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How much is too much gaming?

Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii, Xbox and not to mention the myriad of cell phone and Facebook games available. Gaming has taken the world by storm and many parents reminisce of a time when they played outside and rode their bicycles as compared to the current generation of children who have access to hundreds of TV channels and a smorgasbord of games to while away the hours.

There is a continuing debate over whether gaming is healthy for a child’s development. Or whether it is healthy for an adult’s mental state, for that matter? Many games have been created with the view to improving hand-eye coordination, spelling, mathematical ability and more. The Nintendo Wii attempts to include more physical activity while gaming and even created the Wii Fit in such an attempt. But there are still hundreds of games including violent games, role playing games and more that cannot be beneficial in any way other than to act as an escape from real life. Many children are sitting for hours in their spare time and late at night engaged in online role playing games. Surely this is akin to some sort of addiction? Many researchers have agreed that a certain amount of gaming quickly heads over into the “addiction” or “compulsive gaming” category and requires treatment and rehabilitation. So just when is it considered ‘too much’?

As with any mental health problem, a situation or condition is only considered problematic and disordered if it negatively impacts on one’s health and significantly impairs social, occupational and personal functioning. Using this criteria one can quickly see how much is too much gaming.

Many children and adults will sit for hours straight playing online games to the detriment of their health. In this case, some will forfeit meals, forget to drink liquids and get very little to no exercise – a negative impact on physical health. Moreover, games are often played late into the night which affect sleep patterns and, in turn affect ability to concentrate. Impaired concentration, poor sleep, and poor physical health and you have a recipe for poor school or work performance. Not to mention the social isolation and withdrawal that occurs with excessive game time. When people prefer to spend their free time in front of a television or PC instead of socialising with others you can be sure that their ability to function effectively in social environments will be impaired.

So how much is too much gaming? Anything that begins to impact on physical, social and occupational functioning is too much. When there is an urge or drive to play rather than engage with the world around them, it is considered compulsive and can be dangerous. Essentially, gaming should be a fun activity that does not occur to the exclusion of all else and the detriment of the person’s functioning.

Lisa Kunde | CFHP
Lisa Kunde

Lisa Kunde has ten years experience working as a psychologist with adults in both private and public hospital settings (oncology, palliative care, chronic pain, cardio-pulmonary, psychiatric and alcohol and other drugs units).

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