Study Finds Staying Positive Reduces Risk of Gaming Addiction
Research released by CQUniversity has identified a link between positive coping strategies and preventing online gaming addiction. Simply put; you’re less likely to form an addiction to online games if you maintain a healthy approach to coping with social, mental and physical stress. Gaming addiction has become a hotly debated issue, both in academic circles and the public discourse.
With the popularity of games such as Fortnite and Minecraft, as well as the continued success of MMO and online-enabled games, there are seemingly more people becoming crippled by their gaming addiction.
This led the World Health Organisation (WHO) to last year declare ‘gaming disorder’ an internationally recognised disease, defining it as:
a pattern of gaming
behaviour(“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.
CQUniversity PhD candidate, Lorelle Bowditch, suggests addiction to online games can be curbed by having a positive and proactive mindset.
In her paper published last year, which was co-authored by her supervisors Associate Professor Anjum Naweed of CQUniversity and Dr Janine Chapman of Flinders University, Bowditch concluded:
having an engaged, problem-focused style of coping with everyday stressors(…)seems to play a role in protecting individuals against negative gaming outcomes – Bowditch, Chapman & Naweed, 2018, p. 75
The focus of Bowditch’s research was to examine how individual coping strategies impacts a person’s susceptibility to forming online gaming addiction. Her work builds on previous research that looked at escapism as a precursor to a person forming a gaming addition.
Bowditch concluded, based on a review of said previous studies, as well as her own research, that a person’s current emotional and physical state of mind is also a factor:
Escapisits who experienced fewer negative outcomes(…)were found to have low levels of psychosocial problems (e,g stress, self-esteem). This suggested that playing to escape is not always negative – Kardefelt-Winther, as cited in Bowditch, Chapman & Naweed, 2018, p. 70
Escapism a contributing factor in addiction
The idea of escaping from one’s problems is a long-standing adage. As our society has advanced, so too have the ways in which we ‘escape’ from the stresses of everyday life.
In their review of the (then) current literature, Kuss and Griffiths found that “(online) gaming addiction is related to the following motivations for playing: coping with negative emotions, stress, fear and escape”. (Kuss & Griffiths, 2012, p. 9). Based on their observations, the pair surmised that if a person’s motivations for playing video games are steeped in “dysfunctional coping” strategies, then they are at risk of “developing (an online) gaming addiction” (Kuss & Griffiths, 2012, p. 10).
Bowditch, however, argues that escapism can be thought of as both a good and bad coping mechanism. She defines the differences as being either an engaged or disengaged coping style:
(An engaged coping style is an ) approach-related, and involve (the person) confronting stressors, which limit long-term physiological and pyscholifical impact – Bowditch, Chapman & Naweed, 2018, p. 70
(A) disengaged coping style is one that involves the individual seeking to limit their expsoure to noxious stimuli by disengaging from it. Thoughts about the stressor are avoided; behaviours that might change the situation are (avoided), and wishful thinking and fantasties are used an attempt to draw attention away from the stressor – Bowditch, Chapman & Naweed, 2018, p. 70
Engaged and disengaged behaviours
Bowditch’s study found that ‘escaping’ into a video game world can be a positive experience, writing:
for some people, escapism may be beneficial, with strategies such as “blowing off steam” or “letting go of emotions” being positively associated with escapist motivations to play (video games) – Bowditch, Chapman & Naweed, 2018, p. 74
The implications of these findings suggest positive coping strategies can help defend players from developing an online gaming addiction. Per her paper, Bowditch defines such coping strategies as being;
- Express emotion; and
- Social support
Bowditch splits these strategies up into two categories; problem-focused and emotion-focused. Problem-solving and cognitive restructuring fall under the first category; whereas the last two fall under emotion-focused.
It’s implied that individuals who engage with these coping strategies are taking a proactive approach to cope with their issues; whether this includes thinking of the issue in a different way (cognitive restructuring) or blowing off steam (express emotion).
By employing one or more of these strategies, players can become, as Bowditch describes, ‘engaged’ in positive behaviour; thereby reducing their chance of being addicted to online video games.
On the flipside, Bowditch outlines the negative coping strategies; strategies that are, as she identifies, are disengaged coping styles. These include:
- Problem avoidance;
- Wishful thinking;
- Social withdrawal
These strategies carry obvious negative connotations and are conducive to fairly destructive behaviour. By avoiding one’s problems altogether, withdrawing from social circles and being critical of one’s self, players can become disengaged; thereby increasing the risk of forming an online gaming addiction; a common thread which can be found in much of the current literature.
Understanding gaming addiction
As video games have grown from a childhood pastime to a widespread and deeply engrained form of entrainment, healthcare providers and researchers struggle with ways to define and treat online gaming addiction.
Much of the current literature falls within three primary categories: examining the factors that cause online gaming addiction; physical/pathological connections to addiction; and, the consequences of addiction and possible treatments (Kuss & Griffiths, 2012).
However, there exists discourse about how to define online gaming addiction, whether to examine the potential addictive elements of video games or to instead explore everyday internet usage (Griffiths, King & Demetrovics, 2014).
Parents, the media and gaming addiction
The mainstream media has recently latched onto the ‘gaming is an addiction’ discussion; with news stories about uncontrollable teens and people being sent to rehab for their gaming addiction popping up almost daily.
According to Dr Marcus Carter of the University of Sydney, articles propagating the idea that games like Fortnite are dangerous and addictive for children exasperate the issue rather than help children and parents cope with the realities of gaming addiction.
A lecturer in Digital Culture, Dr Carter recently conducted a study investigating how gaming fits into the life of children. To this end, Dr Carter and his team held 24 semi-structured interviews with children aged 9-14 from the Melbourne, Sydney and Byron Bay areas.
In a phone interview with PowerUp!, Dr Carter suggests mainstream media (as well as society, by extension) often idealizes our idea of what children should be. These idealized perceptions are generally built from recollections of our own childhood.
Therefore, anything that differs from our own experiences as children is perceived as problematic.
Dr Carter suggests the negative media onslaught against online games like Fornite is damaging; resulting in a generation who will grow up to mistrust the media. A 13-year old who participated in the study is quoted as saying:
I just think a lot of that media stuff is bull crap that they just came up with on the spot … The media is just bashing any other form of entertainment cause they want all the attention on them, and so I just can’t believe them that much anymore – James (pseudonym)
Helping prevent online gaming addiction in children
Online video games are not a passing fad but rather a well-established mainstay of the industry. As such, parents should become well-versed in the types of video games available, as well as having more meaningful conversations about how and when their children play these types of games.
There are various online resources available for parents to educate themselves on the types of video games available. Aside from standard ratings and classifications, websites such as the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and Common Sense Media.
The eSafety Commissioner website recommends parents create a safe gaming environment in which children can enjoy their favourite video games. This can be done by:
- Preparing – basing gaming hardware in a centralised area of the home, activate parental controls and security software;
- Building good habits – educating children in protecting their privacy online, ways to identify malicious websites and links, and reinforcing time limits and consequences when limits aren’t adhered to;
- Staying involved – parents are encouraged to talk to their children about the types of games they like and who they play with, play alongside their children, keep track of how long they play for and keeping an eye for changes in their behaviour, activities, etc.;
- Empower your child – help children to make better decisions for themselves rather than telling them what to do/play, provide them with strategies for coping with negative online experiences, and work on building confidence and resilience; and
- Be aware of what they are playing – use the Australian classification board’s website as a guideline for selecting which games feature appropriate content for children, and consulting websites such as Common Sense Media (and PowerUp!) for the latest video game reviews for age recommendations.
For more information on the above check out the Office of the eSafety Commissioner website.
Limiting your child’s game time
Whilst the eSafety Commissioner website suggests there exists “no magic number of hours” your child should be playing video games, the Australian Government recommends children aged 2 and 5 years of age “should be limited to less than 1 hour of screen time each day“; with children under the age of 2 having absolutely no screen time whatsoever.
In saying this, however, no specific guidelines as to how much screen time school-aged children should have.
Jackie Coates, who heads up the Telstra Foundation, an organisation that helps young people better connect with the digital world, recommends parents implement time limits and encourage regular screen breaks.
I recommend a couple of hours max and avoid the all-nighters that some teens push for. This is an area you need to stay on top of and be consistent – make sure your rules are clear and enforced – Jackie Coates, Head of the Telstra Foundation
If parents believe your child is spending too much time playing video games and are concerned about their physical and mental wellbeing, they are encouraged to look out for the following signs:
- decreased interest in social activities;
- disinterested in, or decline in school work;
- increased tiredness, headaches or eye strain;
- changes in eating patterns;
- reduced personal hygiene;
- obsession with certain websites or games;
- quick to anger when asked to take a break, or displays anxiety or irritability when away from the computer, device, home console; and
- becoming generally withdrawn
Parents who observe any or all of these behaviors in their children should take proactive steps to limit the time their child spends gaming while engaging in positive conversations about how they are feeling.
To help parents maintain control over their child’s gaming time, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have implemented family control functions into their respective home consoles. Going even further, Nintendo has produced a Parental Controls app for mobile devices that enables parents to remotely control their child’s play sessions.
Seeking help when you need it
As discussed in this article, online gaming addiction (as well as gaming addiction more broadly) is more susceptible in individuals who view gaming as a negative form of escape. In these situations, it is likely these individuals are ‘running’ away from a problem or issue in their life.
Therefore, it’s important to seek help to help prevent addiction in any form, not just in respect to video games, before said addiction turns into more destructive behaviour.
For parents and children, KidsHelp Line is a great website with a plethora of resources available.