By Dr. Brent Conrad
Clinical Psychologist for TechAddiction
Computer game addiction is not a recognized psychological disorder (at least at present), but there is little debate that some gamers devote far too many hours to computer games, and that excessive play can negatively impact healthy functioning in the world outside of video games.
Lacking a clear description of what defines computer game addiction, the diagnostic criteria for better established obsessive disorders were modified to create a rough set of symptoms for excessive computer use.
To early researchers, pathological gambling (a problem that does appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) had much in common with computer game addiction and was used to craft initial diagnostic criteria. Some of the symptoms of pathological gambling include an obsession with gambling, spending an increasing amount of time engaged in the activity, irritability when unable to gamble, and possible involvement in illegal activity to obtain the necessary funds to continue gaming.
Although it made some sense to adapt the diagnostic criteria of one well known disorder (gambling addiction) as an initial template for computer game addiction, there are also serious disadvantages to this method. For example, computer gamers normally have very little need to engage in illegal activity to finance their gaming habits and there is definitely disagreement over whether computer gamers experience the same exhilaration or "high" that is often reported among gambling addicts.
Therefore, numerous psychologists and researchers have suggested that there may be better methods of defining the symptoms of computer game addiction - rather than simply adapting the symptoms of other disorders.
TechAddiction.ca has proposed that the symptoms of computer game addiction can be divided into four different categories - relational symptoms, physical symptoms, behavioral symptoms, and psychological symptoms.
This article outlines at some of the cognitive and emotional (i.e., psychological) symptoms of computer game addiction (for more information see TechAddiction's article on relational, physical, and behavioral symptoms of computer game addiction). Again, keep in mind that computer game addiction is, for now, a descriptive label not an official psychological disorder. However, the symptoms below are based on emerging research on this problem and also on actual clients who seek help for computer game addiction.
Cognitive and Emotional Symptoms of Computer Game Addiction
1) People addicted to computer games often report becoming so engrossed with a game that they lose sense of the passage of time. For example, a gamer may believe that he has only been playing for an hour or two, when in reality five hours have passed. In rare cases, extremely long times spent playing video games have actually lead to death due to pulmonary embolism (a blood clot that typically forms in the legs after long periods of inactivity and subsequently moves to the lungs).
2) One of the most appealing aspects of online computer games is the sense of community and belonging that players often experience when they become part of a committed team, clan, or guild (a group of gamers that regularly play together and depend on each other to advance their entire team). While it is normal not to want to disappoint others, players who prioritize computer games over all other forms of social interaction may experience intense feelings of guilt when they are not able to join their team for a planned gaming session or mission.
3) As is true of many addictions, one of the symptoms of computer game addiction is becoming overly defensive of the activity and an angry justification of gaming habits that almost everyone would view as unhealthy.
4) Occasionally, people addicted to computer games will be unable to access their favorite games. This may be due to vacations, family responsibilities, lost internet connections, broken computer equipment, or bans imposed by others. During these periods, computer game addicts may become very moody, irritable, depressed, or angry.
5) One of the most common and telling symptoms of computer game addiction is a complete loss of interest previously enjoyed activities or hobbies and neglect of friends and family members in favor of continued gaming.
6) A sense of regret, guilt, and/or disappointment in oneself after playing computer games for much longer than planned (for example, an entire evening rather than an hour or two).
7) When concerned friends or family members talk to them about how much they play computer games, an addicted player will often downplay or deny the negative impact video games have on other areas of his or her life. He / she may also justify gaming by stating that compared to other addictions (e.g., drugs or alcohol) "it isn't so bad".
8) People addicted to computer games may report significantly diminished interest in academic success and poor grades (if they happen to be a student) or work performance (if they are employed).
9) When not actually playing, thinking about the next opportunity to go online is another common symptom of computer game addiction. For example, gaming addicts may find themselves thinking about their next gaming session while out with friends, during work, or when trying to fall asleep.
10) In contrast to feeling irritated or uneasy when not able to play, computer gaming addicts may experience a sense of peace and contentment when engaged in his or her favorite game. Some gamers describe this as almost being in a trace-like state or being so involved with the game that they feel detached from their bodies.
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Computer Game Addiction - Have you noticed any of these symptoms in yourself or others?