Major Grant spent hours playing the popular multiplayer online video game Overwatch. He played daily during the summer and into the semester, sometimes neglecting his homework or assignments.
“All I was doing was waking up, going to work, coming back from work, playing a bunch of Overwatch and going to sleep,” he said.
As his love for Overwatch grew and he got better at the game, he saw his grades and midterms dropping from straight A’s to B’s and C’s. After taking a four-month hiatus from playing to concentrate on his studies, Grant learned he could balance his gameplay and still manage his academics and relationships.
This month, the World Health Organization classified video game addiction as a mental health condition, with symptoms ranging from increased irritability and increased priority given to gaming.
With millions of players on popular games such as League of Legends and Counter-Strike, video game addiction is causing a debate about the severity of the issue and whether it is qualified to classify as a disorder. At UTD, students are often actively engaged in gaming, whether in the SU playing different card and video games, to concentrating on game design in their major and taking courses on gaming.
Grant, a biomedical engineering junior, would play Overwatch for hours daily, especially in the summer when he had more free time to balance work and gameplay.
“I was hooked on that game. It’s the only game I ever played for longer than 20 hours,” he said.
Grant is not alone in his past struggle with addiction to videogames. In a survey conducted by The Mercury, out of 128 respondents, 32 percent said they felt they couldn’t seem to stop playing games, and 60 percent played up to five hours on average daily.
Alanna Carrasco, a psychologist who works at the UTD Counseling Center, said she’s hesitant to quickly diagnose video game addiction because of the subjectivity of the matter. She said video game addiction may not be the primary concern, but rather underlying problems such as depression and social anxiety affecting their social life, schooling, work or other aspects of their life. Carrasco said now that the WHO has publicized this knowledge, people may turn away from the benefits video games can present, both socially and cognitively.
“I think the key benefit is that if there are people truly addicted … they can get reimbursed with their insurance, so maybe now people are going to more able to afford treatment now that there’s a diagnosis,” Carrasco said. “On the other hand, I have some concerns with the stigmatization that could come in the future … Are we going to label someone who stays in and plays video games for a while an addiction?”
Grant said there were times where he would deliberately stay away from his apartment during the day because he knew he would play games if he went. He said this was a way for him to concentrate on his homework and get things done, which he’s seen granwith his improving grades and performance.
“It took me a long time to kind of break out of that ‘Overwatch is great’ to ‘Overwatch is a great way for me to relieve stress’ and to start putting my relationship and my life first,” he said.
Senior arts and technology student Grant Branam played video games all throughout his life. In middle school, he would play video games for 12 hours a day. He mostly played role-playing games such as World of Warcraft and Runescape to online team games such as League of Legends. He said classifying gaming as an addiction can be helpful now to those who are suffering from gaming taking control in their life, but it’s still difficult to label it as an addiction, and there should be a discussion between game developers and the medical community on the power of video games on behavior.
“Going through this discovery of depression in my life I learned that (depression) got in the way of my goals,” Branam said. “So if people have these things they want to accomplish and video games are the only things standing in their way, then think about why. Is it because games are more satisfying than those goals? Maybe those goals aren’t what you want to do? Maybe games are what people want to do?”
Carrasco said one of the first ways to prevent becoming addicted to gaming is being aware of your usage and how much time you’re spending playing games. It’s important to be mindful and to be social with video games rather than isolative, and joining a club or connecting with people on games can help people be more accountable with their gaming.
“It may be frustrating, but it could be a way to self-reflect on ‘How does gaming look in my life and what impact do I want it to have in my life?’” Carrasco said.
Grant continues to play Overwatch in his free time while balancing other aspects of his life and maintaining his grades. He said he wasn’t alone in his struggle to finding this balance, as he’d seen people failing classes, dropping out of school or facing expulsions. He said looking for other hobbies or other games that don’t take up as much time or resources is beneficial to helping find that balance in the end.
“If you find you’re addicted to something very toxic that costs a lot, or takes a lot of time from you, and you have other commitments, you should try looking into something else,” Grant said. “If you know you’re addicted to games and you can’t go cold turkey, just look for something that fits that style more, where you don’t have to pay to play or it’s short. Like play something that is similar but not pay to win.”