It is estimated that 164 million Americans – half of our population – play video games, also known as gaming. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just teenagers who play games. According to a recent survey, only 21% of gamers were under 18 years of age. While gaming can be a fun distraction or hobby (and even becoming a competitive sport at many colleges), there are health risks associated with too much gaming. What is this damage and what can be done about it?
Is there anything good about playing?
Before going into the disadvantages of gambling, it is only worth mentioning the advantages. As well as being entertaining and a fun pastime, games provide a way for people to interact with one another – a virtual community – while they work together to complete common tasks. Our society is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness, and gaming can be a means of connecting with others, including otherwise hard-to-connect people in your life, such as children, grandchildren, or (I’ve seen this help a lot ) with autistic children who may have problems with traditional communication methods.
There has been mixed research suggesting that games have some cognitive benefits, such as better control of one’s attention and improved spatial thinking, although it is not entirely clear how far these benefits extend into the real world outside of the video game sphere. Finally, video games have medical uses, like training people with degenerative diseases to improve their balance, helping teenagers with ADHD improve their thinking skills, or training surgeons how to perform technically complicated surgeries.
Repetitive stress injuries or overuse injuries are injuries caused by activities that use muscles and tendons repeatedly until pain and inflammation occur. If these injuries are allowed to progress, numbness, weakness and permanent injury can result. Overuse injuries to hands and arms are common among gamers.
A common example is carpal tunnel syndrome, which many players develop. Carpal tunnel syndrome, which is common in office workers, involves inflammation of a nerve in the wrist that causes pain and numbness.
“Gamer’s thumb” formerly known as the “PlayStation thumb” (or “Nintendoenditis” or “Nintendonitis” when Nintendo was popular) occurs when the tendons that move the thumb become inflamed. The medical term for this is de Quervain’s tenosynovitis and can lead to swelling and restricted mobility. Players are also at risk of trigger finger or stenosing tenosynovitis if a finger becomes stuck in the bent position due to chronic inflammation. Players can also develop tennis elbow, a painful inflammation of the area where the tendon attaches to the bone on the outside of the elbow.
Gambling has also been linked to obesity in teenagers, and plausibly this would also be shown in adults if studied. This is due to the obvious phenomenon that a teenager who sits in front of a screen for hours every day doesn’t get a lot of exercise. It is also believed that obesity is due to increased food intake while playing video games. According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition“A single video game session in healthy adolescent males is associated with increased food intake regardless of appetite sensations.” The mechanisms proposed are either that the signals indicating satiety (fullness) are compromised or that the mental stress associated with video games activates the reward centers, resulting in increased food intake.
Vision problems are a common complaint among gamers. The most common vision problem is eye strain, which can lead to headaches and difficulty concentrating. Games have been reported to cause seizures which result in warnings on the packaging.
Gambling has also been linked to mental health problems. It is still an open question whether video game addiction or internet gaming disorder (IGD) is a unique syndrome. According to the American Psychological Association, IGD meets at least five of the following nine criteria over a 12-month period:
- Game activity
- Loss of interest in other activities
- Use downplay
- Loss of relationship, educational or career opportunities
- Gaming to escape or relieve anxiety, guilt, or other negative mood states
- Failure in control
- keep playing despite psychosocial problems.
According to a study from the American Journal of Psychiatrybetween 0.3% and 1.0% of Americans may have an internet gaming disorder. Addressing this issue is in progress because the incident was not fully understood or agreed. However, it can include public health approaches such as education and harm reduction, stricter labeling on packaging, and cognitive behavioral therapy. There are even self-help groups such as Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous who use the possibilities of group support – also helpful in treating other addictions – for the area of gambling addiction.
Gambling has also been linked to sleep deprivation, insomnia and circadian rhythm disturbances, depression, aggression, and anxiety, although more study is needed to determine the validity and strength of these connections. There were also concerns that exposure to the extreme violence commonly found in video games can desensitize adolescents and young adults to such violence, cause emotional problems, and even lead to young people committing acts of violence.
Play in moderation
As with many other activities that have potential advantages and disadvantages, moderation is key. Most of the harm caused by gaming can be improved, if not avoided entirely, by limiting the number of hours in front of the screen and engaging in healthy activities such as sports or socializing in the real world instead of the virtual world.
Education is an essential key to injury prevention. Players must be trained in how to protect their thumbs, wrists and elbows, waist, emotional state, sleep and eyes. Simple training on pausing, stretching, eating healthy snacks, and resting and freezing your thumb, wrist, or elbow when it hurts can treat injuries early before they become significant. For the eyes, players can try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, try to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
In short, video games can be fun and a social activity, though integrated into a healthy lifestyle that includes lots of sleep, exercise and good nutrition instead of letting game become your life.