What is Gaming Addiction?
Gaming is a common part of life, especially for young children and teenagers. It can help develop cognitive abilities such as improving memory, coordination and social skills, and can be a good way for young people to socialise in appropriate online environments.
However, although it has some positive effects, gaming can occasionally lead to addiction which may result in mental health issues or long-term social difficulties. As more and more young people gain access to online and computer games through the increased use of phones and devices, gaming addiction is affecting a much younger generation and becoming a real issue for parents and people that work with children.
Not only can a gaming addiction impact a person’s health, but at a young age it can really affect a child’s ability to focus. This can make it hard for them to learn and work at school, so gaming addiction is an issue that teachers in particular should be aware of.
In our recent article on digitally safeguarding children and young people we mentioned gaming addiction. In this article, we’ll discuss what gaming addiction is, the signs of someone who has a gaming addiction, how to help someone with a gaming addiction and how to prevent gaming addiction.
Gaming addiction is when an individual has a compulsive need to play games, to the point that it interferes with their normal life. If they’re not playing, then the individual will have compulsive thoughts about the game and feel distracted and unhappy until they can play it again.
Compulsive behaviours can develop when children and teenagers have unmonitored access to games. Often playing late into the night, the addictive nature of gaming means younger people can become easily hooked.
Gaming addiction can have a wide range of consequences across all aspects of a person’s life. Here are some of the dangers that the addiction poses:
When parents or carers are unaware of the time that children spend playing games online, it can be hard to monitor or understand when gaming addiction is materialising. Below are some of the common signs of gaming addiction that might indicate a more serious problem.
When they are unable to game, the individual finds it difficult to remain still and calm. They are constantly fidgeting, pacing and unable to focus on any other task due to frustration at not being able to play.
This symptom of gaming addiction in young people is often noticed by teachers as well as parents or carers, as when children are at school they are unable to game and may find it difficult to focus and sit and listen without getting restless.
Whatever medium someone plays their games on, be it a games console, their phone or online, the individual with an addiction forms an unhealthy attachment to it. One of the key signs of gaming addiction is someone developing an unhealthy attachment to their gaming device, which can present in several different ways.
Someone that is addicted to gaming will likely spend most of their time playing the game, especially if this is on a phone or handheld console that can be taken anywhere with them. When they don’t have this device in their hands or in sight, they might appear agitated or distressed and search for it frantically until it’s found.
A common sign of gaming addiction in children is also if they become upset or angry when they are separated from their gaming device, console or computer, reacting very emotionally if it is taken away or they aren’t allowed in the room with it.
An individual with a video game addiction is often quick to lose their temper or snap at others if they’re away from the game for a long period of time. They also display signs of a bad mood if the game doesn't go well or they lose, and may obsess over their performance or refuse to be consoled about the outcome of the game.
Irritability is a general gaming addiction symptom as well because excessive gaming often disrupts someone’s sleep, stops them from exercising and may mess with their mealtimes. Being tired, hungry and staying indoors for too long can all impact someone’s mood and temperament, impacting their social interactions.
People with gaming addictions are often fixated on thoughts of gaming activity, which can leave them unable to think about anything else. Often if they have important tasks to do, they are distracted and cannot focus.
In adults, this preoccupation may stop someone from completing necessary daily tasks like cleaning and buying food, which has a negative impact on their living conditions. In children, this symptom of gaming addiction impacts focus and learning and may also cause the child to only want to talk about the game they like.
Having an addiction to computer games can lead to feelings of shame and guilt, especially if the affected individual acknowledges they have an unhealthy addiction. Because of this guilt, the individual may often lie about the amount of time spent playing games and make up other excuses for how they spend their time.
In children and young people, gaming addiction can also cause lying about what the affected individual has been doing with their time and may lead to deception or breaking rules to get more time playing.
One of the key signs of gaming addiction is that the person with the addiction will become withdrawn from their usual social circle and usually the family. They may also stop taking part in activities that they previously enjoyed, instead spending that time gaming.
It’s often easier to spot a computer games addiction in a young person because they usually live with family and therefore are surrounded by people that notice much faster if they stop spending time socialising or are increasingly spending their time alone in their room or an office.
Getting help for gaming addiction is the best way to deal with it and ensure that the affected individual returns to a healthier lifestyle. Treating addictions can be a long process, but the sooner that someone realises that they need help, the sooner the people around them can offer support for their problem.
Here’s how parents, carers and teachers can all provide help for gaming addiction.
As a parent or carer, if you notice a change in your child’s behaviour or the symptoms mentioned above, you should consider speaking to them about their behaviour and express that you are worried about the time they’re spending playing games. This might be a difficult conversation, as speaking to addicts about their problems is often met with anger or denial, especially if you’re dealing with a child that doesn’t understand the impact of their behaviour.
You cannot force a young person to overcome an addiction, but you can express your concerns, share information about the dangers of gaming addiction and state that you want to help. As a parent or carer, you can remove the child or young person’s access to devices to stop them from gaming, but this might not always work and may escalate the problem further.
If you’re seeking treatment for gaming addiction, you should consult with a doctor for help and further information. Amid a growing number of teenagers and young people whose gaming use is affecting their mental health, the NHS has invested in a clinic dedicated to helping those aged 13 - 25 deal with gaming addiction.
As a teacher, you are more likely to notice a shift in the behaviour of a young person than their parents or carers. Students spend most of their day at school and if a gaming addiction has manifested you will notice changes in the way the student acts, behaves and how they focus in class.
The social cues are easily recognisable and when someone develops an addiction, they have a stark change in how they act and speak, so between parents, carers and teachers you should be able to pick up on it.
Just as you would traditionally safeguard children from other forms of abuse, if you spot the symptoms of gaming addiction you should consult your safeguarding lead and take it further.
Schools should look at their policies and procedures for internet and phone usage in school and can look to block certain games and sites being accessed.
There are many crazes around schools from different games and challenges online, so it can be hard to know when someone is addicted or if they're simply passionate about gaming. However, if you manage to intervene early you may be able to help the student before an addiction materialises.
There are a range of approaches to how to treat gaming addiction, but one of the most effective methods is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
Preventing gaming addiction involves sharing information about the dangers of gaming addiction and the consequences that this kind of behaviour can have on all aspects of someone’s life. Some effort is being made by gaming companies to educate their customers about the safe use of games, but it’s also up to people like parents and teachers to educate children in particular about how an addiction to computer games can be bad.
Preventing gaming addiction also required education about how to safely play online games and the right amount of time to be spent on this activity every day. If you’re talking to young people about their gaming habits, encourage them to decide on how much time they think is healthy to spend on gaming and encourage them to speak to you if they’re worried about this time increasing.
Gaming in itself is not an addiction, it only becomes classed as one when it starts to interfere with your day-to-day life and stop you from doing other things like work or socialising. The majority of online games and computer games are designed to be addictive so that players spend more time engaging with them, so it’s important to be mindful of how much time you’re spending playing games and whether this is healthy.
‘Gaming Disorder’, which is the official name for gaming addiction, was added to the International Classification of Diseases in 2022 in response to the increase in people being diagnosed with the condition. According to data from Game Quitters, 3-4% of players are clinically addicted to gaming, with these numbers growing over the past few years.
According to a study from the AAP, more than 21 hours a week, or 3 hours a day, is the amount of gaming that can start to have a defective impact on someone’s wellbeing. However, people that are classed as having a gaming addiction are often playing for around 100 hours a week, which severely impacts their ability to live a normal life.
Whilst short-term gaming addiction is quite easy to overcome and has a minimal impact on the person affected, being addicted to gaming in the long term can have a range of serious and very negative consequences. As the time we all spend online grows and access to games is given to young children, it’s more important than ever to be aware of the social, physical and psychological effects of gaming addiction to help set safe boundaries and identify when people need help.
If you would like further information on safeguarding children and young people from issues like gaming addiction, take a look at our online safeguarding courses and free resources. You can also take a look at our 'How to Spot the Signs of Gaming Addiction' infographic for more information.