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In 2018, the World Health Organization classified Gaming disorder as an official form of addictive behavior. It consists of three components:
- The loss of control over one’s gaming
- Gaming taking priority over other areas of life
- Continued use despite harmful consequences and impaired functioning in other areas of one’s life.
In my work with persons addicted to gaming, I’ve noticed a few common factors contributing to this issue.
By considering the reasons why people become addicted to games, we can gain insight into how to prevent gaming addiction before it starts.
So how do you prevent a gaming addiction?
Develop a sense of self-esteem, social belonging, and purpose. Gaming addiction develops as a way to meet these basic needs. Meeting these needs outside of a gaming environment will reduce your risk of developing a dependency.
Let’s look at what the research says about each of these basic needs and how you can reduce your risk of a gaming addiction by strengthening each of these areas.
Develop a Healthy Sense of Self Esteem
According to a 2005 study, online games provide an environment for persons with low self-esteem to escape, allowing them to feel more confident. A more recent 2018 study finds the same correlation, focusing on the link between low self-esteem and risk of internet addiction.
Developing a healthy sense of self-esteem may sound like a cliché baby-boomer parenting strategy, marked by participation robbins and positive affirmations about how great we all are, but this is not what I mean by self-esteem boosting.
A 2003 study already debunked the idea that boosting self-esteem improves performance and life satisfaction. The point is not to boost self-esteem by cheerleading ourselves and our children. Instead, self-esteem begins to rise as we take action toward meaningful goals, improving our skills and abilities.
In a gaming environment, success is a quick fix. Like any form of addiction, it is a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
If experiencing low self-esteem, games can offer a temporary experience of leveling up and gaining skills. Unfortunately, these experiences are limited to the gaming world. Once outside the game, your self-esteem remains the same, going down slightly over time as you begin to neglect your offline life.
To prevent a gaming addiction, it is important to consider small ways to gain success in the offline world. Here are a few potential areas of development:
- Maintain a clean and organized personal environment.
- Pick up a new skill or hobby.
- Read books (I like audiobooks, personally).
- Consider advancing your formal education.
- Take small steps to advance your career.
Anything that gives you a sense of growth allows you to build self-esteem, lowering the risk of needing to seek it in a gaming environment.
Self-esteem comes from seeing the result of your actions, not from falsely telling yourself how great you are. This requires changing your relationship with yourself, considering the ways your thoughts or anxieties may be blocking further growth.
If you want to learn more about how to have a productive relationship with yourself, I highly recommend checking out The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt by Russ Harris.
Develop Strong Social Connections
The power of social connection is a key theme throughout all of my work. Social isolation is just as detrimental to your health as smoking, according to research.
Human beings are social creatures, so if we feel isolated or are isolating ourselves due to shame or anxiety, we may find creative ways to meet this social need. Online gaming may be one way to meet our social need for a sense of belonging and connection with others.
It can be healthy to connect with others in gaming environments if it is balanced with offline social activities. When gaming begins to negatively affect offline relationships, it might be time to reconsider ways to repair and maintain our offline relationships to prevent further harm.
A 2011 study on the psychosocial causes and consequences of pathological gaming found that “lower psychosocial well-being is more likely to be a cause than a consequence of pathological gaming.” This confirms the fact that maintaining healthy relationships is a preventative factor for gaming addiction.
So how can you maintain healthy offline relationships?
- Consider joining a local club or meetup group (Check out the Meetup App)
- Dedicate at least one day a week to meaningfully connect with parents, relatives, or close friends, in person.
- Regularly engage coworkers or acquaintances in small-talk about their own interests or recent events.
My article on How to Spend Less Time on Social Media may also be helpful if you want specific strategies tailored to a social media environment.
By fostering and maintaining strong offline social relationships, online gaming can serve as a supplemental form of entertainment and connection rather than a way to cope with isolation in an all-consuming way.
Online relationships in gaming environments can be beneficial and deeply rewarding, sometimes even turning into in-person relationships. The power of these relationships should not be discounted.
The goal of preventing a gaming addiction is to consider its impact on your life. If gaming is balanced and adding to your offline life, then it may be healthy. If it is taking away from your offline life, it may be helpful to reconsider the balance.
Working to develop offline social connections is one way to help meet our social needs, reducing the risk of a gaming addiction.
If social anxiety is preventing you from reaching out and connecting with others, I again recommend The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt by Russ Harris (…no, I am not getting paid for this recommendation. I just love the book!).
Develop a Sense of Purpose
Without a sense of purpose, life can become unbearable. Floating around in a directionless haze is its own unique form of torture.
As human beings, we are built to pursue goals. The dopamine systems in our brains are made for this purpose. In the absence of meaningful goals, gaming can fill this void, offering a sense of purpose through elaborate missions or storylines.
Although it can be entertaining to play games, for this reason, we need to recognize when the online world is becoming a substitute for a sense of purpose in our offline world.
So what is the antidote to offline purposelessness?
Make yourself useful!
In theory, it sounds easy. It’s not too hard to find someone needing help. The problem is that you can’t be useful to anyone else if you’re not useful to yourself first.
The key is that your way of contributing fits your unique personal strengths.
Misalignment between your strengths, values, and interests can hinder your level of usefulness and the resulting level of purpose you feel toward the role. Finding alignment between your abilities and your role requires first knowing your strengths and cultivating them.
If you want to delve way more in-depth into this topic, you can check out my comprehensive article: What Does It Mean to Have a Purpose?
Developing a sense of purpose in our offline worlds can help reduce the risk of a gaming addiction by filling this basic human need to strive for something beyond ourselves.
Gaming is not necessarily the problem. It is often used as a solution to an underlying problem. When our needs are not being met in our offline world, gaming is one way to meet these needs.
When gaming becomes an addiction, things outside the gaming environment begin not to matter. Self-esteem goes down, relationships suffer, and our non-gaming lives lose a sense of purpose.
Although games are used to cope with the lack of these needs being met, a gaming addiction takes a person further away from being able to meet these needs outside of gaming. The unmet needs lead to more gaming, and more gaming leads to further unmet needs.
To prevent a gaming addiction, it is important to develop a sense of self-esteem, social belonging, and purpose.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a gaming addiction, you may find it helpful to check out Game Quitters. It is a comprehensive resource designed to support gamers and loved ones.
You can also check out my recent article on How to Help Someone With an Addiction for general insights on how to maintain a productive helping relationship with the person you are supporting.