At various times during the last few decades, video games have been singled out as a bad influence on our youth. Critics would point to their addictive potential or single out specific titles for their focus on guns, fighting, and violence.
Over the years, however, the attitude towards gaming has softened considerably. Generations have grown up playing video games, and the world still stands. The public has accepted gaming as a mainstream activity. In 2019, three-quarters of American households were home to at least one gamer. People play games to de-stress and entertain themselves, but many also use them to learn and even socialize.
Nonetheless, in the big picture, playing video games is just one small aspect of a balanced life. It’s possible to take this activity too far by spending too much time, money, and effort on gaming. Here’s how you can recognize and curb a potential gaming addiction and even transform it to your benefit.
Evaluate your gaming habit
In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) first included gaming addiction on its list of disorders. Its definition specified an amount of time: 8 to 10 hours or more per day, at least 30 hours per week.
Those numbers serve as a useful reference to determine whether your gaming habit is out of control. Assuming a typical 8-hour office schedule, you’d have at most 8 hours left for sleep. That’s without accounting for travel, meals, breaks, and other routines. Most people simply wouldn’t be able to sustain that sort of gaming habit while working a full-time job.
But the influence of gaming goes beyond the raw number of hours logged. You could play far fewer hours in a day yet have your mind fixated on the game itself long after you put it down. This can be a distraction as you go about other tasks.
Not all games are equally addictive. And many of them have beneficial effects. So it’s critical to be honest with yourself as you evaluate your gaming habits. Start with the hours and perhaps the money you spend on gaming, then go beyond. Weigh the opportunity costs; could that time be better spent doing something else? Getting some exercise, learning a useful skill for your career, or engaging in real-life social interactions could all be accomplished within that sort of time.
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Gaming addiction can be hard to control. If it’s having an extremely negative influence on your life, it can be linked with complicating factors such as poor social skills, low self-esteem, anxiety, or depression. Creating simple barriers can help break that negative circle by making it difficult to resort to video games as an escape or relief from these issues.
In itself, gaming isn’t as harmful as substance addictions like smoking or drinking. But it can be just as challenging to quit. You’d advise a smoker or alcoholic to get rid of every last pack and bottle in the house. Similarly, deleting all your accounts and uninstalling every video game on every device can help. It’s possible to reinstall those games and resume playing, but there would be some hassle involved. You’ve created a barrier.
Barriers to gaming aren’t permanent solutions. But they help to create the separation you need to take further steps and control your habits. You can seek help from others and make new commitments to reduce the time you spend on gaming.
Harness the positive side
The most addictive video games today can tap into our desire for challenge, growth, and interaction. And if you separate these from the gaming context, you’ll realize that they are essential components of self-improvement.
Many people who turn to games get hooked and seek fulfillment. If you distance yourself from video games but are unable to satisfy those needs, you’ll just find a way back to gaming eventually.
Find one or more activities to replace video games and provide you with the same sense of stimulation, progression, and social competence. If it’s a hobby, for instance, make sure you participate in a community of fellow enthusiasts.
You might not even need to quit gaming altogether. In the pandemic era, with more people working from home, gaming can help you connect with colleagues and take the place of team building or office interactions. Play the same game together, and you can keep one another’s habits in check while fostering a sense of growth and healthy competition.
Like any other technology, games are a tool to be used. If gaming is controlling your life, turn the relationship around and transform a bad habit into something good.