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Video game addiction: more than just games

Despite the mounting literature affirming that video games are largely beneficial, there are valid concerns about those who want to spend most of their waking hours in a digital world. Are these more than just “games”?
Last updated: November 19, 2020
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What is video game addiction?

Once seen as a form of niche entertainment, video games have become a fixture in societies around the world. They are now deeply integrated into everyday life, in part because they offer unlimited possibilities for enjoyment, exploration, and choice. Video games give people something they need—their own space. A space to connect with others, to master challenges and experience excitement, and to be immersed in and have a place to explore their own uniqueness.

But video games, despite being immensely beneficial, may also come at a far greater cost than just their purchase price. There is growing concern not only among professionals, but also among the general public who watch their partners, friends, and/or children be absorbed in these digital spaces—where every spare minute is spent playing games, thinking about them, or doing whatever it takes to get back to them.

Think about someone in your life who plays video games. Have you asked yourself any of these questions or had concerns regarding their time spent playing video games?

  • My loved one has changed so much—who are they becoming?
  • Are they addicted?
  • Who are they meeting online?
  • Are they being exposed to horrible things?
  • It’s like the games are more important than I am!
  • They say they’re going to do something, and then I find them gaming instead.
  • I'm afraid they’re sacrificing their future.

It’s clear that video games are more than just games nowadays. They are portals into entirely different worlds, with their own distinct landscapes, cultures, codes of conduct, dangers, and rewards. These worlds were designed so that people feel like they belong, provide opportunities to achieve “great” feats, and have more than enough space to discover their creative potential.

Think about it: You can join a game and find someone (whether real or computer-generated) to connect with and interact with—you are accepted into a community as you are. You can overcome challenges and feel like you’ve accomplished something—no mountain is too high for your avatar to summit. Not only that, but every resource a digital world has to offer is within your reach—status comes in the form of achievements or items that can be worn by your avatar. And finally, there is space to be yourself. Imagine if you had a chance to be exactly who you wanted to be and could achieve or have anything. Wouldn’t you jump at that chance? This is what video games can offer.

What can I do to help?

It’s likely that you know someone who is using video games as the strategy for meeting their needs. If you hope to help the person find a little more balance, there are important steps you can take. Remember, these games are serving as a way to meet fundamental needs—it’s not enough to just take away the games or shame a person for spending all of their time gaming. Rather, understanding why the person plays the games (i.e., their personal motivations and aspects of the game they enjoy), and then offering an “analog” in everyday life is a great place to start.

To begin, getting to know what games your loved one plays will give you a glimpse into their personal motivations and what needs they’re trying to meet. For instance, let’s say this person plays Call of Duty (a popular game with intense, fast-paced gunfights against other people). If this is their game of choice, then they are likely seeking excitement and intense stimulation, competition, opportunities to cooperate with others, and to have a domain to showcase a set of specific skills (e.g., hand-eye coordination, communication, situational awareness). Some “analog” activities that could meet these needs/motivations are martial arts, team sports, or roped rock climbing. Again, before you can suggest an alternative, you have to begin to understand your loved one’s motivations for playing the games. Being curious and asking open-ended questions is a great way to learn more, and they’ll be more than willing to tell you all the reasons they enjoy playing!

Video games, for better or worse, are here to stay. And likely, someone in your life plays video games for more than a few hours daily. If their use is concerning, be curious, ask questions, and try to better understand which games they choose and why. Unless we understand why someone chooses to spend their time in a digital world, the hope of showing/teaching them another way to meet their needs is unlikely. Again, if you’re concerned, being genuinely curious is a great place to start—nothing says “I care” more than your nonjudgmental attention.

Submitted by Michael Sousa

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If you’re concerned and feel overwhelmed by your situation regarding problematic video game use, seeking professional help is an option. Michael Sousa, at Pathfinders Counseling, specializes in helping those with video game addiction find balance in their lives. Please go to Pathfinders Counseling and click “Schedule Now” to set up a free 30-minute consultation. Michael offers sliding-scale fees and potential pro-bono sessions for those in need.

Michael Sousa, a master’s-level intern, has been practicing in the wellness field for many years, as a Yoga Teacher, Licensed Massage Therapist, and Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor. He brings his knowledge of health and well-being into his work as a Clinical Mental Health Counselor, pairing it with his interest in technology and video game addiction. Michael has been playing video games from an early age and even competed professionally for some time during his teenage years; he understands and regularly navigates these digital worlds like a pro. Michael hopes to work with clients who find it difficult to integrate healthy habits regarding technology and video games. He is currently serving clients at Pathfinders Counseling in Fort Collins, Colo.