I have received a few emails stemming from the original post of video game addiction. I do think it is important for everyone to realize the difficulties with this proposed disorder and the lack of understanding the criteria, methods, and theoretical underpinnings. Therefore, I created this post to showcase the difficulties with it including some research as well:
When families and scholars alike hear about Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), they tend to think of people glued to their television or computer living in their parent’s basement. These are common ideas and images that have continued to peak the public’s interest for a bit of time now. It is furthered by moral panic thinking brought on by different opinionated groups which continue to believe that all media is causing problems with families and youth these days.
This is where the new Diagnostic Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5) came up with the new IGD diagnosis, which requires further research before being assigned a diagnosis. However, as the title suggests, it appears to be unclear whether this additionally applies to gaming offline as well. This new disorder, IGD, has 9 specific and behaviorally oriented criteria: preoccupation or obsession with internet games, withdrawal symptoms when not engaged with the video game, tolerance for the amount of video game playing time, unsuccessful attempts to stop or curb playing time, a loss of interest in other activities, continual overuse of internet games with the knowledge of the problematic impact, lying about time spent playing video games, the use of the video game to reduce stress, anxiety, guilt, or escape, and the video gamer has put themselves at personal risk in opportunities due to video gaming.
Etiologically speaking, these criteria are based upon the premise of substance addictions such as heroin or cocaine. The criteria of past substance disorders have been extrapolated and similarly placed upon video gamers as if they exhibit similar behaviors. Never mind the criteria themselves are behaviorally oriented disallowing any other practice of therapy to be utilized.
Other psychologists have similarly had difficulty with these new methods and diagnosis criticizing them for different reasons. Furthermore, scholars themselves cannot agree on the proposed criteria usually with different variations of IGD criteria being utilized. While still others come closer to using more of the psychological spectrum for understanding the video gamer’s wants and needs, but still appear to fall short in understanding the video gamer culture or stating that addiction researchers misconstrue addiction with High Engagement.
As a clinical psychologist, I hear what they are attempting to say: we don’t know anything about this and are trying to make sense of it! What fails to impress me about the researchers in this field is how many of them have not even enjoyed what video games have to offer. Yet they make grand assumptions on what is considered to be healthy psychologically and what is not. A good portion of these studies on IGD have been done in other cultures where video game play has become a part of life, but again, we here in the US demonize it.
This begs the question of what is missing? Should researchers be subject to playing video games before offering an opinion? Evaluating other video gaming research outside of the IGD literature appears to allow a deeper and more comprehensive idea of video gamers than the suggested IGD criteria. Integrating other areas of research with a theoretical paradigm is of additional importance and much needed.
Personally as a gamer, an individual brings life and provides meaning for the created virtual character. The story line in which the avatar is played, whether chosen through a linear path or open world fantasy, is as, if not more, important to the video gamer. It helps us create a specific narrative for the character in which may represent internal manifestations of our own personality. These instances of the video gamer finding meaning are extremely rich and important to the video gamer and their thoughts and behaviors.
One thing that seems to fail to no end is that glazed-eye look a person gets from their parents or others when they begin to talk about the video games they love. For me, it was Zelda. For others, they will have other video games that grab them and don’t let them go. It takes effort to look at another individual and try to see their perspective, but many therapists and scholars seem to ignore this important aspect of video gamers instead seeing what they want to see.
I largely believe if a therapist is to work with video gamers that they should have more than a basic understanding of the video game being discussed. This obviously means not just hearing about it, but truly experiencing it. Definitely understanding what draws us to the video game in the first place. When I work with video gamers in therapy, it is not to stop them from playing, but to work with them to help understand what grabs their attention.
This helps out tremendously with the understanding of the video gamer, not just because I am one, but because I talk the language and become immersed with them in the world they hold so dearly. This is what I believe is missing from this field and work, a true understanding of the video gamer. Until we are not subjugated by these outside influences, I will continue to work with my own experience to further others to understand theirs.
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Dr. Anthony Bean is a Licensed Psychologist in Fort Worth, Texas specializing in video games, therapy, geekiness, and virtual worlds.