You’ve heard it before – it’s not such a cool viewpoint but here goes: I’m not so sure that the benefits of video games are worth the risks. In fact, internet gaming & mental health may not go hand in hand. Now, I don’t mean to stereotype them, but I’ve been concerned about young boys in particular – who sit in their rooms for hours on end, staring at a vibrant screen, internet gaming. They rarely step outside to breathe fresh air, and may wind up feeling socially awkward and uncomfortable when with people. Technology has grabbed young minds by their brain’s impressionable reward centre (the mesolimbic dopamine pathway) and tethered them to their devices, fostering addictive tendencies and increasing mental and social health issues. Research has shown that just 10–20 minutes of violent gaming increased activity in the brain regions associated with arousal, anxiety, and emotional reaction, while simultaneously reducing activity in the frontal lobes associated with emotion regulation and executive control. (BrainandLife.org)
Youth mental Illness on the Rise!
“It’s not at all surprising that in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental illness. By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have – or have had – a mental illness.” (The Atlantic, April, 2022) As far as adolescents go, they rely on their devices to fulfill a basic human need: connection. Yet, because these devices are not actual people, in person, they’re left craving something they feel too afraid and ill equipped to pursue in real life. Instead, they continue to obsessively scroll or play games for hours on end, alone and unfulfilled.
When Real Life becomes Boring…
The risk of young, impressionable minds immersing themselves into highly stimulating games is that it can turn ‘real life’s’ complex beauty into a boring, pointless landscape. I practice mindfulness, and often gaze in wonder at snow covered trees. So naturally, I feel desperately sad for these boys! They don’t even know what they don’t yet know about life and how to enjoy ‘lived’ moments in nature or when with others.
Internet Gaming making its way into Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
In the fifth edition of DSM-5, internet gaming disorder was included in the section recommending conditions for further research. Gaming disorder was defined in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a “pattern of gaming behavior (digital-gaming or video-gaming) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” (Counseling Today, 2021).
The Three Stages of Gaming
The article states: The process of gaming addiction occurs in three stages. In stage one, the game is played actively for fun. In stage two, games are no longer “fun,” but the individual still spends many hours playing to remove negative emotions such as stress, sadness and worry. In stage three, the game is no longer fun and no longer removes negative emotions.During stage three, biological addiction occurs due to constant and persistently high levels of dopamine release, leading to a state of dopamine exhaustion. When dopamine exhaustion is reached, not only do games lose their potential for fun and pleasure, but so do other areas and activities. At this stage, individuals often find themselves feeling apathetic, directionless and without meaning in life. We can compare this evolution to alcoholism, in which the effects of alcohol decrease over time, requiring more alcohol to achieve the same effect.
Sitting is the New Smoking
Gamers are less physically active, eat dysfunctionally, and limit face-to-face interactions. From infancy children gaze into their parents’ eyes, longing for connection. Yet, these days many new parents are focused on their devices, with downcast eyes, and thus – spend less time looking into their children’s eyes. Their children wind up feeling less connected, untethered. The ‘still face experiment’ where a parent does not show any expression when looking at their baby for two minutes proves how essential connection is for emotional and behavioural regulation. Babies in this experiment often loose postural control. Their central nervous system become so overwhelmed that they physically collapse. (Psychhelp). Is it any surprise that when babies with distracted parents become teens they too seek connection from their devices?
The Other Side to the Story
To date, smaller internet gaming companies offer mental health breaks and supports for their gamers. And, many companies don’t see it as an issue. As there are many sides to any story, I thought I’d share a Psychology Today article espousing the benefits of internet gaming. I believe that If there is more variety in their activities, and youth manage to try some mindfulness to unplug and reset, then maybe the games aren’t as damaging.