Online Gaming – can we manage Pandora’s box?

What is Gaming Addiction Disorder?

There is an ongoing debate about the term ‘Gaming Addiction’ and whether or not online activities can be called an ‘Addiction’.

The WHO recognise it as a disorder and define it as: “a pattern of gaming behaviour (‘digital-gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” This addiction doesn’t cover other online problematic behaviour. 

The DSM categorise it as a behavioural addiction ‘disorder’ – with at least 5 of the following behaviours/symptoms being displayed within a 12-month period:

  • Preoccupation with gaming
  • Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability)
  • Tolerance, the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge
  • Inability to reduce playing, unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming
  • Giving up other activities, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming
  • Continuing to game despite problems
  • Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on gaming
  • The use of gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness
  • Risk, having jeopardized or lost a job or relationship due to gaming.

Some studies show that gaming is ok and positively influences those who play it. 

Games are social, help manage difficult situations, provide an escape, and improve specific social, strategic, spatial, and problem-solving skills. 

Some research studies showcase that there is limited negative impact around gaming and no link to other addictions.

But, when you consider that research studies are a ‘dipstick’ into people’s lives, take an average of a small sample of a population, and may not consider the social and behavioural consequences of the actions of the individual and those around them, how can we use these research outcomes as a guide to suggest to a parent that their child isn’t addicted, or to an HR department that their adult worker isn’t addicted to online gaming? The argument here is that because the behaviour does not fit the definition of an addiction, it therefore isn’t an addiction.

What are the characteristics of those who have been referred to the gaming clinic?t

In analysing the dynamics of the  clients who attend the National Centre for Gaming Disorders Clinic at the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, the team found that:

  • 61% are 13-18 years old
  • 24% are 19 – 25 years old
  • 8% are 26 – 35 years old
  • 7% are 35+ years old 
  • 89% are male

Watch the news piece around the clinic and the services they provide.

Those who struggle with online addictions are a minority of those who spend time on their phones and those who play online games. For those who do spend a problematic amount of time in online gaming: 

  • 1 in 5 have ADHD or other neuro-diverse characteristics
  • 1 in 8 have anxiety, OCD or another type of addiction
  • 77%  find that gaming disrupts schoolwork
  • 88% say gaming disrupts their sleep
  • 46% of clients become aggressive when they are forced to stop gaming 
  • 22% become violent when they are forced to stop gaming.

In this interview, Professor Henrietta Bowden Jones (who set up the NCGD clinic in 2019) talks about the work the team do at the clinic. She expresses their surprise at the interest they are already receiving – even while they are still relatively unknown.

In a 2013 TED Talk, Cam Adair describes his video addiction and gives some advice for parents.

He suggests that the reasons people play online games are: 

  1. Games are a temporary escape from reality
  2. Playing online multiplayer games are social
  3. Games provide a challenge that can be overcome and
  4. They provide constant measurable growth.
What can you do about gaming addiction for either yourself, your child or someone you love?

Cam suggests that it starts with parent’s boundaries and behaviour.

  • Children need interaction, not distraction with entertainment. I agree with this, children learn through observing social interactions and grown-up behaviour, not watching games to ‘teach them’ social interactions and grown-up behaviour. 
  • Games are played for specific reasons. Take the time to find out what the motivations are and find other ways to fill those needs
  • Don’t punish children for their gaming – come from a place of compassion and encouragement, not judgment. 

Additionally, the team at the NHS clinic suggests:

  • Using a weaning-off approach that involves agreement and cooperation from the addict – developing a co-constructed and collaborative solution approach
  • Box-breathing for calming down the emotions and urgest to game
  • Riding the wave
  • Setting up gaming boundaries – i.e. how much time is spent gaming.
We need similar regulations to what we see in gambling addiction?

Gaming companies use gambling-type behavioural strategies to encourage longer play times and earn their money. 

If we don’t allow children to engage in gambling activities – should we be allowing children to be exposed to the same techniques used in gambling?  

What do you think? 

What about the workplace?

Gaming addictions are not just a teen or young person’s behavioural issue. Although it does seem to be more prevalent amongst the young – mostly because they garner the greatest level of media attention and parental concern – some adults struggle just as much with gaming (and other online) addictions – to the extent that the behaviour regularly jeopardises their day-to-day job performance.

Although adult-based gaming tends to fall under the radar in an addiction context (such as gambling or substance addictions). Problematic gaming can become a substantial issue, especially when it comes to on-job performance, and being both present and productive during the working day.

I recently attended a webinar on gaming where one young professional, in an already time-demanding career, was spending around 30 hours a week gaming. Although this may have a limited impact on this person’s working life at a younger age, what are the longer-term consequences, especially as they age and have lower energy levels and longer general energy recovery times?

As managers and HR professionals, what would you do if someone at work is struggling with online or gaming addictions that is directly affecting their work?

  • Would this be handled in the same way as any other form of addiction or behavioural issue (e.g. gambling) that is affecting their ability to do their work?
  • Would you encourage them to get therapy?
  • Do you deal with the behavioural outcomes or do you look for the underlying causes of their online addictions?
  • Is it a dismissable or disciplinary offence?

In the same way that young people turn to gaming as a way to escape from the world, cope with issues outside of their control, or seek ways to socialise and belong, adults can use gaming to cope with their work-based and life-based stressors and as a way to escape and socialise. Sometimes the behaviours have a limited impact on their work and sometimes the impact is huge.

We all have our own form of coping and self-soothing to deal with work-based stress and anxiety.

  • Is online and gaming addiction the employer’s or employee’s issue?

  • Should we be including ‘gaming and online addictions’ as part of our ongoing conversations around general and Digital Mental Health and Wellness at work?

  • Should we help those struggling with online and gaming addictions with support programmes?

  • Do you include signs of gaming and online addictions as part of your workplace mental health first-aider training?