or to wonder if there is something lacking in them. Although there may be problems in a relationship that were severe enough to make a partner try to find an escape your partner always had a choice about how to handle the stress they were feeling. They may have felt trapped, they may have felt that you weren’t listening, they may have been feeling angry with you, they may have been afraid of something else and if they told you they would lose you. However, they still, ultimately chose their behaviour. You may be part of the picture, but you are not to blame.

While a partner should not blame themselves for the addiction that their partner has developed, it is true that the use of gaming was triggered by, or supported by some problems in your relationship. This is why partners need to look at themselves and their relationships; not with blame but for a deeper understanding of it. This may mean understanding why you chose the person you did, for instance.

An addiction becomes part of a relationship, and often part of the healing is to have some couples counselling. For this to be successful, the partner will have to be able to forgive, to build some trust in their partner who has the addictive behaviour, and to be able to commit. Rebuilding trust is hard and takes time. Counselling will require that both partners look at themselves and the patterns and systems of communication and interaction which they have developed.

It is important for a spouse to receive some support ; often through the support of the spouse of another addict. A spouse may also want to find a therapist to see by themselves.

If Your Child is a Gaming Addict.

Seeing one’s child develop and play out an addiction can be incredibly painful. Parents may feel that they have failed or that there was something wrong with them. The helplessness that parents feel as they try to intervene can feel like a rejection. Trying a disciplinary approach is often futile. Parents often feel a lot of anger that they do not know what to do with.

If you are afraid that your child has a gaming addiction, it may help you to talk it out with a therapist or a friend or other family member before talking with your child. Make sure you know about the gaming habit very well—the amount of time that is spent, which games are being used, who they are playing with if there are friends involved. Understand how the game is played. Watch for how it is affecting your child in school and with friends.

Make sure that you have a plan on what to do before acting out of fear and “barging” in. Sit down with your child and let him know that you want to have a chat with them and that it may be difficult for both or all of you. Let him know that you love him.

Describe what you see, and how you see it affecting him and your family, without labeling it, and see what the response is.

Then describe what you are feeling— worried, fearful, etc. Discuss that piece.

Then discuss what you think is happening. If it is an addiction or heading towards it, there will be some anger, and some denial. Understand that this is part of the process.

You can discuss what you would like to do. He may say that he will cut down, or try to stop on his own, or to butt out. You may have to let it drop for the moment, and even let him try or continue on his own. You may want to ask him to pay attention to how the game is affecting him. Let him know that you will come back to the discussion in a couple of weeks.

If there has been no change, or little, you may want to give him another chance, and another couple of weeks. If there was a change, but then it started to build up again, point that out . Discuss with him the symptoms of addiction, maybe ask him to read this article, or look at other websites.

A next step may be implementing some of the strategies that are listed above. Let him know that this is what you are going to do. In the end, it make come to his being able to use the computer only under your supervision. If it comes to this, you may want to enlist his network to let them know what is happening. This will include letting the parents of friends know what is going on.

You may also require him to see a counsellor, at first with you, and then on his own.

Contact me for an in-person, telephone, or online consultation. I can be reached at 604 874-7764

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Peter S. Silin, MSW, RSW

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