Multi-player online video games, addictive?

He has been playing the game online with his friends almost non-stop since he got it...

We finally gave into our son’s repeated requests and allowed him to buy one of those multi-person role-playing video games. We were not too sure about buying it but our son worked on us until we agreed.

Now we are beginning to regret the decision. He has been playing the game online with his friends almost non-stop since he got it. He is totally focused on it and says that is what all his friends are doing as well. Instead of going out and spending time with them he is meeting them online. Arguments are already starting around how much he seems to be playing the game.

Is this a problem? Is it something that he could be addicted to or am I blowing things out of proportion?

This is a great question! The explosion of interest, use and popularity of this type of video games is raising concerns for many people.

Children, adolescents and adults are all spending more and more time immersed in the worlds that these games provide. These games invite participants to join together in increasingly complex, challenging and stimulating online environments and they provide rewards to those who spend the most time playing the games.

There is not yet a consensus on whether or not it is possible to be addicted to these games. Certainly there is increasing evidence of the negative impacts of excessive play and there is a growing body of research that would support recognizing the existence of extreme video game use as a behavioural addiction.

The research is also beginning to document the impacts of extreme video game use and identify the difference between excessive use and an addiction.

Regardless, your concerns are warranted and I am glad it is on your radar. Research suggests that what is beginning to be defined as a video game addiction is most commonly associated with these massive multi-player online video games.

Moreover, if an addiction is possible it is certainly precipitated by increasingly compulsive and excessive online play.

It is important that you are aware of some of the warning signs and some of the strategies that you can use to intervene as a parent.

Some warning signs that video game use is becoming a problem are preoccupations with gaming, loss of interest in other activities, lying or hiding game use, defensiveness and anger, social isolation or withdrawal, using gaming as an escape from other problems and disruption of personal care routines (eating, sleeping, bathing etc.).

At its worst, gaming becomes compulsive and individuals suffer social, psychological and physical difficulties as a result of their play and they cannot seem to stop.

Some strategies for managing this problem and disrupting its effects include setting limits on the amount of play time, making game use contingent on the completion of other expectations such as spending time on other activities, spending time with family and friends, and fulfilling personal responsibilities such as sleeping, eating, bathing and completing school or work responsibilities.

Getting out in front of the problem before it gets out of hand is the ideal approach. However, sometimes it gets out of hand before it is recognized as a problem.

When this happens, attempts to limit gaming use and establish new expectations can lead to increased conflict, stress and problems at home. Simply cutting off access to computers or games can make things worse and lead to additional problems.

Often at this stage the gaming has probably become a coping strategy for other problems that will also need to be addressed as part of the process of reigning in the game use.

I suggest that you start talking as a family about how you are going to manage the online game use. Work at maintaining a positive relationship with your son as you all seek to learn how to make sure that the online game use does not develop into a problem that disrupts your son’s and your family’s life.

He is likely going to resist any restriction you want to place on his game use, yet he is more likely to co-operate with the limits you establish if he feels heard as part of the process and understands what your concerns and expectations are.

If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at info@pacifictherapy.ca. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Friday in the Record.

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