Pardon the dust!
This page includes some jargon that hasn't been added to the site's glossary yet. I'll be around to fix this later, but sorry for the inconvenience in the meantime.

Should I be concerned about "video game addiction"?

What is "video game addiction"?

As the name suggests, this is an unhealthy and dangerous relationship with video games. It's pretty difficult to get a more detailed answer, as even experts aren't entirely sure about the details. For example, experts aren't sure if gaming addiction a unique disorder or if a person's unhealthy gaming practices an expression of another, already known, condition.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an expert or a psychiatrist. But, I have spent some time reading testamonials written by people who claim to have suffered from this condition, and if you compare what they've had to say with some of the darker tales from the gaming community, there is definitely something going on, and this means that video game addiction, in some form or another, is very real.

Should parents be worried about their kids?

Despite what I wrote above, I wouldn't worry too much about it, especially when we're talking about a child. A lot of childhood behaviors can look like an addiction or obsession, but they are just normal parts of growing up.

Think about it: when you were a kid, did you have a favorite toy that you carried everywhere or played with all the time? Did you ever play with it when you should've been doing something else (like homework)? If you answered yes to either question, then do you think it would be right to call your interest in that toy a harmful addiction?

You see, today a video game might be a child's favorite toy. This would mean that they'd want to spent a lot of time playing with it, talking about it, and just thinking about it in general. However, since it's a video game, rather than a traditional toy like an action figure or doll, people are saying that this interest should be seen as a scary or dangerous thing. But is it really so different?

I don't think so. Children get "stuck" on things they like all the time. It's normal. Sure, watching Disney's Frozen for the 30th time this week can be grating on a parent's nerves, but it's still normal. Frankly, parents have enough to worry about already. They don't need to create more problems by demonizing normal childhood behavior.

Problems to watch for

While a lot of things that could look like an addiction are just people enjoying their hobbies (and thus are perfectly safe and harmless), there are exceptions. There are a handful of extreme and dangerous behaviors that the gaming community has known about and mocked for some time, and as it turns out, many of these behaviors are being talked about in the context of video game addiction.

Importantly, it won't matter if you believe gaming addiction is real or not. Everything I'm about to describe is unusual or disturbing enough that just about anybody will know that something is seriously wrong. You'd need a strong stomach to just ignore this stuff.

Urinating or defecating while playing
Everyone needs to answer the call of nature at some point in their day, even gamers. However, while the vast majority of people will take a break from their games to visit the bathroom, there have been stories of people who wouldn't.

As horribly gross as this sounds, some people have been so obsessed with their game that they simply went in their pants, choosing to stew in their own waste rather than pause the game for a moment. Sometimes people use a bottle or sock rather than their pants, which is slightly more hyginic. This also led to the act of doing your business while playing games being known as "poopsocking".
Abnormally long gaming
People can spend a long time playing a single game. Sometimes a gaming session can last for a few hours. This isn't generally a problem, as most people will occasionally take a moment to stretch, grab a quick snack, get something to drink, or otherwise take care of themselves during these long sessions.

However, this does become a problem when the player ignores their needs or obligations. In extreme cases, people have actually managed to play themselves to death. One example was a person who played games for fifty hours straight without breaks, and their body simply gave up from the strain. No game is worth putting your body through that level of stress.

On the less extreme side of things, high school and college students have been known to get themselves into serious trouble by playing games long into the night, resulting in them having little chance to sleep or study.
Playing games that you don't enjoy
Most games have a level or section that a player would rather skip or that simply isn't very fun. This can lead to people rushing through sections in an attempt to get back to the interesting stuff, but it's just as likely that the player will abandon the game at this point. While this is a universal experience, sometimes people get "stuck" playing bad games.

It's easy to say that someone shouldn't waste their time playing a game they aren't enjoying, but it can be hard for some people to move on from a game. From what I can tell, this tends to be a form of the "sunk cost" fallacy. This is an error in judgement that argues it's better to continue a negative behavior because all of the time, effort, adn money spent getting this far cannot be redeemed. We don't like wasting our resources, so we're inclined to continue in hopes of a payoff. But sometimes that payoff just isn't there, and we need to be realistic about that.

Above all else, games are supposed to be fun. Sometimes there's a learning curve that players need to overcome to reach that point, but if a game doesn't become fun after awhile, then it might be best to move on to another game or another activity altogether. There are always other games, after all.
Spending money needed for necessities on games
This is obviously not something that children will do, as something else in their life has going seriously wrong if kids are paying rent or buying groceries with their own money. Adults, however, do need to pay bills, and if they are spending that money on video games (especially in-game purchases) then there is cause for alarm (and probably some sort of direct intervention). All games are different, so I'm not going to suggest a limit on how much is safe to spend on a game. The only restriction I would put on in-game purchases or gaming-related expenditures in general is that the money spent should be money you can afford to spend -- that is, it's not needed for other things.

On a side note, it's worth pointing out that there are games that include gambling-like features, and people can get addicted to these just like how people get addicted to regular gambling. For example, you might have heard about the loot box scandal that's going on; the reason there's a scandal is that these loot boxes work like slot machines or similar luck-based forms of gambling, and the games they are found in are often played by children. This has resulted in children getting hooked on this sort of virtual gambling, and very few people are happy about that.
Stealing money to pay for games or in-game purchases
This is related to the above point, but it's alarming enough to warrant being singled out. Seriously, if someone is stealing to pay for their gaming habits, and this includes using their parent's credit cards without permission, then something must be done. What that something is depends on the nature of the offense.

In some cases, games are linked to an account that can be automatically charged (eg, your iTunes or Microsoft account) and children don't always understand that they are making a purchase. This isn't a good thing, but it's still an innocent mistake and it should be possible to talk to your children about it.

On the other hand, there are reports of children taking their parent's credit cards out of their parent's wallet or purse and using them to buy games or make in-game purchases. In that case, it's more along the lines of willful theft, and something to take serious. It may also be a sign of a more serious problem, such as the gambling issue mentioned above.

A possible solution?

One important thing about horror stories like these is that these problems are often linked to a specific game rather than gaming in general. This means it may be possible to curb any behavior issues by simply limiting access (or even outright prohibiting) the offending video game while allowing other games.

This is especially true if the problem is caused by the player being addicted to a luck-based prize mechanic like we've seen in the recent loot box scandal. In a case like that, the most reasonable thing you can do is cut the player off from the game entirely.

Above all else, it's vital that you try communicating your worries with the afflicted party. The goal of this discussion shouldn't be to vilify the game or gaming in general; just focus on what specifically worries you and try to get the player to understand why you're concerned. Keep in mind that you could always be misinterpreting the situation, and that you might be able to compromise so both parties are satisfied.

Unfortunately, if you're going by the testamonials like I am, one of the things that many video game addicts have in common is that they are people who are living on their own and thus no longer under the parent's watchful eyes. In such cases, the most you can do is try to steer the person towards getting help or taking action themselves. Additionally, you should also be wary of enabling their addiction; in some cases this can be done by providing material items rather than money, but in extreme cases, it may be best to let them crash and burn. Sadly, people dealing with addictions sometimes need to hit rock bottom before they are willing to admit that there is a problem. Just remember that if you're going to take that route, you should be ready to help them back up when it finally happens.

Further reading

This isn't the first time that I've written about games being a problem or how to mitigate issues with gaming. Thus, you might be interested in checking out the page on rules to keep games fun.

It might also be beneficial to read up on how to help someone dealing with addictions. Since video game addiction is sometimes actually gambling addiction in disguise, consider reading up on gambling addiction. You can find resources by using terms like "gambling addiction", "problem gambling", and "compulsive gambling" on your favorite search engine.