When an eight-hour video game binge landed a 10-year-old boy in the hospital, his condition was so extreme that the doctor believed they were dealing with a cancerous tumour.
It was only when she had a chance to examine him closer that the doctor discovered what had really happened. “His bladder and bowel were so deformed because he had stopped going to the loo.”
"He had a mass coming out of his pelvis and I panicked,” she told the NSPCC annual conference.
The doctor recalls it as “the worst of a flow of cases” she had received when treating the medical conditions of children addicted to video games.
A medical condition
The unnamed adolescent is among a growing number of people diagnosed with what the World Health Organisation (WHO) now calls an illness. “Gaming disorder” has been added as a medical condition to WHO’s 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases.
The organisation terms it a pattern of behaviour in which gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities. It says the patient will continue with unhealthy durations of gaming despite the repeated occurrence of negative consequences.
Too deep in the game
Fahhd Husain, a regional editor for a Pakistani newspaper and now rehabilitated gaming addict, recalled the time a racing simulator took over his life.
“For six days, I was holed up in a dark room," he said. His parents had just left for a holiday – one he escaped by telling them he had college work.
“I sat there for what seemed like hours, but it was actually days. I did not pick up a single phone call from friends and nor did I show up for my social commitments.”
Husain remembers losing a fair amount of weight as he could only pry himself away from the console and screen for four meals during that entire period.
When his parents returned and found out about the almost weeklong episode, the console was yanked out of the TV set and sold. “I hated them at the time, but now realise an intervention was necessary."
Years later, he feels the gaming industry should be held accountable for the potential damage caused by the addiction to their creations.
Not all bad
Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, Massachusetts, and author of the recently-published book Free to Learn, asserts that people should not be too hasty in pointing fingers at the gaming industry.
In his blog written for Psychology Today, Peter said that while gaming-addiction horror stories are tragic, they are bound to occur in a world of seven billion people.
“Some video gamer somewhere does something terrible or experiences something terrible. All this is also true of the hundreds of millions of people who don't play video games.”
In an earlier essay, he spoke about the positive effects of video games on children. He stresses that some of these games actually have the tendency to enable young people to get along.
Aiding cognitive development
Gray believes that the activity of gaming goes as far as aiding cognitive development. This is echoed by psychologist Asra Sulemani who tells Inside Scandinavian Business about some positives of gaming.
Sulemani says some research even recommends that people play video games for about half-an-hour a day. “It has some advantages and even keeps one happy and occupied.” She says gaming can help people focus more and serve as an exercise for the mind.
“It can relieve stress and even help you with decision making.” She points out that video games prompt people to react quickly and they can apply the same to practical life.
Sulemani goes on to say that the exercise also encourages the mind to solve problems and helps to combat conditions like dyslexia.
“There is also the desire to achieve excellence,” She says. Sulemani believes that gaming can drive people to achieve greater things.
There are disadvantages
However, she warns that while a moderate amount of gaming time is recommended, hours and hours is not.
“Loneliness is one of the biggest reasons people become addicted to gaming.” Sulemani stresses that lonely people tend to find a friend in gaming and can even use it as a measure of success.
Gaming as an addiction
Meanwhile, Dr Aneela Abbas, the head of the Psychological Department at the Indus Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, sees gaming as an addiction where some of the symptoms mimic those of exercise addicts or drug users.
Abbas says people with gaming disorder end up isolated. “In such a condition, you stop bothering about personal hygiene and food intake.”
Links to an emotional response
In her comments to Inside Scandinavian Business, Abbas says there are emotional aspects linked to winning and losing at video games.
“People can become restless, irritable and even aggressive. Many who are addicted show signs of severe stress and there are chances of depression too.”
Abbas recalls treating a gamer who had symptoms of depression. It was only when she dug deeper that she found the boy of 13 or 14 years of age had been in front of his gaming console for six to eight hours a day.
“Then we found out that his social was also narrowing. He stopped concentrating on his studies and meeting friends because he was spending more and more time on gaming.”
The doctor remembers applying cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotherapy before referring the boy to a psychiatrist. “With time, he has improved and is able to concentrate on his studies, among other things.”
The happy medium
A business development and marketing executive based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, plays his favourite video games to take his mind off the daily grind. He believes the key is to maintain a balance and claims that gaming has no negative effect on his day-to-day life.
“It’s a safe haven where one can kill time and have peace of mind,” he said.
Gaming transports him to a fantasy world where he has more control. He explained, “even though I am absolutely in love with a few games and could play them for hours if given the option, I understand there are bigger things at hand related to real life.”
He recalls his younger days when family members would cut wires or lock up his gaming consoles to keep him focused on matters of greater importance.
Now that he is older, he manages to create a balance and believes that the binges of his youth were “stupid”.
He advises gamers to keep the activity limited to a hobby. However, he still looks forward to playing new video games as they are released.
Video Game Coalition
Many of the new releases he looks forward to are determined by the Video Game Coalition. An industry lobby group, the Video Game Coalition points out that millions of people around the world enjoy and even benefit from gaming.
The coalition says products are “enjoyed safely and sensibly by more than two billion people worldwide”.
They were quoted by CNBC as urging WHO to take the “educational, therapeutic and recreational value” of games into account.
This argument applies to all spheres of life and not just video games. A happy medium needs to be struck in order for gaming enthusiasts, supporters, and the gaming industry to avoid further criticism.
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