To Game or Not to Game?

In an earlier post, my colleague Mathilde Theriault, B.A. Hons., Clinical Psychology Resident, wrote about the paradoxical effect of social media. Despite its potential to connect us, reducing the usage of social media has the paradoxical effect of helping people feel less lonely and depressed. This perspective got me thinking about other ways in which we engage in online activities and their impact on wellbeing. 

The Entertainment Software Association’s Annual Report 2019 revealed that 65% of Americans surveyed played video games every day. Video games are ofte viewed as a pass time for adolescent boys. However, this popular stereotype contradicts actual trends. The vast majority of people who play video games are age 18 or older, and nearly half of them (45%) are women. 

In 2018, the term “Gaming Disorder” was introduced 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. 

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. It would typically have been evident for at least 12 months.

Despite how widespread video gaming is, research reveals that gaming disorder only impacts a small proportion of those who play them. However, many people are likely to engage in a pattern of video gaming that, while sub-clinical, could negatively impact wellbeing. I would encourage you to remain alert to the amount of time spent gaming, especially when this behavior becomes repetitive, routine, and at the exclusion of other activities. 

I have often heard from people who play video games that they do so routinely because it’s accessible, and they don’t have to overthink it. If that is the case for you, I challenge you to experiment and become more intentional in what games you play and how you play them. If you mainly play online games, try single-player games. Instead of competing against others online, try competing against yourself. Conversely, if you mostly play single-player games, try an online multiplayer game with your group of friends. It can be fun and more engaging to play as a team, and a lot of them are free. Another fun way to experiment would be to take video games (like table-top role-playing games) and bring it to the real world. Get together with your friends, gather around a table, and roll some dice to go on an imagined adventure together that rivals and surpasses even the best video games available today!

Dr. Miguel Robichaud, C.Psych. is a psychologist in Supervised Practice at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto. In therapy, he specializes in helping individuals understand and change long-standing personality patterns and process unresolved issues stemming from family relations and upbringing (i.e., attachment issues, past or ongoing emotional deprivation, traumatic experiences). His work is currently supervised by Dr. Rylie Moore, C.Psych. and Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.