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Originally, the term referred to a physiological dependence on a drug. Nowadays, people use “addiction” to describe all sorts of excessive behavior, like eating too much chocolate. But while researchers avoid this usage, they recognize that some pastimes, like gambling, can become pathological and resemble true addiction.
And some kids who play video games meet the clinical criteria for an “addiction” in this sense. Video games dominate their lives. Playing gives them a sense of euphoria, or at least a sense of relief from unpleasant feelings. Kids experience “withdrawal” if they are denied access to games. And gaming interferes with everyday life, including school and social relationships (Gentile 2009). So pathological gaming is about more than how much time your child spends playing game. It’s about video games taking over his or her life.
While most people associate addiction with substances, such as drugs or alcohol, doctors recognize addictive behaviors as well. In a WebMD feature on the definition of addiction, psychiatrist Michael Brody, MD, set forth the following criteria:
The person needs more and more of a substance or behavior to keep him going. If the person does not get more of the substance or behavior, he becomes irritable and miserable.
Young says compulsive gaming meets these criteria, and she has seen severe withdrawal symptoms in game addicts. “They become angry, violent, or depressed. If [parents] take away the computer, their child sits in the corner and cries, refuses to eat, sleep, or do anything.”
Currently, there is no single universally agreed upon definition of video game addiction. There is no set number of hours one must play in ordered to be considered addicted to video games. Most definitions of video game addiction refer to excessive play which results in negative emotional, social, relational, educational, or career – related consequences.
Instead of devoting energy to “real-world” activities and pursuits, a video game addict spends most of his or her time playing games. Someone who has developed a video game addiction prioritizes gaming accomplishments over all other activities such as spending time with friends and family, school achievement, work performance, and interpersonal relationships.
Video game addiction may also be defined as a serious loss of control over gaming that leads to significant harm for the player in the real world.
There is no single factor that makes video games so appealing to kids (or adults for that matter). Something about a game that is fascinating to one child may seem rather boring to another. The key is that no matter what the child happens to be interested in or engaged by…there is likely a video game that allows him or her to easily escape into this virtual world.
Children who in past generations may have spent hours playing “cops and robbers” or “war” may today be fascinated with first person shooters like “Call of Duty” or “Halo”. Children that are interested in sports may today be more likely to live out their fantasies in a video game than on an actual field. Teens that are interested in fantasy worlds and exploration may be drawn to games like “World of Warcraft” rather than reading novels such as “Lord of the Rings”. Children who would previously spend hours creating impressive structures out of Lego may now find greater appeal in a game like “Minecraft” which arguably allows for even greater creativity with much less effort.
What psychological and social problems are associated with teen and child video game addiction?
Although child video game addiction research is still in its early stages, there is growing evidence that teens and children who are addicted to computer games can experience a host of social, emotional, and behavioral problems:
What are the risk factors for child and teenage video game addiction?
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