When the CDC recommended social distancing orders be put in place as COVID-19 cases began to rise in the U.S., many gamers took to social media to share memes about how being asked to stay inside and avoid spending time with people face-to-face didn’t really change their lifestyle all that much. But what may seem like witty normalization of the gamer lifestyle began to raise a more serious question: How much time spent gaming is too much?
Not Your Big Brother’s SNES
While gaming used to be something that was mostly enjoyed by younger people, this dynamic has changed over the years. Unlimited data has allowed games to be played on a mobile phone without having to worry about overage charges on your data allowance, cross-platform play allows gamers to enjoy the same games on many different devices, and the sheer variety of games being produced means that there is virtually something for everyone, regardless of age or gender. Last year, it was reported that there are now over 2.5 billion gamers worldwide, and that number is expected to be even higher next year.
With increased bandwidth and upload speeds and the landline becoming nearly obsolete as more countries turn to cable broadband, more and more gamers are turning to online gaming. Australian retailers saw an increase of over 20% between 2013 and 2017 as faster NBN services brought in new customers on their faster network. Australians can now simply compare NBN plans with iSelect to find a reliable NBN network in their area, bringing the best internet bundles to their homes wherever they are.
But what does this mean for gaming addiction?
How Much is Too Much?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this question—and the answer varies widely depending on who you ask, especially since most studies focus on the effects of gaming on children, rather than the general population.
One 2019 study concluded that gaming, like any other hobby, can simply be enjoyed for long spans of time without any real effect on mental and physical well-being, regardless of the gamer’s age. However, other studies shows that children should be limited to less than an hour on school days and less than two hours on weekends or days without school, citing social issues and physical health as reasons for enforcing such limits.
One thing that most of these studies have in common is the belief that we should pay attention to quality, not quantity when it comes to how games affect our lives.
Signs That You’re Addicted to Gaming
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially classified gaming disorder as a behavioral addiction. This development, for obvious reasons, sent many parents into a panic. But it also gave parents and adult gamers a basic guideline of typical gaming disorder symptoms, and ways to seek help if gaming addiction begins to affect them or someone they love.
Here are some of the basic mental and social symptoms of gaming disorder:
- Thinking about gaming excessively
- Getting upset when you can’t play
- Feeling like you need to game in order to feel better
- Being unable to quit or cut back on game time
- Losing interest in activities outside of gaming
- Gaming impacting your school or work performance, or affecting your social life in a negative way
- Knowing that you have a problem, but playing anyway
- Lying to people about how much time you actually spend playing, or how much money you spend on gaming
- Regularly using gaming as a way to ease negative feelings
Typically, a person with gaming addiction would exhibit five or more of these signs over the span of 12 months. There are also physical symptoms of gaming disorder, such as fatigue, migraines, poor hygiene, and carpal tunnel syndrome. However, no addict is the same, and these symptoms will vary from gamer to gamer.
If you are a parent and notice these symptoms in your child, the first step you should take is to limit screen time. However, this will likely cause a struggle between you and your child, and in some cases your family might need the help of a therapist. Long-term exposure to excessive gaming can cause a number of mood disorders and behavioral issues for your child. But psychologists can work with your children or young adults using cognitive behavioral therapy to ensure that your child’s problem is not long-term. If you’re worried about the cost of therapy, check to see what kind of local resources are available for you, as costs will vary depending on where you live. Child therapists in NYC, for instance, might have access to better resources, but might be more expensive than a therapist in the suburbs.
Taking a therapeutic approach and offering emotional support for your child will help make the transition less of a traumatic experience and give them an opportunity to grow.
Is Gaming Harmful?
Like the screen time question, there is no right or wrong answer for this. This is especially true during a pandemic, which has us staying in more often with more time on our hands.
The best way to ensure that you don’t develop gaming disorder is to hold yourself accountable or to ask someone close to you to do so. Take breaks every hour or so, make sure you’re still getting out and walking (while maintaining a safe distance from others), and try to fill your time with hobbies other than gaming. And if you’d like to put your gaming to good use, consider joining your local Extra Life chapter—which connects you with local gamers while turning your gaming hours into a charity for local children’s hospitals.
As the world changes and technology becomes a permanent fixture of our daily lives, gaming will become more prominent in every household. It is up to individual gamers to keep gaming disorder numbers as low as possible, and seek help should its symptoms arise.