There’s some enjoyment that comes with playing digital games. But it’s not all fun and games according to World Health Organisation
Ann Nyathira @PeopleDailyKe
Gaming often starts as a form of passing time, as part of leisure, to some it means earning an extra coin. Then one enjoys doing it too much and it becomes an addiction. So serious has this addiction been that World Health Organisation (WHO) has decided to classify gaming disorder as a mental health issue in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
WHO describes gaming disorder as a pattern of gaming behaviour (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterised 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.
In Kenya, digital gaming has grown into a lucrative business, evidently, by the number of video game lounges and pro gamers making good money from this venture, making it the fourth most popular gaming hub in Africa.
“Digital gaming has certainly grown exponentially thanks to the Internet. Sadly, it causes more harm than good gradually, and that makes it hard to detect the underlying issues, says Dr Geoffrey Wango, a senior lecturer and a counselling psychologist at the University of Nairobi.
The decision by WHO caused mixed reactions. While some supported it, others felt there is no cause for alarm. However, WHO insists the decision was made based on available scientific evidence and consensus among experts and researchers.
Research has shown that any form of addiction occurs when we seek the feel-good effect, attributed to the release of the hormone dopamine. Video games are intentionally designed using state-of-the-art behaviour psychology to keep you hooked.
Games are immersive experiences that provide you with a high amount of dopamine, and overexposure to this level of stimulation can cause structural changes to your brain.You begin to live in a world where you expect instant gratification.
Games are so immersive that it’s easy to play for hours without even noticing that a minute has gone by. They allow you to escape and create an environment where you feel safe and in control.
Repeated need for the feel-good effect leads to addiction. According to WHO, impaired control over gaming activities is a major red flag and players should be concerned if and when they are not able to control their gaming pattern.
“I was addicted to gaming for a while and I did not realise it was a problem until someone mentioned that I was spending most of my time playing these games,” says Joseph Kimani, a former game developer. Over time, gaming activities may interfere with other activities and deter you from previous interests such as school, work and sports.
“Addiction triggers obsession that keeps you from doing things you are supposed to do. I would play games for hours and lose track of time. Luckily, I realised it and managed the situation before it became intractable,” Kimani says.
Parents are urged to be alert on how much time children spend on gaming be it on a console, phone or TV. Digital addiction like any other addiction, destroys relationships, limits creativity and innovation as well as social coping mechanisms yet many countries have not developed any guidelines like in other harmful addictions.
In advanced countries, they have noted the effect of digital addiction on productivity. Most corporations have developed policies on use of not just social media, but cellphones in the workplace.
Some individuals involved in gaming activities may be exposed to vital health consequences such as disruption of sleep pattern, anti-social tendencies, nutritional issues and low-level of physical activities leading to heart and weight-related diseases.
“Everyone is obsessed with gaming both young and senior adults and it affects them financially, psychologically and spiritually. Sadly, it has turned into an obsession and preoccupation where people are using it to make money. What started as a fun activity is morphing into an epidemic and maybe, it’s time for society to take this matter seriously and have a conversation about it,” added Wango.