10 Dangers of Video Gaming Addiction to Look Out For
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Samantha Miller, MBChB
10 Dangers of Video Gaming Addiction to Look Out For
For many years, parents have wondered about the negative effects of video games on their children's health — and even into adulthood, partners might see the harmful ways video games can impact their significant others’ health. Excessive video gaming, particularly in children, has been linked to sleep problems, slowed development of social skills, mood changes, depression, eye conditions, reduced academic performance and even aggression. If you’re concerned about a loved one’s — or your own — gaming habits, review the most commonly cited adverse effects of excessive gaming and explore ways to mitigate these consequences.
What Is Video Gaming Addiction?
“Video gaming disorder” was defined as an “addictive behavior” by the World Health Organization in 2018. This disorder is characterized by a lack of control over gaming, with increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over normal daily activities.
People with gaming disorder continue their gaming despite the negative consequences or harm it causes them. There’s no specific hourly usage that qualifies as “addiction,” however; it’s more to do with how the addiction affects other parts of the person’s life.
1. Sleep Deprivation
Studies have shown that playing video games, particularly late at night, can disturb sleep, leading to a reduced total sleep time and an increased sleep latency (the length of time it takes to fall asleep). This is linked to the fact that, following a gaming session, a person’s body’s overall arousal is increased. This can show up as increased heart rate, higher blood pressure levels and an elevated respiratory rate.
People who play video games late at night also have a higher chance of waking up once they do fall asleep, and they report higher rates of daytime sleepiness. When gaming becomes a compulsion, people — especially children — often lose track of time, playing games late into the night, which results in an overall reduction in sleep time. Prolonged periods of sleep deprivation can take a major toll on a person's health.
2. Reduced Academic Performance
Several large studies of school-age children and adolescents have also shown that the duration of video gaming has an inverse relationship with academic performance. This means that, the more gaming a young person does, the lower their scores drop in academic indicators. However, depending on their content, video games may actually have a positive impact on children’s development of language and comprehension, particularly when it comes to younger kids playing educational games.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes that some educational games can improve cognitive, literacy and social outcomes for children ages 3 to 5 years. However, many of these apps have no proven efficacy and are not written by educational specialists. Parents are encouraged to engage in interactive learning and unstructured play to aid in their kids’ development of essential skills.
3. Inactive Lifestyle
Video game addicts who devote many of their waking hours to gaming are more likely to live inactive lifestyles. Sitting or lying down all day playing video games, combined with sleep deprivation and poor eating habits, is a dangerous combination that can lead to high blood pressure and even to stroke or heart disease. Some games do encourage physical activity, and there’s a growing choice of fitness games that actually promote movement. However, these types of games don’t appear to be as addictive as others.
4. Unhealthy Eating Habits
People who game excessively can become engrossed in their activity and become less concerned about healthy eating habits. For many video gamers, fast food and easy-to-prepare meals like frozen dinners become their fuel of choice. Sugary sodas and energy drinks are also popular for helping gamers keep up with hours of late night gaming and combat sleep deprivation. When someone becomes engrossed in video games, they’re more likely to reach for easy-to-eat foods, which are often sugar-filled snacks. Gamers may even skip proper meals in favor of snacks if they’re invested in a video game, which may lead to anorexia and malnutrition.
Studies have shown there’s a small but significant increase in body mass index (BMI) with heavy use of media, including video games. There are likely several reasons this happens. People may choose to play video games instead of engaging in physical exercise. They may also be exposed to more food-related advertising during gaming, which can subconsciously influence their choices. If they’re eating while distracted by games, they may be eating more, or focusing on a game may make them unaware of their satiety. Childhood obesity often leads to adult obesity and puts people at higher risk of developing certain health conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and some types of cancer.
6. Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Playing video games excessively can lead to physical impairments like arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Studies have suggested that years of video gaming can lead to issues in a person's thumbs later in life, especially because this area of the body is prone to osteoarthritis.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is pressure on the nerve in your wrist that allows feeling and movement in certain parts of your hand. This condition is likely to develop in people who perform repetitive motions in their hands and wrists, making video game addicts highly susceptible to carpal tunnel syndrome.
People with a video game addiction may continue to play despite physical discomfort. It’s also common for them to develop a pattern of not taking any breaks or performing any sort of stretches to relieve tired muscles while they’re gaming.
Though many video game addicts might not realize it at first, depression can slowly seep in as they find themselves becoming more wrapped up in gaming. And sometimes, their only means of finding comfort while depressed is through the very thing causing their depression. This can create a cycle that they can often end by taking back control of their lives. Depression can lead to a worsening of other negative effects, such as poor diet, reduced physical activity and disregard for personal hygiene.
8. Isolation and Seclusion
Excessive video gaming can lead people to isolate or seclude themselves from friends and family. Interaction within the video game may take precedence over in-person interaction with other people. A gamer with an addiction may neglect work, school, friends and family. The addiction to video games may intensify as people refuse to spend their waking hours doing anything but playing video games. Multiplayer games do provide some kind of interaction, but it’s not a substitute for seeing friends and family face to face. Being isolated like this also reduces social skills, and physically socializing can lead to social phobias and anxiety.
Stress from video gaming addiction is multifactorial. Video games themselves may be stressful, particularly if fighting, disasters or dangerous scenarios are played out in the games. This leads to chronic release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
Stress may also manifest as a gamer withdrawing from the rest of the world and neglecting work, social or school commitments. In adults, this may lead to financial stresses if their employment and income are affected. Unfortunately, video gaming provides an “escape” from these real life stresses — leading addicts to continue to game.
10. Aggressive Behavior
While some people argue that video games offer an acceptable outlet to release feelings of aggression, games have also been shown to do the exact opposite, especially among people who have become addicted. The frustration and stress stemming from the addiction is compounded by depression and may cause an individual to display unusual patterns of aggressive behavior towards anyone who disrupts their video game play. Children who play lots of video games have been shown to have a higher incidence of behavioral problems, including aggression, so it’s particularly important to limit children’s time spent gaming.
Video gaming, particularly gaming addiction, may be harmful to a person's health and wellbeing, particularly in younger developmental years. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under the age of 18 months avoid screen-based games altogether. For children aged 18–24 months, parents should focus on the use of high-quality educational games and play them together with their children instead of letting kids use them alone. For children over the age of 2, the Academy recommends limiting screen-time to no more than one hour per day. People should avoid gaming during mealtimes and for at least one hour prior to bedtime.
It’s important to remember that playing video games can be a healthy hobby for anyone — just as long as they play in moderation. Some video games that promote education, cognitive abilities or physical exercise can be beneficial. Be sure to look for any of the signs mentioned above to determine if someone close to you is becoming addicted to video games.