With the constant pressure to be productive all hours of the day and to develop your 5-9 after your 9-5, the appeal of video games becomes clear to me.

Stardew Valley
Stardew Valley

For instance, instead of being a broke college student, through video games I can become a cozy little farmer in Stardew Valley. Here, my biggest stress is if my character, Ash, will have time to get in bed before she passes out at 2AM. 

I can push aside the worries of rent, groceries, student loans, and even the stress of family tensions. 

In games, you can become whoever you want, even if it’s the furthest thing from real life (I actually kill every plant I own, I could never run a real farm. Imagine the massacre!). 

You can be big or small, mighty or meek. You can explore various worlds with rules that are different from our own. Gaming allows you to take on a new personality that you could never achieve in reality.

Once you get sucked in, it can be hard to put the game down. After all, games are made to be entertaining, to immerse you in the world inside your screen. 

Game Quitters reports that while almost 3 million Canadians may have unhealthy relationships with video games, more than 400 000 Canadians are estimated to be addicted.

What is Gaming Disorder?

Gaming becomes a disorder when it begins to negatively interfere with a person’s life: the inability to put a game down, prioritizing video gaming above other interests and necessities like cleanliness or cooking, and continuing to game even knowing there will be consequences in other aspects of life such as work or school. 

WHO included gaming disorder as a disease in their most recent revision of the International Classification of Diseases, ICD-11.

Megha Vatsya is an Occupational Therapist & Psychotherapist with CAMH. She emphasized that in Canada, you cannot get a video game addiction diagnosis. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get help for problematic use. 

Games are not inherently bad, even a four hour game session can be construed as self-care in the right light. The important distinction is that these binges occur once in a while, not daily.

Gaming disorder is “a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors,” according to Vatsya. 

She said that she thinks of gaming disorders as the tip of the iceberg and likes to dive into underlying problems contributing to it. “Maybe it’s low self-esteem [or] difficulty connecting with other people.”

If you can feel your muscles withering away while the colourful lights dance across your eyes, it’s a good time to close the program. 

Gaming can be a form of escapism for a lot of people: a way of avoiding real life stressors by immersing yourself in imaginary worlds or activities.

Escapism is a common coping technique for people with severe anxiety and/or depression. 

Health Effects

Angry gamer

Too much gaming can have harsh effects on the mind. eMental Health lists possible mental and physical health issues stemming from excessive video gaming (two or more hours per day):

  • Oppositional behaviour
  • Problems with mood (e.g. depression), anxiety, as well as feeling suicidal
  • Inattention/hyperactivity
  • Substance abuse
  • Sleep problems
  • Poor school achievement such as lower grades; increased chance of dropping out of school
  • Poor social skills
  • Sedentary lifestyle and related health effects

CAMH also lists weight loss, which could be attributed to sedentary lifestyle, and poor personal hygiene. 

Who is Most Vulnerable?

Certain groups of people may be more at risk of developing problematic video game use than others. The following list has been compiled from CAMH and eMental Health.

ADHD There can be a tendency to hyperfixate on a task they enjoy. Video gaming also tends to release dopamine in the brain, which people with ADHD are deficient in, prompting them to want to play more.
Autism Spectrum DisorderGetting entrenched in a certain game (or series) due to the need to know everything about it. Additionally, it may be easier for people with ASD to game and socialize online than socializing in person.
Gambling problems/addictionIncreasingly, there are elements of gambling in video games. For instance, (with real money) buying a ‘loot box’ which may or may not contain helpful items for the player.
Learning DisabilitiesSpending time online to avoid real world stressors such as school, which students may struggle disproportionately with. A form of escapism.
Compulsive/Impulsive BehavioursThis population may easily become obsessed with a game in a short period of time.
Social AnxietyIt may be easier to socialize online as someone else or your idealized self rather than authentically in person.

Getting Help for A Gaming Disorder

Vatsya urges struggling Canadians not to shy away from asking for help. “Sometimes it can be scary to know that you are going to connect with other people who are experiencing a similar issue,” she said.

“Oftentimes what we see is the concerns and difficulties are normalized in treatment and it’s not this scary treatment. It’s a way of connecting and seeing what’s going on,” she continued.

CAMH offers a program to help those wrestling with a gaming disorder or problematic tech-use. CAMH will connect you to a group of people grappling with the same issues, and a counselor. 

Vatsya said the counselor will help you deal with problems that could be contributing to a gaming disorder. 

Another resource for Canadians, Game Quitters is a way to find support from people who understand the pull of gaming. 

Game Quitters offers various forms of support from paid one-on-one and/or family coaching to free support groups. 

They offer support groups both for people trying to quit and for parents (or other support systems).

For Gamers: https://forum.gamequitters.com/ 

For Parents: Game Quitters Parent Support – Gaming Addiction & Screen Time | Facebook

General: https://discord.com/invite/gamequitters 

Support is essential in recovery. I want to share some parting advice from my therapist: just because you feel like you CAN do something on your own doesn’t mean you HAVE to. If people in your life are offering help and support, take it. Accepting help does not make you weaker, it extends your energy for other obstacles in your life. 

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