Gaming and Mental Health: Therapy or addiction? (Part 1)

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First of Three Parts

Video gaming is an apparent two-edged sword: It could be therapeutic, or addicting. | Photo by Florian Olivo for Unsplash
Video gaming is an apparent two-edged sword: It could be therapeutic, or addicting. | Photo by Florian Olivo for Unsplash

Introduction: The author plays Skyrim

It was early 2017, the author is almost finished with his second year in medical school when he received two life-changing news.

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One, is that he failed a subject, the other, Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, his favorite band, died of an apparent suicide.

This meant that he had to repeat his second year in medical school; consequently, he would not be in the same class as his partner anymore. And Linkin Park, nay, the entire music industry, just lost one of its brilliant artists and nothing will be the same for him and the rest of the fans .

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To ease his melancholy, he tried the usual stuff, engaging in art, watching films but to no avail, he still felt very much miserable.

As he had no other avenue to vent his frustrations and emotions, he decided to download a game called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. For the uninitiated, it is an action-role playing open world game that was released in 2011 and is considered by video game journalists and critics as one the greatest video games of all time, one reason perhaps is due to its vast content.

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He spent the entire summer break playing the video game, shutting off himself from the world and limiting communication to only his partner.

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He never finished the game, attributing to the game’s vastness, but he came out of that emotional slump with a renewed sense of purpose.

Some can say that the amount of time he spent playing that game in a span of a few weeks was excessive; others just about right, to another demographic, probably not even close to the usual number of hours they clock in playing video games.

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It can be said, that the game served as some sort of therapy for him at that time. On approaching the start of the new school year, he finally let the game rest, at least for now.

Death by Starcraft

Not all tales end happily, though.

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In 2005, a 28-year old industrial repairman, Seungseob Lee visited an Internet cafe in the city of Daegu, South Korea and played StarCraft almost continuously for 50 hours. He went into cardiac arrest and died at a local hospital. His friend reported: “… he was a game addict. We all knew about it. He couldn’t stop himself.” The investigators noted that about six weeks before his death, his girlfriend, also an avid gamer, broke up with him and he was also fired from his job.

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That same year 13-year-old Zhang Xiaoyi committed suicide by jumping from the top of a 24-story tower block in his home province of Tianjinc, China. This, after previously having spent two straight days playing online role-playing games in an Internet café.

It is so easy to say one is addicted to something, or to accuse someone of being addicted to something. Perhaps, more frequently seen in today’s digital age, is to consider another, or even oneself as addicted to the internet, or video games, or both.

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But the truth of the matter is actually complex.

A common trope would be, a parent realizes that his or her child’s seemingly carefree past time has transformed said child into a statue glued to their seats. The pattern is always: child starts playing a video game, child won’t stop playing video game, parents remove access to videogame, and child flies into a rage with sometimes terrifying consequences. A predictable pattern, but experts before had difficulty of naming.

Up next: The Basics of Addiction

1 COMMENT

  1. […] To put it simply, the study states that addiction at its core is a biological disease of the brain, alleviated or worsened by psychosocial factors. Although this model is currently being challenged in newer studies in the context of putting more emphasis on psychosocial factors having a core effect in the patient rather than it purely biological in order to individualize treatment but that topic is for another time. [READ: Gaming and Mental Health: Therapy or addiction? (Part 1)] […]

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