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Over the last couple of years, there has been a growing wave in the video gaming world. Video games have developed into an ingrained feature of human lives. In US alone, it was found out that (88%) of the youth between the ages of 8 and 18 play video games[1]. Though only a handful was found to overdo it, (from 8-13 years), there is a wave that is slowly encroaching the world at large. Video game addiction has been linked to frequency of play and the overall time spent in play. Also, the fact that other gadgets other than the computer can be used to play video games has contributed a lot to video game addiction. Several effects have been associated with video game addiction and should serve as guidelines on the way forward in this matter.

Addiction

The virtual of playing alone does not qualify as addiction. Addiction is best defined as an increasing urge to continue with a behavior regardless of its negative effects. In trying to find out who the video addicts are, researchers have come up with a system of evaluating certain symptoms in a gamer. Thinking about playing video games frequently, spending more money or time to feel excited, failing when playing for shorter periods, becoming restless or irritable when attempting to end playing, using game as an escapism, lying to family or friends about playing time, stealing video games or stealing money to buy video games, avoiding responsibilities, skipping homework to play, academic performance decline, and needing friends or family to provide extra money are the symptoms that define addiction. Gamers are thus said to be addicted if they show 6 these symptoms listed. It has been noted that the excitement associated with video games leads to addiction and that the secret that keeps gamers motivated is not fun alone, but rather the rewards, liberty and the bond strengthened between the players.

Addicted players are known as a pathological players and their frequency of play is twice that of non pathological players. They have mastery of the games’ rating symbols and researches show that it’s the time they’ve been in the game that determines their state. In a recent research, 1 in 10 children and teens that play video games show behavioral signs that may indicate addiction. According to Media Research Lab at Iowa State University, about 8.5% of 8-to-18-year-old gamers can be considered pathologically addicted. This is an alarming rate considering the age of the child. Video producing companies have been recording escalating sales of video games. This interpreted would mean that the play of video games mostly among the youth is on the increase. Internet has also played a great role in the video game addiction. When kids log in to internet, they find web pages filled with adverts on the latest version of a certain game and so on. This gives the child an urge to try it out leading to mastery of the game and eventually addiction.

Effects of addiction

Like any other addict, video game addicts get the high when playing just like drug addicts since there is production of endorphins in their brains[2]. It’s the want for more of this high that keeps the gamer glued to the gaming device. One of the effects associated with video game addiction is aggression. Due to playing more violence based games, the brain is oriented and triggered into violence. Hence addicted gamers will more often be reserved and violent even with the slightest provocation. Gaming has also been implicated with other physical and emotional health complaints. Addicts have developed “Playstation thumb” and “Nintendoitis”, a recurring strain injury in their arms and hands from the maneuver of controllers. Other recorded dangers of too much play include fatigue and headaches. Sleep is another issue that’s affected by addiction. This is because players tend to spend too much of their time playing at the expense of sleep. This in the long run results in poor performance at the work place as well as ineffectiveness. Breaking of family and friends relationship is also a notable effect brought about by addiction. Addicts seem to spend a lot of time in solitude and are reserved, affecting to a greater extent the social bondage between the gamer and other people around. Weight gain due to lack of practice, and weight loss due to poor feeding are some other health related issues caused by the video game addiction.

Serious effects like death have also been reported in various countries like China, Vietnam, South Korea, Canada and the United States. The reported deaths have either been that of the addict or that of someone else but caused by the addict. A good example is a case of teenager called Daniel Petric who shot his parents killing her mother for confiscating a copy of Halo 3 game in October 2007[3].

Nevertheless, not all effects are harmful. The game has been found to have some educational and therapeutic uses. One, for example is the playing of games like Sim City and Rise of Nations. These games increase one’s creativity, problem solving skills and proper planning skills. This has led to the education stakeholders thinking of implementing the games into the curriculum. The social and interactive aspects of the games can be used to preach peace, and cohesion. It might also be adapted for humanitarian issues like natural calamities and hunger. This if properly adapted, they moulds the character of the young player to a responsible adult. In the medical arena, games have found their notch in several ways. Children with chronic diseases can adjust to them by playing games like Packy and Marlon, a pair of cartoon elephants coping with diabetes. They can also be used as a pain management tool for children being treated for cancer and sickle cell disease.

Preventing addiction

Since most of the addicts are children, it’s the mandate of the parents to try and prevent their children from falling victims. Laying out rules on the types of games to be played may contribute a lot to addiction prevention since the parent has the knowhow of how each game operates. Games that may overexcite the child should be discouraged since they might lead to addiction. Redirecting the focus of the kids is also another remedy to game addiction. By trying to offer an alternative to the game, the hours of play are cut down and addiction chances reduced. However, the alternative should be introduced in a manner that the child doesn’t get offended lest the child opts to conceal playing activities. The parent should also understand the child’s mental development. This will help in guiding the child on the best games to play.

The government may also contribute by emphasizing on game rating. This would make parents and children to know which games are meant for a certain age. Game setting also contributes in controlling the number of hours spent playing the game. An example is the government of China which came up with a strategy to try and curb the rising culture of video game addiction in 2007. The government came up with a program that limited the number of hours to three for any videogame being played especially by a child. This strategy bore fruits because by the year 2008, there was a decline in the number of online minor gamers.

Private organizations, among them “online gamers anonymous” and “mothers against videogame addiction and violence” have been established. These organizations are meant to sensitize the parents on the dangers posed by their children on being exposed to too much videogames. The “online gamers anonymous” association comprises of people who have recovered from addiction or who are undergoing rehabilitation. Their aim is to try and teach through their own experiences the adverse effects of video game addiction, how they become addictive and the means of detaching oneself from video game addiction.     

Other than prevention governments have come up with treatment centers for those already caught up by the addiction and are carrying out a comprehensive research to find out the best treatment procedure that can be used for the growing number of addicts. ReSTART, for example is a residential treatment center opened in Washington for the pathological computer users[4].                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Conclusion

Video games have become part of our day to day activities. They’ve in one way or another affected our lives or the lives of those close to us. The best solution is thus to try and live responsibly with it as we appreciate the efforts of the game makers. The positive effects should be encouraged while trying to suppress the negative ones. Adults have the biggest role to play in ensuring the safety of their children and their welfare as a whole. The government should also contribute in ensuring that the lives of the young generation aren’t ruined by the video games.

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