Gaming sickness

Published October 26, 2019, 4:19 PM

by Dr. Jose Pujalte Jr.



“Lord, Lord! to see what folly reigns in us!”

— William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English poet and playwright,

Two Gentlemen of Verona (1591), Act 1. Scene II

Dr. Jose Pujalte Jr.

Dr. Jose Pujalte Jr.

In one episode of the hugely successful “The Big Bang Theory,” when Kaley Cuoco’s character Penny got hooked on fantasy games on line, she neglected her real life. They made it look funny and pathetic at the same time.  But, there’s nothing funny when gaming addiction leads to death.

This is exactly what happened to Taipei gamer Chen Ron-yu a few years back. He entered the internet café on a Tuesday evening and apparently died while playing the online game League of Legends. He was found in rigor mortis Wednesday night, already dead for nine hours with no one noticing. In 2009, a South Korean couple pleaded guilty to negligent homicide. Their 3-month-old daughter died of malnutrition while they were busy raising a virtual child online, playing ten hours at a stretch(!).

Five Warning Signs of Gaming Addiction. According to psychiatrist Dr. Han Doug-hyun, an expert in gaming addiction treatment, there are clues that a gamer has crossed the line from recreation to addiction. CNN’s John D. Sutter wrote that Dr. Han considers these as warnings: 

1. Disrupted regular life pattern. If a person plays games all night long and sleeps in the daytime, that can be a warning he or she should seek professional help.

2. If the potential gaming or Internet addict loses his or her job, or stops going to school in order to be online or to play a digital game.

3. Need for a bigger fix. Does the gamer have to play for longer and longer periods in order to get the same level of enjoyment from the game?

4. Withdrawal. Some Internet and gaming addicts become irritable or anxious when they  disconnect, or when they are forced to do so.

5. Cravings. Some Internet and gaming addicts experience cravings, or the need to play the game or be online when they are away from the digital world.”

Already in South Korea, arguably the most wired nation, 8% of the age group 9 to 39 suffer gaming or Internet addiction. Unfortunately, these are not yet formal diagnoses as experts are yet to agree on criteria, treatment, and so on. Gaming addiction cannot be found in the pyschiatrists’ bible “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” Some argue that game addiction arises out of other mental health problems and not causing them. On the other hand, the consensus definition of addiction by the American Society of Addiction Medicine is: “Addiction is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavior problem involving alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex.” This is new because in the past, addiction was the result of othercauses such as emotional or psychiatric problems. Now, addiction is a primary disease. Neuroscience advances confirm that brain circuitry rewires in addiction patients altering impulse control and judgment.

Also if you’re an addict of any kind, you will want to keep on repeating the addictive behavior because you’re looking for the “high.” At the neurotransmitter level, addiction is a chemical imbalance. While the academics debate, gamers sell their souls in virtual worlds.

Treatment. As in any addiction, recognition of the disorder is the first step. Psychiatrists usually approach the addiction with counseling, medication, and participation in programs not unlike those for alcoholics and gamblers.

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