Can you really be addicted to video games?

Game developer says she used video games as a coping mechanism

Image of a person gaming with headset on

Photo: William Cumming The Aquinian

Shawn Goff
The Aquinian

The video game Fallout 4 was released this month and gamers everywhere could expect one thing once they got their hands on a copy: for the next few days, sitting in front of a screen was the only thing on their to-do lists. But can this behaviour actually be considered an addiction to video games?

Eileen Jones, a former Holland College student and game developer, said while she doesn’t think she has been addicted to games, she has used them in excess as a coping mechanism. Jones said she used games as an escape from depression and multiplayer games as a social outlet.

“Gaming is, and probably always will be my biggest refuge from life,” Jones said. “I think the first problem was that my dad somehow trusted me enough with a PC in my own room.”

She said early on she used Runescape to cope with her teenage years. Then, after a bad breakup discovered Skyrim. When she was younger, Jones struggled to find a balance between gaming and real life. Now that she’s an adult, she believes that there are positive benefits to escaping through the world of video games. The key is moderation.

“I don’t fake sick because I would rather be in Skyrim like I have done in the past,” Jones said. “I accept that even a much-loved hobby has its time and place. “

University of New Brunswick professor Lauren Cruikshank is an expert in digital game culture and pop culture. She said there is no substantial evidence to put video games in the same addiction category as video gambling or drugs. But ultimately it depends on how you define addiction.

“At the moment it is not an official addiction,” Cruikshank said.

Cruikshank said that the way addiction is looked at has changed. Instead of looking at things or substances as having addictive qualities, addiction is now being looked at as social, biological, and psychological behaviours and patterns.

Right now, the official handbook for mental disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, does not list video game addiction as a mental disorder. She said there is nothing wrong with games that are motivating, or encourage you to come back and play more. But she said that there is still a stigma about video games being addictive and are sometimes considered a waste of time.

“Studies have shown that people who play video games are better problem solvers,” Cruikshank said. “Spatial reasoning, if you have an object you can predict what it will look like when it’s rotated, that kind of thing is better with gamers.”

Cruikshank said some research is mixed though. While there are some social benefits of being a gamer, it can still be isolating. “There are people leaning on both sides (of the debate),” Cruikshank said.

Cruikshank also touched on games like Candy Crush, where the way the game is designed can often pressure players to spend money. She said that while she is skeptical of video game addiction, she is not skeptical of problematic video game playing.

“I think there are several ways that people can misuse their time, maybe misuse their money, spend too much time and suffer,” Cruikshank said. “But often I think it’s symptomatic of other things. If you’re stressed out and are using games to escape, then it’s not gaming that is the problem it’s the other things that are causing stress in your life.”

Josh Stanton, a gamer from the University of New Brunswick, said video games did one good thing for him: they taught him to learn drums. “I learned how to play the drums entirely from Rock Band,” said Stanton. “I kept challenging myself by playing more technically demanding songs, and having already taken an interest in playing real guitar due to Guitar Hero, I kind of decided, hey, why not give real drums a try.” Since then, Stanton has played in bands and used what he learned playing Rock Band to fuel his musical incentives.

While Stanton has taken drum lessons since, he said that Rock Band helped him learn one important skill. “Using my feet and hands simultaneously was a big one,” Stanton said.

Stanton’s story seems to confirm some of what Cruikshank said. Rock Band motivated Stanton, not only to come back and play more but to develop an entirely new skill set. When asked whether he still loves Rock Band after playing for hours on end Stanton answered, “how could I not?”

Cruikshank said video games are a medium able to teach us things that other media just aren’t able to. “Unlike film or plenty of other forms of media you’re not leaning back and absorbing, you’re leaning forward and interacting,” she said.


Can you really be addicted to video games?