Computer games are not meant to be played around with anymore. The contemporary crop of gaming enthusiasts, comprising thousands of driven amateurs as well as seasoned pros with decades of experience behind them, is in deadly earnest when demanding that videogames be granted the socially elevated status of competitive sports. The point being, getting the hang of some of today’s popular computer games, with their dizzyingly complex frameworks, is likely to be a daunting prospect for most of us. To be able to master a game like, say, Call of Duty, one needs to attain special technical knowhow and a whole new range of skill set exclusive to the domain of that particular game. And so, mastering a modern videogame is not unlike mastering a sport, or indeed a musical instrument. All these require equal amount of patience, hours of practice, and levels of obsession that can drive an average person over the edge of sanity.
It may be that the complex nature of today’s computer games necessitates this obsession. You can’t be good at gaming without being an obsessive gamer. But there’s a thin line between obsession and addiction. A few years ago, a study conducted at the Iowa State University found “nearly one in 10 youth gamers” in the United States “to be pathological players according to standards established for pathological gambling”. Similar concerns have been raised in other parts of the world that are big on gaming, like Japan, where in 2013, internet and gaming addicts were enrolled for a limited period in “fasting camps”, a sort of a gaming detox programme, where they were shielded from the harmful influences of the virtual world.
India’s gaming culture is still a fledgling one, although it has grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years. Game developers and even professional gamers — trying to convert playtime into hard cash — abound in big cities. Yet we have no real data on gaming addiction in these places. No authoritative reports, no government-funded studies. The medical community, however, is beginning to take notice of this malady that is so typical of the modern age.
Dr. Samir Parikh, director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, spelt out some of the harmful effects of excessive gaming for us. “Too much strain on the mind and on the body damages and disturbs the body clock, and it also affects the eating habits of an individual,” he said. “Not getting enough sleep is also a primary reason for the downfall of one’s health in such cases. And some of the manifest effects of gaming addiction are restlessness, anxiety and insomnia.”
This “downfall” can of course be easily avoided. But it’s still a good idea to think of this disorder in preventative terms. “As we all know, prevention is better than cure. So one should always take proper diet, ample sleep and should include physical activities in daily routine,” Dr. Parikh said.
The demographics worst affected by this condition is naturally the youth. 21-year-old Vansh Tripathi is not yet an out-and-out addict himself. But he can still sense the way videogames sometimes insidiously eat into his daily schedule. “Games can sometimes have a parasitical relation with their users,” he told Guardian 20. “They feed on us. And my habit to play videogames has certainly affected my studies. Sometimes I wish could devote more time to other constructive activities rather than just on games. And when you do get addicted to a certain game, you fail to understand how badly it can affect your mind and your personality.”
A few years ago, a study conducted at the Iowa State University found “nearly one in 10 youth gamers” in the United States “to be pathological players according to standards established for pathological gambling”. Similar concerns have been raised in other parts of the world that are big on gaming, like Japan.
He said that playing games gives him an “adrenaline rush”, injecting a zing to the humdrum of day-to-day existence. The account present here, and the vocabulary used, is similar to what other hardcore gamers – addicts or not – would offer you. Rachit Kashyap, a Delhi University student, is another gaming enthusiast, who often finds it impossible to lay his hands off his gaming console. We caught up Rachit at a popular gaming parlour in Gurgaon, called Smaaash, where on an average day you’ll find dozens of enthusiasts hooked to hi-tech gaming equipment. “This is one place where I can stay all day, even without food,” he said. “Most of my time is devoted to online games. Be it arcade games, simulation games or interactive games. Their intensity and the hyper-real graphics make these games even more fun. These games sometimes seem to me more relaxing, and even more real, than reality itself.”
Computer games getting more technologically advanced with every passing day, posing newer and more insurmountable challenges to all but the most dedicated of players. Dev Kartik Sharma, a 23-year-old engineering student in Noida, has among the most committed games you’d come across. So much so that he is now trying to make his living by participating in online gaming tournaments. He believes that while gaming addiction remains a serious enough health concern, it shouldn’t overshadow the enhancing role that videogames play in most people’s lives. “People get addicted to videogames unwittingly, I think, by overdoing it. But we must remember that games are a great help to most people, who derive great intellectual strength from the games they play. Also, I don’t think games are a distraction in any way. They don’t distract you from your studies. They are crucial to enhance your motor skills, to generate new ideas, and acquire new skills. Skills that you won’t necessarily get from books,” he said.
“I have been part of the world of gaming for the last 13 years now, and I am not an addict in any sense. Most people I come across are tech addicts, and not gaming addicts. You can’t get addicted to videgames that easily. I have had my phase of uncontrolled gaming, but I did manage to get back on track before it was too late. And I admit that doing that was a little hard.”
Prateek Jaweri, who owns a gaming parlour in Delhi’s Chanakya Puri, also has strong views on the subject. “I have been part of the world of gaming for the last 13 years now, and I am not an addict in any sense. Most people I come across are tech addicts, and not gaming addicts. You can’t get addicted to videgames that easily. I have had my phase of uncontrolled gaming, but I did manage to get back on track before it was too late. And I admit that doing that was a little hard. So any sort of addiction is a problem. The same goes for gaming. But in the end, it comes down to the users, and how they prioritise their choices, and to what extent they follow healthy gaming practices.”
A similar view was echoed by the Delhi-based game developer Imran Khan Kaki, who is the studio head at Griptonite Games India. He draws a line between being obsessed with a game and getting addicted to it. “It’s very important for gamers to have a balanced gaming routine,” he said. “Being obsessed by a game is very normal. Like there was a game launched in the United States, called Flappy Bird, where failing a stage would make you more and more obsessed with trying to finish the game. So many people were hooked to that game. But addiction is different. And I believe that the first thing gamers should be addicted to is setting their priorities right.”
Vishwas Rao, another longtime gamer, said : “Gaming has always been linked with health concerns. But calling those who go crazy for videogames “addicts” is not right. One should understand that. Also, gamers should let games define the way they live. Remember that at the end of the day, it’s just a game.” So, in a sense, each one of us, in today’s tech-obsessed world, is an addict on some level. We’re addicted to our cellphones and iPads and TVs and Kindles. So why single out gaming enthusiasts in this way, and why tarnish them by calling them addicts? At the same time, it’s no good wishing this problem away, by closing our eyes to it and pretending it doesn’t exist.
Health effects of gaming addiction
- Aggressive behavior
- Concern and anxiety
- Physical and psychological and strain
- Heart disorders
- Social isolation
- Retardation in social skills
- Wrist pain
- Neck pain
- Elbow pain
- Hand-arm vibration syndrome
- Repetitive strain injuries
- Peripheral neuropathy
Prevention tips for parents
- Carefully monitor and ration the amount of time a child is spending playing computer games
- Remember to set limits and deadlines, and ensure that your child sticks to them
- Provide alternative leisure activities to kids
- Encourage them to go outdoors
- Have them help you with house chores
- Organise activities with other kids
- Control and limit daily internet use