- Marc cieslak
- BBC Technology Correspondent
For Stephen and Louise, life with their 16-year-old son Alex can be very difficult.
The adolescent’s compulsive desire to play video games in which he shoots himself as Counter-strike Until late at night, she has been causing the family distress for years.
Recently, Alex was also diagnosed with autism.
Since the beginning of this year, the young man has been a patient at the National Center for Gambling Disorders, a clinic that is part of the public health system and specializes in treating this addiction.
His parents took him to the clinic, but Alex has not adjusted. Louise believes that even though the treatment is not working for her son, there was an unexpected benefit for the rest of the family.
“The most useful thing for us is talk to other parents whose children have the same problems with videgames. Our support group meets once every fortnight for Zoom, “he says.
Her husband Stephen adds, “I think the best thing is to realize that you are not alone. There are many other people across the country and around the world who are going through the same situation.”
“For us, as a couple, as a family, it has been a challenge because it is quite difficult to have interaction outside the house. When we have visitors, he stays upstairs playing, yelling and insulting. Sleeping has also been a big problem, to the point of having to turn on the fan to not hear it while playing, “he adds.
The BBC had exclusive access to the clinic, which opened almost two years ago.
The desire of patients (mostly adolescents) to play is so extreme that they are often generated situations of violence and confrontations with parents or caregivers.
If they are denied access to video game consoles or computers, many of the patients threaten to commit suicide. Their social interactions are almost always limited to activities on the internet or those they have while playing games.
Video game-related disorder is acondition controversial, defined by the World Health Organization by three characteristics:
- Poor control of gambling activity
- Prioritize gambling over other interests
- Continue gambling despite negative consequences
Some psychologists and the video game industry itself question the evidence used to define the disorder.
Until very recently, in the UK at least, help for video game problems could only be found in private healthcare.
But this West London-based clinic is part of the National Center for Behavioral Addiction. Treating problems with gambling is well established, but gaming is new territory for staff, according to consultant and clinical psychologist Rebecca Lockwood.
“We know that Gaming Disorder is a pretty rare condition. The symptoms can be really very serious, something that has surprised us,” he says.
“Often people have difficulty controlling their emotions. They have problems with anger, anxiety, and experience low mood. Physical symptoms such as loss of sleep also appear. That’s because they play at night to connect with players abroad, “he details.
Becky Harris is the clinic’s director and family therapist.
She says they received more than 300 patients, 200 of them in 2021. Harris describes that 89% they are male patients, of a surprising age range.
“We started treatment at 13 years old. We have children 12 years that have been referred, we also learned of parents with children as young as 8 years old, but we have not been able to treat them. We have patients up to 60“.
They are often treated through video call sessions. Lockwood believes that video therapy has some advantages.
“It allows us to interact with people who are usually quite reluctant to go to the clinic, because they tend to have little motivation to commit to follow a treatment,” he explains.
For millions of people, video games are a common pastime, a source of entertainment and connection.
So when does the line get crossed and become problematic behavior?
62% of adults in the UK played video games during the pandemic, according to the National Communications Office.
And a recent study from the University of Oxford Internet Institute concluded that playing video games is actually good for the well-being of gamers.
Professor Andrew Przybylski, the institute’s research director, believes that the games themselves might not be the problem.
“As far as I know, there is no quantitative scientific evidence that there is anything special about games that causes any kind of psychological damage. There is a wide range of activities or behaviors that you can do excessively, be it eating or exercising, on top of it. there is much stronger evidence, “he says.
“If someone is suffering and gambling is part of that, like any passion, this is part of a person’s life and experience. Probably the best way to think about games right now … is to treat them like any other hobby, and use it as a way for the therapist to connect with a patient, “he adds.
At the National Center for Gaming Disorders, Becky Harris is quick to point out that the clinic is not against video games.
“We fully accept that for many people video games are something really positive in their life. We are talking about that small percentage who have a big problem with them and really thisn affecting their quality of life and their ability to interact and function“, it states.
Mike is a former patient at the clinic and says he first realized his addiction to video games when he was in his 20s.
Lbequeathed to play at World of warcraft up to 14 hours a day. This seriously affected his relationship with his family and interfered with his studies.
He attended an eight-week therapy course that gave him a new perspective on video games and his life.
“I stopped playing so much. My relationship with my wife and my parents improved. I have taken steps to solve all the problems, but it was this last push that I needed. It put me on the right path,” he analyzes.
Mike hasn’t stopped playing video games altogether, but says it takes up less time now.
“It’s not that I consider video games to be bad. It’s just that I do it in moderation.”, He says.
Stories like Mike’s are what give Stephen and Louise hope that one day their own son can solve some of their problems.
“I feel optimistic because on Facebook I follow many people who look a lot like our son, but are now adults. And I follow them because their words are very enlightening, but also because it helps me feel that he will find his way,” he says Louise.
The names of the patients were modified.
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