Gaming addiction: the current state of play

The UK is the largest videogame market in Europe – nine out of ten people aged between 3 and 17 play videogames in some form or another. But could gaming have a negative impact on our health? Do young people nowadays game too much? The FYI team, our award-winning partner weekly news show from Sky Kids, found out in a special FYI Investigates which you and your kids could watch here.

We’re a nation of big gamers. From simple apps on our phones to the hottest new console releases, it’s a popular way for children to unwind after school and at weekends. Daniel Wood, from UK Interactive Entertainment, says: “There are 40 million gamers in the UK at the moment. It’s a way people hang out with friends, and gaming creates jobs up and down the country. It’s a success story in the UK that we should be really proud of.” Some of us spend a lot of time playing, but what’s the big deal about that? Is it a problem?

The good side of gaming

Gaming isn’t just about having fun; it can help you develop some useful skills, too. Andy Robertson, an expert from the Family Gaming Database, told FYI: “Often, parents don’t understand what’s happening when you’re gaming – you’re working as a team, you’re communicating.” Children at an esports youth club in Streatham, London, told FYI that gaming allows them to express themselves and to build new friendships. They also said it helps them to train their focus, reflexes and coordination. One boy, Xavi, said: “A lot of games take years to master. Gaming is similar to learning an instrument – it takes the same amount of practice, devotion and time.” At an event called EGX London, a showcase of the latest videogames, FYI asked young gamers how long they spend playing on an average day. Their answers ranged from just one hour, to as long as ten hours on weekends! One said: “I sometimes get worried if I play too long, and it damages my eyes.”

What is gaming addiction?

There’s a darker side to gaming too much, though, and that’s gaming addiction. Addiction is when we feel such a strong urge to keep doing something that we can’t control it – even if it has negative consequences on our well-being. Game Quitters, a support group, says that there may be one million people in the UK suffering from gaming addiction. The World Health Organization now officially recognises gaming disorder as a disease that affects 8.5% of young gamers under the age of 18. It’s much more likely to affect boys than girls. How do you know when you’re addicted, though? Xavi, from the youth club, said: “I think one of the signs of someone addicted to gaming would be them not coming down to meals. You shouldn’t be ignoring your necessities [things you need to do] for gaming instead.”

Playing through the night

In 2019, the NHS set up a national centre for gaming disorders, and there’s now an overwhelming demand for its services to help beat gaming addiction. Dr Rebecca Lockwood, a psychologist, says her clinic helps over 1,000 people with gaming addiction a year. She told FYI: “People we help play for 12-20 hours a day. We’ve seen people who have stopped going to school completely – they’re playing through the night and sleeping through the day. That can be reversed, but the key is stopping it before it gets to that point.”

Why do people get addicted in the first place? Well, videogames often feature rewards and achievements, which trigger the brain to release a feel-good chemical called dopamine. So, do the game developers take some of the blame for addiction? Daniel Wood, who we heard from at the start of this blog, and who represents the industry, says: “There are tens of millions of people who play games in a fun, responsible way.”

He added: “People should be taking a regular five-minute break every hour, and we back that up with sophisticated controls on all consoles so that you can restrict the amount of time that games are played for. “We’ll always be responsible for making sure that all of our players have the information and resources to be able to play games in a fun and responsible way.” Developers, doctors and players all agree. Games are cool – but we shouldn’t let them take over our lives.

What’s it like to be addicted to gaming?

Tom Paisley is a former gaming addict from Plymouth, who would game up to 24 hours a day and even skip meals. Here, he shares his experience: “I wasn’t sleeping or eating properly and I didn’t feel good. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I lost a lot of body weight and people were making fun of me. I didn’t understand what I was going through – I was feeling anxiety, I had a low mood and I was depressed. “At school, from the age of ten, I was falling behind. I wasn’t doing my homework, and it was stressful. I couldn’t go to universities that I wanted to because my grades were poor. I was more interested in games. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed for years. “Now, I’m not playing games in a compulsive way. I’m not gaming at all, really. For now, I’m good.”

The Expert’s Top Tips

Amanda says it’s important for adults to have tech-free time, too – not just kids! She told Kami: “Mum has to put her phone in a basket, you have to put your Nintendo Switch in a basket, and we have time where we all come off tech! It does us all a world of good.” She also came up with a rewards system. Kami was given a list of tasks to do, and if he did it without complaining, he earned rewards and agreed in advance with his mum.

Kami’s tasks were no games before school, turning his console off when asked, spending more time with family, and playing outside. After committing to these tasks, Kami said “I’ve been getting out a lot more, and it’s better for me. I’ve been going out with my friends instead of staying at home and gaming. Me and my mum have been getting on better.” His mum Roxie said “I feel less stressed about the whole thing. I better understand and respect how it feels to be part of a game and a community. We’re closer because we better understand each other!”

In this week’s First News poll, we ask your kids “Would you like to see the UK restrict the time that kids are allowed to spend gaming, like China does?”. They can let us know at!

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