Counselling Chronicle (3)
Internet and Technology Addictions – Problematic Online Gaming
In this issue of the Counselling Chronicle we feature the second of a three-part series on problematic use of the internet and/or technology. Both Chevalier College Counsellors recently attended a seminar on Internet and Mobile Phone Addictions at the University of Sydney. This issue of the Counselling Chronicle draws on the information presented in this seminar pertaining to Problematic Online Gaming.
Know Your Game
There are a number of genres of online video games, including a number of hybrid genres. The particular genre may have an impact on the extent to which it encourages problematic use, or other behavioural concerns. Below are examples of different genres of online games:
- First-Person Shooter games (FPSs) which involve weapon-based combat with the player experiencing the action through the eyes of the protagonist, e.g. Call of Duty, Counterstrike
- Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) in which a large number of players interact within a virtual game world by assuming the roles of various characters, e.g. World of Warcraft
- Strategy games which emphasise thinking and planning with the aim of achieving victory or defeating an opponent, e.g. StarCraft
- Simulation games which are designed to closely simulate real life or a fictional reality, e.g. Second Life
Problematic Online Gaming
Video games that are played online are much more likely to be associated with excessive and problematic use than games played offline. Studies have also shown that people who experience Problematic Online Gaming are more likely to be playing MMORPGs, compared to other types of games.
Diagnosing Problematic Online Gaming
The diagnostic criteria for Problematic Online Gaming draws much debate in the mental health professions. Most professionals agree that Problematic Online Gaming may be defined by the following criteria:
- Preoccupation with internet games
- Withdrawal symptoms when online gaming is taken away, e.g. irritability, sadness, anxiety
- Tolerance – the need to spend increasing amounts of time engaged in video games
- Unsuccessful attempts to control participation in online games
- Loss of interest in previous hobbies or entertainment as a result of online gaming
- Continued excessive use of online gaming, despite awareness of psychological and social problems, e.g. strained personal relationships, increased family conflict, mood changes, school difficulties
- Deception of others regarding the amount of time spent online gaming
- Use of online gaming to escape or relieve a negative mood (e.g. feelings of helplessness, anxiety, guilt)
- Jeopardising or losing a significant relationship, job or education/career opportunity because of participation in online gaming
Differentiating Problematic Online Gaming Use from Normal Use
But what makes some people develop Problematic Online Gaming Use, and others not? Some research into the thinking of individuals with Problematic Online Gaming suggest that they are prone to the following:
- Over-valuation of rewards within games and gaming activities, which can sometimes lead to a blurring of game and reality
- Obsessive thinking and planning around gaming – scheduling their lives around gaming, preoccupations and obsessions around the need to complete certain gaming activities
- Over-reliance on gaming to meet self-esteem needs. Gaming may be compensation for low self-esteem and/or a primary means of feeling competent
- Beliefs that feeling positive emotions, stress relief or satisfaction is only possible when gaming online
- Preference for online social interactions, feeling more socially competent and connected to the online gaming community
- Using online gaming as a way of escaping from or avoiding the real world
- Feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance online, in contrast to feeling that they are unloved or unappreciated offline.
Research has also shown that Problematic Online Gaming is more prevalent in males, and in people who have ADHD, Social Anxiety Disorder or Depression.
Treatment of Problematic Online Gaming in adolescents necessitates a family approach. Parents will work with the adolescent and psychologist/counsellor to develop boundaries and limitations around online gaming, with reduction of use and increased control over use being the primary goals of therapy. The adolescent may also work with the mental health professional individually to develop strategies for controlling impulses, increasing awareness of when problematic gaming is occurring, and management of any co-occurring psychological concerns.
As with all things, prevention is a far better option than treatment. For suggestions on how parents may encourage appropriate limits and boundaries of internet and technology within the home environment, please see Issue 2 of the Counselling Chronicle, ‘Internet and Technology Addictions – Definition and Management’ (Chev News 19/7/17). Parents should also ensure that their children have a balance of social and recreational activities in their lives, so as to avoid an over-reliance on a single activity as a form of enjoyment/relaxation/connection.
If you have concerns about your child or want further support, please contact your GP who will be able to provide a number of referral options.