Technology is a double-edged sword, a gift and a curse. Anyone who has used the internet has heard these sayings at least once, and with the advent of the digital age, more people see the good in technology than the bad.
With video games, a large part of this virtual world is filled with limitless opportunities to express ourselves with little consequence. With 9 out of 10 children surveyed by the NPD Group admitting to playing them, video games seem to be an integrated part of children’s lives. Yet for 10% of the gaming community, this hobby has become something much worse: addiction.
With games being designed to be attractive to a large audience, gamers are drawn into the fast-paced and unpredictable aspects of a virtual world that instantly rewards players for their efforts — a massive difference compared to the slow-yielding results of reality. Combined with the heavy reliance on sensory actions and the common use of multitasking, it’s almost as if they were designed like addictive drugs.
Shockingly, there are many similarities between the two. Video games cause the release of dopamine, or the hormone that induces pleasure, on levels on par with amphetamine and methylphenidate. These are drugs normally used to cure ADHD and narcolepsy and are known to have serious repercussions such as a loss of cognitive ability, sleep deprivation and the risk of addiction, all symptoms of playing video games for excessive amounts of time.
These effects may seem extreme, and at first the behavior of gaming-crazed individuals sound like fabricated stories meant to keep children in line: First introduced to video games at an early age, the child begins to pour more and more time into it, and they eventually hit an extreme point, going as far as skipping school or stealing money from their parents to obtain as much pleasure as they can. But these seemingly outlandish tales go further in some instances, with children severing ties with their families completely and locking themselves in rooms for days at a time.
In dire situations, they may even be spurred to attack others when the lack of social connections that results with gaming addiction leads to stress and anger. Cases of adolescent murder due to violent gaming addiction extend as far as school shootings, with some laying out plans for the attacks using gaming software. While the effects may seem extreme, all are plausible outcomes of an addiction to gaming.
Put in these terms, gaming addiction sounds like — and is — a very scary thing. Fortunately, it has solutions as well. As with any addiction, the most important step to ending it is to acknowledge the problem; not knowing that you have the addiction leads to a lack of effort in getting rid of it.
Everyone needs to be aware of the addiction as well — that way, there is a higher chance of successfully getting rid of it. Then comes the harder part of letting it go. While it may be difficult to stop playing, cutting all connections with it has shown the best results, albeit with strong difficulties. Finding replacement hobbies such as playing a sport or learning an instrument is crucial in preventing the desire of wanting to go back.
Curing addiction is no easy feat, so it’s more important to prevent gaming addiction altogether than catching it first and then struggling to get out of it. With a world centered around technology and omnipresent opportunities to play, the risk of falling into this trap is a serious concern for many parents.
The key to recognizing gaming addiction is relatively simple: look for any intrusions on their lifestyle. If it affects their health in any way, whether that be through sleep deprivation or a loss of social connections, it is, in short, addiction.
As an illness not acknowledged by many, gaming addiction might be thought of as a hoax to ruin the gift of technology. But it’s real. And it’s important that we recognize it as so — because if not, we’re turning a blind eye to a curse.
Yoo-Shin Koh is a junior at Gainesville High School.
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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Yoo-Shin Koh: Video games are highly addictive for children