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Should you be worried about a gaming addiction?

If your only knowledge of gaming comes from the mainstream media you’d be forgiven for thinking video games are a perilous pastime on par with playing chicken on the train tracks.

Word on the street is that video games are becoming more addictive: the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently listed gaming addiction as a disorder and an Australian Senate enquiry into loot boxing adds weight to the negative perception.

Dr Nic Droste and Dr Richelle Mayshak, from the School of Psychology at Deakin, are both experts in behavioural addiction. And in their downtime they’re both avid gamers.

While they believe that advancing technology has created a need for a reassessment of gaming regulations, Dr Droste and Dr Mayshak argue that it’s important to take a balanced view.

New issue or new classification?

‘Video games have always been something that people can choose to spend a lot of time with and sometimes that can become obsessive,’ Dr Droste says. ‘Gaming addiction has only recently been clinically considered as a disorder along with other new emerging addictions like online or internet addictions based around technology. There is still some debate about whether it’s a true addiction.’

Dr Mayshak agrees, ‘I think we need to be really careful about terminology. The DSM-5 that we use in psychology to classify people puts gaming in the category of ‘in need of further consideration’ which is a nice way of saying “we’re not really sure.”’

This said, Dr Mayshak believes the new classification by WHO is positive because it means treatment and diagnosis is going to be more readily accessible and recorded for people who are experiencing issues with their gaming.

‘I think the key thing we really need to consider is the impact of video gaming on a person’s ability to perform their normal duties,’ Dr Mayshak says. ‘If we’re seeing things like preoccupation, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, risk then it’s possible that the behaviour is becoming or has become addictive. Obviously this is going to vary greatly between different people.’

The pokies parallel

Dr Droste says it’s no secret that gaming has become a major player in the entertainment industry in terms of revenue. And when it comes to issues of capital, ethics are often bypassed.

‘Most game developers are responsible and respect the player’s time and financial investment in the game but some games can be particularly predatory and use addictive design.’

One particular area of concern are games that feature ‘loot boxes’ where you can only proceed in a game or go up a level if you spend real money. They can also encourage users to spend excessive amounts of time.

'If we’re seeing things like preoccupation, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, risk then it’s possible that the behaviour is becoming or has become addictive. Obviously this is going to vary greatly between different people.'

Dr Richelle Mayshak,
School of Psychology, Deakin University

Dr Droste says: ‘The way those loot boxes work is deliberately really close to the randomised rewards system offered by poker machines and other forms of gambling. Countries like Belgium have recently declared systems like that as gambling and it’s therefore illegal to minors.’

According to Dr Droste, the video game community in Australia has been pressuring the government to run its own investigation into loot boxes and a Senate enquiry is now currently underway. ‘Until law and policy can catch up and set rules around gambling and fair progress in games it’s very much up to game developers and publishers to be responsible by making sure they aren’t including parts in their game that are overly addictive or encouraging gambling.’

Dr Mayshak points out that different audiences experience games differently. ‘A lot of these games are marketed to children as well and children are less savvy. Adults, like Nic and I, will usually pretty quickly pick up on whether a game is just out to get our money rather than our enjoyment and we’ll delete it but kids aren’t going to notice.’

‘What we really need is a system of regulation that can make that identification a little easier for consumers, especially kids,’ Dr Droste suggests.

Eyes wide open

Maintaining a level of self-awareness can help to keep a gaming hobby in its rightful place. ‘Use the same methods that you use with anything else that could become problematic or addictive,’ Dr Droste says. ‘Notice if it’s starting to impact your wellbeing financially, socially, emotionally, or your sleep. Is it impacting your responsibilities in your relationships or in the workplace? Is your health suffering?’

If you are concerned about your gaming, Dr Mayshak suggests attempting to cut down or moderate your use as the first step. ‘If that’s not successful reach out and talk to someone: a counsellor or a GP. If you are a student there are lots of health and wellbeing services available.’

When approached in a balanced way, gaming can be relaxing and fun hobby that provides much needed downtime. ‘It’s possible to enjoy gaming and maintain health and wellbeing but if you’re starting to see elements of concern it’s worth having a closer look.’

Interested in learning more about health trends? Find out more about your study options in health sciences and allied health at Deakin.


this. featured experts
Dr Nic Droste
Dr Nic Droste

Research Fellow, School of Psychology, Deakin University

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Dr Richelle Mayshak
Dr Richelle Mayshak

Teaching Scholar, School of Psychology, Deakin University

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