An estimated 164 million Americans – half of our population – play video games, also known as games. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just teens who play games. According to a recent poll, only 21% of players were under 18. While gambling can be a distraction or a fun pastime (and is even becoming a competitive sport on many college campuses), there are health risks that come from too much gambling. What are these harms and what can be done about them?
Is there something good about the game?
Before discussing the harms of gambling, it is fair to mention the benefits. Besides being entertaining and a fun pastime, gambling can provide a way for people to interact with each other – a virtual community – as they work together to accomplish common tasks. Our society suffers from an epidemic of loneliness, and play can be a way to connect with others, including people who are otherwise difficult to connect with people in your life, such as children, grandchildren or others. (I saw this very useful) with autistic children, who may have difficulty with traditional modes of communication.
There is mixed research that there are cognitive benefits to playing, such as better control of one’s attention and improved spatial reasoning, although it’s not entirely clear how far these benefits extend outside the realm of video games in the real world. Finally, video games have medical applications, such as training people with degenerative diseases to improve their balance, helping adolescents with ADHD improve their thinking skills, or training surgeons to perform technically complex operations.
Repetitive stress injuries, or overuse injuries, are injuries that arise from activities that involve the repeated use of muscles and tendons, to the point where pain and inflammation develop. If these injuries progress, numbness and weakness may develop and permanent injury may result. Overuse injuries to the hands and arms are common among players.
A common example is carpal tunnel syndrome, which many players develop. Carpal tunnel syndrome, often seen in office workers, involves inflammation of a nerve in the wrist, which causes pain and numbness.
“The player’s thumb,” which was previously called “PlayStation thumb” (or “nintendinitis” or “nintendonitis” when Nintendo was popular), occurs when the tendons that move the thumb become inflamed. The medical term for this is Quervain’s tenosynovitis, and it can cause swelling and limited movement. Players are also at risk for triggering finger, or stenosing tenosynovitis, which occurs when a finger gets stuck in a bent position due to chronic inflammation. Players may also have a tennis elbow, a painful inflammation where the tendon inserts into the bone on the outside of the elbow.
Gambling is also associated with obesity in adolescents and, presumably, the same would be shown in adults, if studied. This is due to the obvious phenomenon that if a teenager sits in front of a screen for hours every day, they are not getting much exercise. It is also believed that obesity is due to increased food intake during video games. According to a study in the Clinical Nutrition Journal, “A single video game session in healthy adolescent males is associated with increased food intake, independent of feelings of appetite.” The proposed mechanisms are that either the signals that indicate satiety (fullness) are altered, or the mental stress involved in video games activates the reward centers, which leads to an increase in food intake.
Vision problems are common complaints from gamers. The most common vision problem is eye strain, which can lead to headaches and poor concentration. The game would have resulted in seizures, leading to warnings on the packaging.
Gambling has also been linked to psychological problems. The question of whether video game addiction, or internet gambling disorder (IGD), is a unique syndrome. According to the American Psychological Association, IGD is defined as experience of at least five of the following nine criteria over a 12-month period:
- gambling concern
- loss of interest in other activities
- minimize use
- loss of relationship, educational or professional opportunities
- playing to escape or relieve anxiety, guilt, or other negative mood states
- control failure
- continued to play despite psychosocial problems.
According to a study of American Journal of Psychiatry, between 0.3% and 1.0% of Americans may have an Internet gambling disorder. Treatments for this problem are a work in progress, as the disorder is not fully understood or accepted, but may include public health approaches such as education and risk reduction, stricter labeling on the package , as well as cognitive behavioral therapy. There are even support groups, such as Anonymous computer game addicts, which harness the power of group support – also useful in the treatment of other addictions – in the realm of gambling addiction.
Gambling has also been linked to sleep deprivation, insomnia and circadian rhythm disturbances, depression, aggression and anxiety, although more studies are needed to establish the validity and the strength of these links. There are also concerns that exposure to extreme violence commonly found in video games could desensitize adolescents and young adults to such violence, causing emotional problems and even causing young people to commit acts of violence.
Play in moderation
As with many other activities that have potential pros and cons, moderation is key. Most of the harms of gambling can be improved or even avoided by limiting the number of hours spent in front of the screen and engaging in healthy activities like exercising or socializing in the real world instead of gambling. virtual. world.
Education is an essential key to injury prevention. Players must learn to protect their thumbs, wrists and elbows, waistline, emotional state, sleep, and eyes. Simple training in taking breaks, stretching, eating healthy snacks, resting, and glazing the thumb, wrist, or elbow when it starts to hurt can treat injuries early on, before they get big. 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, playing video games can be fun and a social activity when integrated into a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of sleep, exercise, and good nutrition, rather than letting play become your life.