Online gaming accounts for roughly 90% of addiction cases in South Korea according to Dr. Lee Jae-Won, a neuropsychiatrist at Gangnam Eulji Hospital in Seoul, and government data from South Korea indicates that 10% of young people aged 10-19 are addicted to the internet. South Korea is well known to be the most connected country in the world, with the highest uptake of internet and technology – but as New Zealand starts to experience the benefits of faster broadband and improved connectivity, we should also be mindful of the possible risks that our future holds.
As a psychotherapist and a former gaming addict myself, I’m all too aware of some of those risks. Modern computer games can be fantastically engaging, rewarding and stimulating. Online games often go further, and can provide a sense of meaning, purpose, potency and community. Unfortunately, the same factors that make games so enjoyable can also make them compelling to the point of addiction for those of us who might have something lacking in the rest of our lives. Since working with gaming addicts as a psychotherapist I’ve found that so many of their stories echo my own: The game becomes the only place to feel powerful, the only place to feel competent, the only place to feel respected and valued by other people. That can be a powerful lure, and is a key reason for the rapid growth of young people experiencing addiction to computer games.
Although many parents and family members can relate to the stories of gaming addiction, it’s still a largely invisible phenomenon in New Zealand. Gaming addicts don’t get into trouble with the cops, they don’t end up on the streets, or turn up to work intoxicated. It’s easy to be invisible as a gaming addict – you can do it all from the comfort of your own home. As a result, many people with gaming addictions feel like they’re on their own, as do many parents and partners. So many of the calls I get from people struggling with a family member’s addiction ask the same questions: does this happen to other people? Is this normal? Are there others like me?
Thankfully, gaming addiction is increasingly becoming a recognised problem, and more help is available than ever before. Online support communities such as Online Gamers Anonymous (olganon.org), the /r/stopgaming subreddit and Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous (cgaa.info) provide support through a medium that is familiar and comfortable to most gaming addicts. At the same time, more mental health professionals are becoming aware of the issue as something to be taken seriously. My own research into the experience of gaming addicts who have sought treatment has highlighted the importance of clinicians understanding the phenomenon and listening to the experiences of gaming addicts. It is encouraging to see that this is increasingly happening around the globe.
– James Driver
For more information, resources and links to support services about gaming addiction, please visit www.netaddiction.co.nz.