Three Dangers of Excessive Gaming

Written by Dr. Andrew Doan & Brooke Strickland on .

Gone are the days of simple arcade video games like Pac-Man or Space Invaders. Today, images on games are so life-like that it is easy to immerse yourself in them, almost as if you are watching or participating in real life. For many years – especially recently – people have started to wonder how video games will affect their children. Maybe they have seen their kids getting wrapped up in the digital world or they see this electronic hobby as one that is beginning to control their life or thought patterns.

Unfortunately, families all over the world have started to struggle with gaming and technology addiction. It has started to tear families apart, just like an addiction to drugs or alcohol. While there is still an ongoing debate about gaming addiction in the medical and research community, most people can recognize that there are people that struggle with controlling their urges to game. With extreme gaming, there are a lot of dangers that come along with it. We’ve chosen to highlight just three of these dangers in greater detail below.

1.Depression.

We hear this term a lot today. Millions of people all over the world live with depression, day in and day out. Doctors prescribe medications for depression, people seek therapy and counseling for depression, and sadly enough many of these people can’t see a way out of their endless cycle of depression and choose to end their lives.  Individuals that live with depression often are lonely and isolated – they feel like no one cares about them and instead, they turn inward. Gaming addicts, just like other addicts that struggle with drugs, alcohol, or sex addiction, often fight depression. It slowly seeps into their lives as they become trapped by their addiction. Before they know it, they are turning to the game, looking for a fix. They seek that fix for comfort rather than human interaction and security.  They begin to find acceptance with the game and thus, they use it as a way to cope. The only way to halt this cycle is to break the addiction and focus on taking control of their lives. 

2.Carpal tunnel syndrome.

Gaming addiction doesn’t just have mental, social, or emotional consequences. It can also lead to physical injuries and medical conditions like arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome! At the height of my gaming addiction, I began to develop carpal tunnel syndrome in my right forearm and right index finger during my ophthalmology residency; this was because of the excessive mouse clicking I did while playing real-time strategy games. Carpal tunnel syndrome is inflammation of the tissues in the wrist and forearm caused by repetitive motions, and the excruciating pain in my forearm was hindering me from performing eye surgery. With carpal tunnel syndrome in my dominant arm, I was not able to move instruments in the eye without pain, and the pain was causing me to have tremors during surgery. My carpal tunnel syndrome finally woke me up. I realized that excessive video game playing was harming my health and that my addictive behavior was destroying me. 

3.Behavioral and Brain Underdevelopment.

There are many benefits to playing video games, when done in moderation that is less than 1 hour daily (Przybylski, Pediatrics 2014). The problem is when a young child spends too much time in Internet gaming or Internet activities. An analogy we use to help explain this problem is using the left hand and fingers. Hold up your left hand. The thumb represents the brain areas associated with all the benefits of video gaming: quick analytical skills, improved hand-eye-coordination, and perhaps improved reflexes. The index finger represents the brain areas associated with communication skills. The middle finger represents behaviors associated with bonding with family members and friends. The ring finger represents empathy. The pinky finger represents the cortical areas associated with self-control. The fingers can represent many other behaviors, but for the purpose of this analogy, we picked these behaviors. These higher executive functions are all learned behaviors, requiring time, practice, and devotion. When a child spends on average, 7h 38m in front of a digital screen for entertainment (The Kaiser Foundation, 2010), they are 7-fold beyond the recommended daily dosage for healthy screen time (Przybylski, Pediatrics 2014). Thus, fold the fingers into the palm of your hand. The end product as the brain matures is a young adult who is all thumbs in their thinking: quick analytical skills and quick reflexes, but lacking in communication skills, having few bonds with people, exhibiting little empathy, and showing minimal self-control. Human beings practice who they want to become, and individuals must be careful what they practice and how they program their brains.

References

KaiserFamilyFoundation. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. http://kff.org/other/event/generation-m2-media-in-the-lives-of/.

 

Przybylski, A. K. (2014). Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment. Pediatrics.