Louise and Stephen are often overwhelmed by their 16 year-old son Alex.
Alex and his compulsive need to play Counter-Strike first-person shooters late at night has been a source of pain for the entire family. Alex was recently diagnosed with autism.
Since early this year, he is a patient in the NHS’s clinic to treat addiction to videogames.
The only UK treatment center of this type is the National Centre for Gaming Disorders.
Although his parents recommended him to the clinic, he still hasn’t been interested in the treatment. Louise thinks that even though the treatment is not working for her son it is providing an unexpected benefit to the rest of their family. She says, “It’s most beneficial for us to speak with other parents whose kids have the same gaming requirements.” The support group meets on Zoom once per fortnight.
Stephen, her husband adds that “More important than any other thing, I think it is to realize you are not the only one.” You are not the only one going through this. There are many people in the United States and around the globe who are experiencing the exact same thing.
It’s difficult for us both as couples and as families to interact outside of the home. He’s upstairs, shouting, cursing, and gaming for most of the visitors. Since sleeping is a major issue for us, we have resorted to sharing our rooms. He’ll need to be surrounded by a fan to drown him out.”
BBC News gained access to the clinic almost two years after it opened.
Most patients are teenagers. Their fervor to play can lead to violence and arguments with parents. Many of those treated in the clinic threatened suicide if they were denied access to computers or games consoles. They are almost exclusively restricted from social interaction to gaming or online activities.
Gaming Disorder, a controversial condition that is defined by the World Health Organization as having three features:
- Gaming can be difficult to control
- Prioritizing gaming over all other interests
- Escalation of Gaming, despite the negative consequences
Along with some psychologists, the industry and games industry also question the proof used to identify the disorder. Help with problem gaming was not available in the UK until very recently.
This clinic, which is based in West London, belongs to the National Centre for Behavioural Addictions. Although it is well-established in the treatment of gambling problems, Dr Rebecca Lockwood (clinical psychologist) says that gaming is still a relatively new field for them.
Gaming disorder is a very rare condition. “The symptoms can be very severe and this has been surprising to us,” she said.
Many people have difficulty managing their emotions. These people can experience low mood, anger and anxiety. These people may also have sleep problems. Because people play online at night, they can also experience sleeplessness.
Becky Harris works as the clinic’s family therapist and manager. They have treated over 300 patients, with 200 referrals in the future. While 89% are males, the centre treats a remarkable range of ages.
“We start treatment at 13. “We start treatment at 13. People are referred up to 60 years of age.
This is the UK’s only NHS clinic that treats this condition. Patients are scattered across England and Wales, so they often receive treatment via video chat. Dr Lockwood believes video therapy can have some benefits. “It allows us to interact with people who may be reluctant to visit the clinic because their motivation to be engaged and treated can be very low.”
Millions of people enjoy video games as a common pastime. It is a great way to make friends and have fun. What happens when too many hours of gaming can lead to problematic behavior?
Is it just a hobby?
Ofcom evidence suggests that 62% played video during the pandemic. A recent Oxford University study concluded that video gaming is good for your health. The institute’s director for research Prof Andrew Przybylski believes that games are not the issue.
As far as I know, there is no scientifically substantiated evidence to suggest that games cause psychological harm. You can engage in a variety of behaviors or activities that are excessive, such as exercising or eating. These have stronger evidence.
When you work with someone suffering from mental illness, gaming can be a major part of the client’s life, perspective, and experience. It is my belief that it’s best to view games as an interest, rather than as a hobby. This will allow the therapist to be more effective in engaging clients.
Becky Harris from the National Centre for Gaming Disorders is quick to clarify that they are not against video gaming. She says, “We accept that for some people, gaming is really a positive thing in our lives.” This is only the small minority of people with severe problems. It can seriously affect their lives, ability to communicate, and ability to function.
Mike was a former patient at the clinic. He realized that his addiction to video gaming began in his 20s. His World of Warcraft playing time was up to 14 hours per day. This negatively affected his relationships with his family and also interfered with him studying. A therapy program of eight weeks was completed by him, which provided him with a fresh perspective and reorientation on his lives.
“I have stopped playing videogames as often. My relationship has improved with my wife. The relationship between my parents and me has improved. While I made progress towards resolving all my problems, the last push I received that was crucial for me to get back on track helped me stay there.
Mike doesn’t think he has stopped gaming completely. However, he said that they play less of a role in his daily life now. “I do it with moderation.
Stories like Mike give Stephen and Louise the hope that their son can overcome his problems.
Louise said: “I am optimistic because I’m following a lot people on Facebook who look very similar to our son but are now adults. These people are very insightful, so I’m a follower. It also helps me believe he’ll find his way.”
The names of current and former patients were changed.
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