Video games are said to create a fantastical world in which gamers do not suffer real world consequences. This is perhaps why some hardcore gamers fail to notice the negative impact the games they so often play have on their mental health.

While video game addiction is not officially recognized as a disorder by the most recent edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), a young South Korean man’s recent death has raised international awareness on excessive gaming.

Seungseob Lee, 28, reportedly spent almost fifty consecutive hours playing the popular PC game StarCraft, before succumbing to a fatal heart attack [1]. Police reported that Lee was completely immersed in the game and had consequently neglected his personal health. Exhaustion and high levels of anxiety were both cited as factors in his death.

Lee’s death is cause for concern because more adults are dedicating their lives to gaming at the expense of their social lives and health. According to BBC News, the number of gamers who spend 10 to 15 consecutive hours gaming is increasing [1].

The popularity of free RPGs (Role Playing Games) such as LOL (League of Legends) is likely responsible for a recent surge in marathon gaming. RPGs are games that enable players to create and customize online incarnations known as avatars. They often also allow players to create their own fictional environments and friends.  

When deciding between the real world and the fantastical gaming world, certain gamers prefer spending time on the latter. In a University of Toronto (U of T) student poll, 11 out of the 50 interviewed students admitted to gaming more than 35 hours a week. This amount of gaming may be considered excessive, being only a few hours shy of a typical adult’s work week.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to determine the point at which gaming becomes an addiction. Many students do not consider 35 hours of gaming a week to be abnormal or excessive. “It’s common to play 4-5 hours a day and that can easily add up to thirty-five hours a week,” says Johnson Chin, a third year U of T Management student.

That being said, section III of the DSM-V refers to Internet Gaming Disorder as “a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be included in the main book as a formal disorder.”[2] Accordingly, there is no medical model to diagnose pathological gaming and there are few support groups that focus specifically on overcoming video game addiction.

Though not a formal disorder, Internet Gaming disorder has many similarities to formally recognized gambling disorders [3]. Like gambling addictions, Internet Gaming Disorder causes people to act impulsively and to have difficulty developing new interests. More importantly, it appears to cause people to seek pleasure and instant gratification.   

In many cases, hardcore gamers have experienced withdrawal symptoms when they stop gaming [4].  These people feel detached from reality and experience high levels of anxiety when deprived of gaming. Some may even experience severe symptoms such as sleeplessness, irritability, and hallucinations4. Several experts such as Marc Potenza, a Psychiatrist at Yale University, believe that excessive gaming may rewire neural pathways and cause observable brain changes [3].

Though Internet gaming has skyrocketed in recent years and appears to be related to isolation and anxiety, much more research is needed. Until experts develop a medical model to diagnose mental health problems related to gaming, many gamers will not seek help. After all, how can people ask for help with overcoming a disorder that does not officially exist?

 

By: John Dias

Edited by: Alisia Bonnick

Image by: Samer Lazkani

References:

[1] “Korean dies after games session” BBC NEWS. (2015). Retrieved from:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4137782.stm

[2] “Internet Gaming Disorder”  DSM-V. (2013). Retrieved from: http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Internet%20Gaming%20Disorder%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
[3] Konnikova, Maria. “Is Internet Addiction a Real Thing?” The New Yorker (2014.)  Retrieved from:  http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/internet-addiction-real-thing

[4] D’Antastasio, Cecilia. “Inside the Tragic, Obsessive World of Video Game Addicts.” Vice Media (2015). Retrieved from:

http://www.vice.com/read/video-game-addiction-is-destroying-american-lives-456