Gaming addiction versus digital detox
Addiction is a term frequently bandied about to explain all kinds of excessive behaviour, ranging from the use of hard drugs like opiates all the way down to relentless monitoring of Facebook and other social media. As The National reported this week, it has also been used to describe those who succumb to incessant playing of video games.
Dr Khalid Mahmud, an addiction specialist at the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, said gamers experience the basic elements of addiction in the form of withdrawal symptoms, anger and irritability when they stop playing. Some excessive gamers talk about a process of desensitisation, where increasingly exciting games or more time playing is required for them to get the same satisfaction level.
However, there is a danger of using the word addiction too loosely, and especially about something that involves the element of free will rather than a strictly physical dependence. Pathologising such an activity as video gaming also has the effect of diminishing the component of personal responsibility. The gamer whose excessive playing is causing their personal relationships to break down and is adversely affecting their performance at work or in study can throw their hands up and say they are addicted, as if it absolves them of all responsibility.
Real addiction is a serious business and nobody should underestimate the intractable nature of a physical dependence on something like opiates. While players of video games might display “elements of addiction”, as Dr Mahmud put it, it is of a different order of magnitude.
There are, however, elements of addiction therapy that can be useful for those who have an excessive engagement with video games. One is to assess the person’s background to see why they are filling their time with gaming rather than with activities involving more human interaction.
Sometimes excessive gaming is just a symptom of something else. The incidence of excessive gaming shows the need to both keep the modern world in perspective and to undergo a digital detox every now and then.
And that is a choice that is entirely in our power to make.
Updated: August 11, 2014 04:00 AM