Here’s what every esports fan needs to know about gaming addiction


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In recognition of October 10 as World Mental Health Day, eCentralSports takes a look at gaming addiction. Click here, here, and here to read our previous coverage of mental health and video games.

At one stage or another, any serious gamer will have had a friend or relative throw the word at them: 

[insert name here], would you ever peel yourself away from that screen? You are addicted.” 

A lot of the time, this kind of attitude stems from a lack of understanding on the accuser’s part. Maybe they aren’t gamers, and so might be unaware that putting serious time in is simply part and parcel of what a gamer does. If you compete in the esports world, you’ll know that sitting in front of that screen for hours on end isn’t just acceptable; sometimes it’s necessary.

But when does it become unnecessary? When does participating in esports become a problem? At what point does the person accusing you of being an addict have a legitimate point? And what can you do to keep your gaming habits healthy?

These are the questions we will look to answer here today.

What the hell is “video game addiction” anyway?

In the past few years, video game addiction has been identified as an official health risk. The World Health Organization recently included “gaming disorder” in its revised International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) manual. According to the ICD:

“[a diagnosis of gaming disorder is appropriate for] a person who, over a period of at least 12 months, lacks control over their gaming habits, prioritizes gaming over other interests and activities, and continues gaming despite its negative consequences.” 

So. . . spending a lot of time gaming doesn’t necessarily mean you have a problem. But if you find yourself ticking the following boxes, it’s quite possible you need to reassess your gaming habits. Maybe you even need to seek help for what can become a very serious health problem if you:

  1. are unable to stop gaming or play less;
  2. refuse to commit time to non-gaming activities and neglect other interests that you used to enjoy; or 
  3. continue to game at a frequency that is negatively affecting other functional aspects of your life (such as personal life, family relations, social interaction, education and work performance). 

What kind of problems can a gaming disorder bring about?

Gaming disorders pose both physical and mental health risks to those afflicted.

A decline in general function is one of the main concerns experts hold about those suffering from gaming addiction. Dr Susumu Higuchi, head of the Kurihama Medical and Addiction Centre in Japan, treats over 200 patients whose principal condition is gaming disorder. For a lot of these patients, their gaming addiction became problematic enough to cause serious life upsets such as dropping out of school or losing a job.

Another behavioural addiction expert, Dr Sophia Achab, treats a 22-year old man at the University of Geneva. The patient in question dropped out of school so he could play online games for 18 hours a day, suffering blood clots in his legs from the resultant physical inactivity.

Someone addicted to video games may avoid sleeping and eating proper meals in order to continue playing, potentially leading to any number of the long-term health problems associated with poor sleep and malnutrition.

People with serious gaming disorders can develop wrist, elbow, and neck pain, as well as more severe physical consequences such as obesity, peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage), and blood clots.

Over-dependence on video games can have a serious impact on mental and emotional development. Neglected social skills, poor concentration, and feelings of irritability and restlessness are all common consequences of gaming disorder.

Scary stuff. How can I avoid video game addiction?

The best way to keep your gaming healthy and prevent a problem from developing is to ask yourself a few key questions. The most important thing here is to be honest in your answers. 

Ask yourself the questions. Recognize the signs. Take the necessary action:

  • If I wanted to play less, would it be easy for me to cut back?
  • Am I missing out on other things that I used to enjoy or that I find important?
  • Do I skip proper meals? Is gaming cutting into my sleeping time?
  • Am I skipping out on face-to-face social experiences in favour of gaming?
  • Does the thought of gaming distract me during my day to day?
  • Is my health, study, or work suffering as a result of the amount of time I spend gaming?
  • Would it be better for my life if I cut down a bit and spent that time in other ways?

If you can be honest with yourself, the likelihood is that by answering these questions and responding accordingly, you can nip a developing gaming problem in the bud—long before it spirals out of your control. 

Remember: if you continue to game relentlessly over a long-term period, despite your gaming having negative consequences on your life, then you likely suffer from gaming disorder—a serious psychological condition as defined by the WHO, and one that you should seek help for.

I think I might have a gaming problem. What can I do about it?

First and foremost, try to cut down. Reduce your gaming by as much as you feel you need to in order to avoid the negative effects it’s having. Set time limits, and stick to them. If you can’t stop playing, or you can’t limit a troublesome amount of game time despite your best efforts, seek help. 

Talk to your family and your doctor. There are plenty of resources available to help people suffering from video game addiction, and you are far from the only one. So please, use them if you need them. Your gaming should be like your life: healthy and rewarding. If it becomes something else, reach out and make it right.

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