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Christian Counseling - Time Magazine Brief on Mental Health and Video Games

Time (January 31, 2011, p.17) printed a brief article on "How Video Games May Contribute to Mental Illness." The study included 3034 young students in Singapore (up to middle school age) in which Douglas Gentile, a researcher at Iowa State University, participated. He concluded that addicted gamers were more likely over two years to become depressed, anxious and develop social phobias. The researchers classified 9-10% of the participants as "addicted" or "pathological" (though I wonder if the classification should have been excessive playing rather than addiction - confusing). (Some of the study's details were obtained from sources other than Time.)

 Gentile also stated that those who were addicted and stopped gaming had less symptoms of depression, anxiety and social phobia. The simple conclusion made at the end of the article is that gaming causes these symptoms or disorders. But causation cannot be determined by correlation studies, just that there is an undetermined relationship or association. It could be these three mental health problems developed as the result of the common struggle, especially with young people, to develop self-esteem and a positive self-image, which can be challenged by quick reacting computers that can easily trash gamers' serious efforts to consistently win. The repeated defeats can easily lead young gamers to conclude they are a failure, a loser and not as smart as their peers. Over time, these negative experiences can result in feelings of depression and anxiety, especially if gamers rely on winning for self-definition, which I believe often happens.

It is highly possible that addictions or excessive gaming, or being obsessive or compulsive about anything for that matter, are a substitute for the great human need for satisfying and healthy relationships.  Substitutions are chosen, for example, when a person is not socially well-developed or when relationships have deeply and repeatedly wounded a person. It may feel far safer to relate to a game where one has more control or, at least, the illusion of it.

Parental awareness and involvement in their children's gaming habits is a part of good and necessary parenting. There are times they should step in and set boundaries around the types of games and number of hours played (19 hours of gaming a week is the average, though that doesn't mean it's good or healthy, while the study's "pathological" gamers played about 31 hours a week). If or when parents restrict their children's play they also need to redirect them to other things or relationships that help give them balance and develop other skills.

Sometimes gamers, if they cut back or stop gaming, feel restless and bored. It is important for parents to assess these feelings in their children. It may be they have reconnected to feelings they attempted to avoid by gaming, which have been long standing, apart from game playing. Depression and anxiety have many faces, two of which are restlessness and boredom.

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