Gaming addiction has become one of the highly discussed topics among parents across the globe. An alarmingly increasing number of children prefer video games over on-ground games. There are, however, certain undeniable benefits of playing computer games; from enhanced creativity and problem-solving skills, increased patience and motivation, improved cognitive skills, superior hand-eye coordination, to distraction from snacking. Moreover, video games are of great value in new teaching methods.
Having established that video games are beneficial in many ways, we cannot refute the fact that excessive gaming can be harmful for both children and adults. Some countries, such as South Korea, China, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States, have taken precautionary measures by opening treatment centres. Nevertheless, we should not presume that every gamer is a gaming addict in hiding.
Video games and their evolution
Games are a form of entertainment. Starting from Pong and Pac-Man, they have evolved over the years, becoming much more immersive and emotionally engaging, and making the players more responsive by relating with the story and the unfolding action. For example, when we watch a movie, we are fascinated by the gadgets and the powers possessed by the protagonist. Games allow us to gratify our fascination with those objects and situations by becoming the same character in the virtual world. You can be James Bond, Harry Potter, Batman or even Optimus Prime. In football games, you can play as Ronaldo and Messi or be a part of your favourite team. This is one entertainment form which allows players to break free from their mundane lives and feel like heroes.
Mobile phone games have also evolved over the years, with smartphones in the market that can play pretty heavy games. With higher resolution screens, faster processors and other specs, players can get a very detailed and enriching gaming experience on their phones. Moreover, with the advent of motion controls, games have become much more physical. In fact, there are fitness games, sports games, and even dancing games where you actually have to physically move around and interact with the game. Then, there are many educational games available that actually help children learn and at the same time provide quality family time.
When hobby becomes an addiction
So, are video games addictive? Addiction is defined as, “The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”
Although research on the behavioural effects of video games and addiction to video games is in its very early stages, cases like Russell Shirley, a 32-year-old man in the United States who was speculated to have died of heart attack after playing Diablo III for three consecutive days, have created ripples in the gaming community and general society.
To some, excessive gaming may seem relatively harmless compared with the dangers of drug addiction, but there are certain negative effects that can’t be ignored. Children who play four to five hours per day have no time for socialising, doing homework, or playing sports.
According to the Center for On-Line Addiction, warning signs of video game addiction include:
• Playing for increasing amounts of time
• Thinking about gaming during other activities
• Gaming to escape from real-life problems, anxiety, or depression
• Lying to friends and family to conceal gaming
• Feeling irritable when trying to cut down on gaming
They also state that video game addicts tend to become isolated, dropping out of their social networks and giving up other hobbies.
A local aspect
Pakistan has a very active gaming community and there are many gamers who meet the criteria of being gaming addicts.
’DareDevil’, a gamer from Karachi, says, “I would be up all night playing DOTA (an online game) till 6 am every day. My father caught me once and gave me a strict warning, but I couldn’t stop myself from playing, so I got caught again for a second time. The third time my father took away my computer. I couldn’t bear not playing DOTA so I started going to a gaming zone daily to play”.
Another gamer who goes by the alias ‘Serious’ claims: “Yeah I’m a gaming addict; always was. But hey it’s better than getting addicted to alcohol and drugs, right? My parents know that and they are more than happy to fund my gaming addiction as long as it means that I stay out of trouble and don’t cause problems for them”.
Gaming zones around Pakistan provide an outlet for gamers and also offer a platform where a group of gamers can go and enjoy games for hours. Gaming zones have Local Area Network (LAN) games as well as online games. The most addictive and time-consuming online games are the MMOs and the MMORPGs.
The MMO and MMORPG phenomena
MMOs and MMORPGs have completely revolutionised the face of gaming. Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) allow thousands of players to participate in a big and detailed world where they can assume a character and socially interact with other players. The most appealing aspect of these games is the potential of building up a character by crossing various levels. MMOGs are a huge success because they are built to appeal to basic human psychology. By rewarding the players for small recurring actions, presenting them with many challenges and allowing them random prizes, these games are very effective at psychologically addicting them.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) project a fantasy world in which the players can assume different identities along with their unique characteristics. To make their virtual existence more life-like, the players are allowed to indulge in their fancy and buy various weapons and tools via in-game currency. However, it is the continuous development and evolution of this virtual world that never lets these games become redundant. Once players start levelling up and get better at what they do, they feel a sense of achievement and that is where the addictive habits kick in. Players want to level up as fast as possible so that they can get better than their rival players. This also leads to them spending real-world money in their pursuit of advancing in these games.
The notoriously famous gold farming is essentially the process of playing MMOGs to acquire in-game currency. This currency can then be sold to other players in exchange for real-world money. Although the idea is unique and interesting, it creates a divide between the rich and poor players by taking certain items outside the reach of many players who had played fairly. Gold farming can be very lucrative as many players run multiple accounts on a single game so that they can maximise their profits.
We all understand that any activity in its extremity can be harmful. For parents, it is important that they limit the time they allow their children to spend on video games and get them interested in other activities as well. ’MidNight’ from the Pakistani gaming community says, “I spent most of my time gaming because I had no car and no money to go out and do things. So, I just played pirated games and gave most of my time to gaming. However, I quit gaming when I got a girlfriend. So, gaming wasn’t an addiction; it was just something that I did because I had nothing more interesting to do.”
Some sort of everyday physical activity is recommended to fight the urge to stay in your couch, playing games all day long. Parents should also try to play different family games with their children. Some sports are easy to learn. Now we can also choose from the many cricket and football games available in the market.
However, at the end of the day, it is only the gamer who can truly help himself. ‘Dantlock’, a local gamer, disagrees with the idea of video game addiction, “There was a time in my life when I used to play as much as 14 hours every day; but if I stopped, I didn’t suffer from withdrawal syndrome or anything. If I wanted to stop, I would stop anytime and resume playing whenever I wanted to.” The important thing here is that gamers should know when to stop. They should also try and keep themselves busy in various activities and sports so that they have a healthy set of activities to keep them busy.
Video games are a source of entertainment and should be treated as such. They offer a much higher level of immersive entertainment and emotional engagement than other forms of entertainment. Games are also becoming more innovative by highlighting issues in society, creating games based on actual historical events, and providing engaging music and visually stunning graphics. Games should be enjoyed to the fullest as no other medium allows this level of interaction. However, too much of anything can be bad and we should always know when to stop.