MEDICINE HAT, AB – For years, video games were a staple inside the Metz household for Mandy and her 14-year-old son Kane.
But one day about a year and a half ago, Mandy noticed a change in her son’s behaviour while watching him play.
“I think it was about supper time that I realized that he hadn't stopped to eat, I don't think he really stopped to go to the bathroom,” said Metz. “And, I realized in that moment that this was a really big problem for him.”
Soon after, Metz got rid of all her consoles and now lives in a video game-free home.
After some initial push back from her son, she said they both are closer after the decision to eliminate their gaming.
“We watch movies, we discuss life themes, philosophy is really huge in our house,” she said. “So, having the opportunity to do that really seems to offset and help build his self-esteem.”
After years of debate, the World Health Organization is now listing compulsive video game addiction as a mental health issue.
Child psychologist Greg Godard said that classification is for those who are completely obsessed with gaming to a dangerous degree.
“Addiction is something that is a more intense problem,” said Godard. “It's where you have a person's ability to have control over their behaviour is removed. They sort of lose the joy, it becomes something they're doing compulsively.”
According to the WHO, a gaming disorder is defined as ‘A pattern of gaming behaviour (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.’
It’s estimated between one and three percent of people between the ages of 12 to 20 fit the criteria of having a video game addiction.
Godard added parents shouldn’t panic to diagnose their kids if they simply love gaming.
“I agree we have to be very cautious not to quickly say, ‘My kid is gaming too much, it must be an addiction, it must be a disorder,’” he said. “And yet, I've certainly have seen kids who have addictions.”
Virtual reality gaming has taken a big step forward in recent years, even in Medicine Hat with a few new local businesses.
Ken Forbes, owner of SixOneSix Entertainment and VR Junkies, said there’s still a misconception surrounding video games and its benefits.
“I've seen it help a lot of people in my store,” said Forbes. “We've seen people with autism come in and put on the headset, and they just get lost in a different world.”
Godard said like anything else in life, video games should be enjoyed in moderation.
“I don't think it should breed paranoia or fear,” he said. “But, I think it's important that we're aware that this kind of behaviour, in the same way that alcohol or drugs can be addictive and can cause great problems in a kid's life, so can video games.”
Metz said she’s not convinced there’s a direct link between video game addiction and someone’s mental health, but added it’s sparking a needed conversation for people of all ages.
“I think we also have to take a step back and look at how much time we're spending in front of a screen too, how do we deal with stress?” she said.
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