Gaming addiction is a disorder, could cause serious health problems

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By Vaishali Dar

Gaming is one form of entertainment that brings magic into your mundane lives. The thrill of gaming can match the rush provided by extreme sports, but too much of anything is bad. Excessive gaming may harm only a handful of people vulnerable to this form of entertainment. The more you get addicted to it, the more distress it can cause to your mind and body.

While experts say that games can improve hand–eye coordination, problem-solving skills at the same time it may cause major health issues. Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially included gaming disorder as a disease in the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD 11). It is a disorder or a recurrent behaviour where the player begins to give priority to gaming over other daily activities or even affect relationships, work and education. It has impaired control over gaming or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

Experts in the field of physical and mental health, child development and psychology have conducted studies on the impact of gaming as there is no definite answer or recommendation for the above. Games such as blue whale and PUBG have engaged young people because of its dynamic gameplay and interactive features. Its proliferation has been largely based on peer influences – while there may be some negative impacts, they may be mitigated by more positive influences wherein children are able to use games to find a balance, and use them as recreation. Blue whale, on the other hand, has manipulated and led to vulnerable, young, and socially isolated people act in ways that are detrimental to their health.

According to Samir Parikh, director and head of the department of mental and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, gaming can become a disorder when it stops being purely recreational and people feel compelled to play as a way of coping with distress and anxiety. “Disordered gaming leads to impairments in all aspects of life, including academics, work, relationships and health,” he says.

So does playing a game help the human brain in ways only the gamers want to believe? “Playing video games can have both positive and negative impacts — what matters is the nature and extent to which these games are played. On one hand, some games may encourage problem solving and improve response times, violent games may reduce individuals’ inhibition towards violence and lead to heightened aggression. At the same time, if played excessively, they may interfere with other aspects of life which can become detrimental,” cautioned Parikh. Some negative effects of gaming include social isolation, diet-related health issues, sleep deprivation, depression, poor health, poor school/work performance, relationship difficulties, feelings restlessness and irritability, preoccupied thoughts or even day dreaming about activities.

However, if given an increased priority, gaming can cause harm despite negative consequences. Games are essentially designed to appeal to young people. “It’s up to us to address the various aspects associated with gaming. We need to be sensitive to the nature of games that children are exposed to. At the same time, video games must not become a replacement for games and sports, which are so essential for a child’s healthy physical, social and cognitive development. We need to impart skills of media literacy to children so that they are able to distinguish fact from fiction and be able to make healthy judgments. It’s important for us to be aware of the various social and media influences in children’s lives so that we may address them, and use them as teaching moments to prevent any adverse consequences,” adds Parikh.

On the other hand, many researchers are beginning to focus on the opportunity for developing and using video games specifically to address mental health needs. Researchers from Australia and New Zealand outlined virtual reality and augmented reality games – cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)-based games or entertainment computer games – to offer sensory stimuli, which increase engagement and potentially therapeutic effects. Even treatments like psycho-education that involves educating the person about gaming behaviours and their effects on mental health or interpersonal treatment where an individual will learn how to interact with others by working on their communication skills and assertiveness can help.