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Keeping Our Gamers Healthy

Angie Webb Posted:
Columns Angela Webb: In Her Opinion 0

What is addiction? According to Websters dictionary it’s: a state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

If we apply this definition to us gamers, then we can interpret it as: gaming so much that when not gaming you feel as though your hands have been cut off; thus “addicted”.

Gamers wear the label of “addicted” as a badge of honor. If you’re addicted, then you’re “hardcore”, and comments like, “I spent all weekend gaming and did nothing else” are the norm and accepted. The result is, amongst gamers, it’s cool to be a hardcore.

On the flip side, I know gamer parents that limit their children’s/teen’s time on video games regardless of the child’s grades or behavior, because they think that too much gaming is not good for them. But why?

There have been countless blogs, reports, and studies written about online gaming addiction. China really takes the cake when it comes to “caring” for the health of their gamers, with legal and systematic restrictions that dictate how many hours a day under-18 gamers can play. Since logging in requires a state-issued ID, many MMOs in China switch off their rewards after 4 hours of play. And now Korea is implementing this “fatigue system” too after a couple starved their infant because they spent too much time at an internet café.

Don't worry, I won't preach about how we need to execute this “fatigue system” here, or anything like that. I personally don’t think that’s the way to go. I only want to remind you of the signs of addiction and encourage ways for our gaming community to stay healthy. This applies not only to MMO players, but also to Facebook — a phenomena in its own right — which gives me (and many others) hours of enjoyment … but at what expense?

Dr. Orzack is a psychologist that has taken time to study gaming addiction. She founded the Computer Addiction Services at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts and she compares computer addiction to pathological gambling and compulsive shopping. She states that “spouses complain that their loved ones neglect them“ when addicted, and “like gamblers, they compulsively keep investing time and money”.

As gamers, we don’t want our friends and loved ones to think we care more about our “game” than we do about them. We don’t want our children saying “Mom, can you put down your phone (Facebook) and pay attention to me?“, or our significant other to say “can you spend some time with me? You’re always gaming“. We just want them to understand our passions and be tolerant.

Are we asking too much of them? Below is a list of psychological and physical symptoms of computer addiction.

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Having a sense of well-being or euphoria while at the computer.
  • Inability to stop the activity.
  • Craving more and more time at the computer.
  • Neglect of family and friends.
  • Feeling empty, depressed, or irritable when not at the computer.
  • Lying to employers and family about activities.
  • Problems with school or job.

Physical Symptoms

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Dry eyes.
  • Migraine headaches.
  • Backaches.
  • Eating irregularities, such as skipping meals.
  • Failure to attend to personal hygiene.
  • Sleep disturbances; change in sleep.

If you’re like me, a lot of these symptoms sound very familiar. I can troll Facebook for hours, or get so involved in a game that I can’t be bothered to do what I really need to do, and I end up with headaches, messed-up sleep, and back pain. But I tend to write these off as just a part of life. It’s the price I pay for the work/play that I choose to do. But how healthy am I being?

It appears that the casual gamers have a healthier attitude about gaming than the hardcore gamers. Hardcore gamers might rag casual gamers about not being ‘real’ gamers but, couldn’t that be like an alcoholic saying to a casual drinker “Come on wimp! Do some more shots with me!“?

Game companies are going to keep putting out games that are as addictive as possible. If we continue to be a nation of people presenting with addiction symptoms, the logical next step could lead to government involvement, or companies taking their own action. And we do NOT want that.

So, what can we do to keep our gaming community healthy? We could start by not enabling, and being aware of our gaming morals. For example: gamers that play for extended periods of time should be encouraged by their mates to get off line more often.

After going to my eye doctor for constant headaches, his first question was “do you spend hours in front of a computer?” He suggested the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away from your computer for at least 20 seconds.

Getting up from your desk and moving around, taking a short walk, will help with aches and stiffness. I know some people who sit on yoga balls and have reported that it greatly helps with posture and back aches.

There are plenty of people who have more online friends than real ones. I’m not here to judge and say whether that’s healthy or not. All you can do is take care of “you” and inspire others to do the same. Remind each other to take those needed and well-deserved breaks of walking or just stretching. And if you notice someone becoming very angsty or unusually angry while playing, don’t be afraid to recommend a “chill pill” and suggest he go grab a beer or see a movie or just take a break from the game.

If a friend is more concerned with what time his next raid is over hanging out with you, it does not mean he is addicted. It could be that he just doesn’t like you. OR maybe he just needs a little motivation to get away from the computer, especially if he doesn’t get out much.

For a light hearted look at game addiction, check out Felicia Day's online web series series The Guild. It shows, in a candid way, how gaming addiction can negatively affect your life, friends, and family. She created a world where she struggles with her game addiction. She consults her therapist on how to deal with her addiction while watching her other game addicted friends, including a mother of three, juggle their lives.

Gaming addiction is real and can be serious. But unlike most addictions, gamers will shout it out loud that they are addicted with no shame at all. I want to encourage everyone to just be healthy in their gaming habits.

This year E3 was packed to the gills with games that encouraged players to get up and get active. EA’s Sports Active on the Wii and Harmonix’s Dance Central are only a couple of examples of game companies getting out there and developing games to get players moving.

There is nothing wrong with gaming, but doing anything in excess can cause problems in your relationships and everyday life. As a community, we should be aware that spending too much time on the computer, or hunched over in front of a console, is not good for our bodies or our relationships. If you have more suggestions on how we could be healthier gamers, please feel free to add these tips in the comments section.

Now, go forth and be healthy gamers!


Angie Webb