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Painted Brain | Is Video Game Addiction A Mental Health Disorder?
We're bridging communities and changing the conversation about mental illness using arts and media.
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Is Video Game Addiction a Mental Health Disorder?

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In the current moment, practicing social distancing and quarantining alone is suggested in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As many of us are doing our best to safely comply, we may find that we are spending far more time in isolation. Some of us seek hobbies or delve into work in order to cope with the stress of loneliness, and many of us find solace in practicing escapism. Escapism is defined as the tendency to avoid the painful truths of reality by submerging oneself into entertainment, an imaginative situation, or captivating activity.

Video games are a popular way to practice escapism, especially with so many of us stuck at home and often indoors on our devices. Various research advocates for and against the prospect of video games being a healthy form of escapism. What it comes down to, the difference between healthy and unhealthy video game usage is really in the individual’s motivations for playing and how it impacts that individual’s life outside of the video game.

Players whose motivations to play video games are primarily based on fostering social connection, stimulating their imagination, and curiosity, reported utilizing higher levels of healthy coping practices, such as strategic planning and social connection

Players who report that they play video games in order to escape or distract themselves, also report utilizing tactics like self-blame, behavioral disengagement, and substance use in order to cope with difficult emotions. In addition, they also reported low self-esteem and low life satisfaction, loneliness, a lack of self-efficacy and social support, and poor achievement in school and work.

[Related: Video Game Addiction Becomes Official Mental Disorder in Controversial Decision by WHO]

According to the DSM-5, one’s playing is considered an addiction called gaming disorder, if the gaming significantly impairs or causes distress to that individual in multiple aspects of that person’s life. The DSM-5 suggests if an individual has at least five of the following symptoms within the span of a year, they can qualify to be diagnosed with gaming disorder:

  • 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

If you find that these symptoms sound familiar, you are not alone and you also don’t need to feel pathologized. Many researchers disagree about if video game addiction qualifies as its own category of mental illness or as a symptom of other emotional, societal, and mental challenges a person experiences. Coping strategies are learned, and it takes practice to create and sustain healthy, new ones. We are all learning how best to cope with the current circumstances, and finding creative ways to help us keep moving forward is challenging. If you are struggling with mental health challenges, or feel overwhelmed by reality and you want to analyze if you practice healthy coping strategies, ask yourself if your coping strategies are your way to escape, or if they help you to facilitate social connection and personal expression.

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