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Communities that care: Gaming addiction is a growing concern

When we look at the issues facing adolescents, most of us would not think about gaming addiction. We may think about social situations, exposure to drugs and alcohol or academic struggles. But gaming addiction is a growing area of concern.

In moderation, gaming is not necessarily problematic. It is when individuals become so consumed in the activity that it affects their ability to function that the issue should be addressed. Because games are particularly alluring to children and adolescents, they are becoming the most at-risk population for gaming addiction. The issue of gaming addiction, like many other addictions, does not discriminate. Countries such as Russia, China, Korea, Taiwan and United Kingdom have also seen this problem affect their youth.

The growing emphasis on technology — not only by society, but by schools as well — makes it difficult for adolescents to escape the temptation of gaming. For example, it may be easier for individuals to mask spending time on work when they are engaging in games. Although it is not a substance addiction, it shares many of the same characteristics, such as social isolation, lack of development of healthy coping skills, irritability, lack of control and preoccupation.

Many times the design of the games is that success can only be reached after hours and hours of playing. In extreme instances, this behavior has resulted in death with people continuing to play for 50 hours or more. Individuals will ignore their basic needs so they can continue playing the game; they will skip meals, showers and sleep.

Most commonly, the major effect is a marked decrease in socialization. Games can provide an alternate world for the individuals to engage in, giving them a sense of social interaction. However, without face-to-face contact, many children and adolescents will not develop appropriate social skills.

Gaming addiction is also associated with other mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Childhood and adolescence are such impressionable times for many reasons. Peers become more important and parents begin to have less influence. Youth are forming an identity, becoming comfortable in their own skin and learning how to cope with various stressors. The games can provide an escape for the adolescent. Gaming is an alternative to actually dealing with their feelings, addressing problems within the home or acknowledging internal struggles.

Some preventative measures include setting time limits on the games. Adolescents will often test their boundaries and need firm expectations. Another helpful intervention is requiring breaks. This can help kids avoid eyestrain and muscle tension, and also provide a reminder that there is a world outside of the game. A change in the type of game may be helpful, too. Educational computer games are always a better alternative to shooting/strategy and role-playing games.

For more information please attend the Straight Talk session on gaming addiction from 7 to 8:30 p.m. March 15 at Mount Nittany Middle School.

Tessa Bills is a licensed social worker with Beck Psychotherapy LLC.


What: Straight Talk session: Gaming Addiction

When: 7-8:30 p.m. March 15

Where: Mount Nittany Middle School, 656 Brandywine Drive, State College