Video game addiction and Covid-19: what interaction?

The video game addiction has been included in the latest version of the DSM-5 in “Section 3″, dedicated to the conditions that need further studies and insights.

Specifically, we find it under the label ” Internet Gaming Disorder ” which includes addiction to video games both online and offline.

L ‘ excessive use of video games is a very common phenomenon, especially in adolescents. A portion of the excessive gamblers also show symptoms that open up the possibility of diagnosing an addiction.

But what impact could social isolation and the stress produced by the Covid-19 pandemic have had on this form of behavior?

Impact of the pandemic on video game addiction: some numbers

The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has totally disrupted our habits and ways of life. The obligation to stay at home, the suspension of work and the removal from family and friends have resulted in an increase in entertainment, communication and work in digital format.

Among these forms, in particular, online gaming also recorded a significant increase (Javed, 2020; Perez, 2020). A study conducted by Pantling (2020) records a 75% increase in online gaming that emerged in conjunction with the first quarantine directives.

In Italy, Lepido and Rolander (2020) described a 70% increase in Internet traffic attributable to the game “Fortnite”. Similar considerations derive from the analysis of new subscribers of the various existing platforms dedicated to the “video game” theme.

How dangerous can the increase in gaming become in isolation?

Online gaming should not be demonized, initiatives such as #PlayApartTogether (which promote gaming for socialization and stress reduction ) have seen positive results.

Several researches have shown that online gaming is not necessarily problematic (Kiraly, Toth, Urban, Demetrovics & Maraz, 2017) and that it can play an important role in producing adaptation and reducing the sense of loneliness (Billieux, Flayelle, Rumpf & Stein, 2019; Carras et al., 2017).

Finally, it should also be said that, as some researchers testify, online gambling is less dangerous than other types of behavior (such as substance use or binge eating ) to manage negative emotions and stress (Corbin, Farmer & Nolen-Hoekesma, 2013; Razzoli, Pearson, Crow & Bartolomucci, 2017).

In any case it is also important to reflect on the fact that an increase in involvement in online / offline gaming can also have non-beneficial implications and put someone at risk of developing problematic gaming behavior or a real behavioral addiction (King, Koster and Billieux , 2019).

When it can lead to video game addiction

The protracted period of isolation to which we have all been subjected, the transformation of a considerable range of activities into the “online” mode, the lack of “live” social contacts, the fear / anxiety or uncertainty related to the future and social repercussions and economic factors of the pandemic, etc …, can compromise or solidify unhealthy or maladaptive lifestyles, give rise to pathological addictions to technology or forms of difficulty in readjustment when the COVID-19 crisis is mitigated / averted.

What to do?

  • We can think of “detoxifying” by starting to distance ourselves / disconnect from the various devices and consoles. It is recommended to start with short moments to slowly increase the time interval. The use of technological devices can be replaced by alternative activities such as reading, board games, searching for new hobbies, but also by moments of healthy “emptiness”!
  • Evaluating the possible presence of the diagnostic criteria of video game addictionmay not be easy in the general context of the lifestyle habits imposed on us by the pandemic (effect on sleep, use of games to regulate mood, impaired work or social functioning …). If in doubt, refer to an addiction clinician.
  • Pay particular attention to the fact that the protracted isolation, the digital transformation of most activities and the reduction of the various forms of socialization could have the effect of “triggering” factors on frameworks that, before the pandemic, could be considered problematic but non-pathological, giving rise to forms of true addiction.
  • A further consideration to make is that, if any individual develops, increases or relapses into “sick” forms of play (to manage isolation stress, for example), a further problem would be posed by the possibility of psychological management. The protracted isolation could make the process of asking for help more difficult. In these cases, consider the possibility of receiving psychological support “online”, also as a form of “access” to the helping relationship to be transformed into a “face to face” contact at a later time.
  • Expand the range of game choices, perhaps by opting for games that encourage physical activity and social interaction in terms of collaboration.


by Abdullah Sam
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