Gaming too much? 3 questions to help evaluate your video gaming
After several lockdowns following the COVID-19 pandemic, many have turned to video gaming as an enjoyable and social distancing-compliant activity. They are in good company, as survey data suggests there are 2.68 billion gamers worldwide. Video gaming is generally considered a safe, popular, and enjoyable hobby. However, as with many enjoyable activities we picked up or escalated during lockdown, it might be worth a second look as life is slowly returning to normal. But how do you know if your gaming has started to become problematic?
In this article, I will provide you with three useful questions to ask yourself when thinking about your gaming. These will help you evaluate whether your hobby is enriching your life or might be heading in a negative direction.
1. What are you bringing with you into your gaming?
When gaming is a regular part of your life, it’s easy to start up a good game without giving much thought to what you bring with you into the gaming session. What you might not be considering is how much you take with you and how this can influence how you engage with the game and what you end up taking away from the experience.
This is not just about your mood, but everything else you take with you into your gaming session without thinking about it. What’s going on in your life, right now? How is your health, your living conditions, and your relationships? Is everything alright at home? What about at work? Are you happy with your life at the moment?
If you enter your game feeling calm and at peace with both your internal and external world, you are more likely to have a good experience where you take something positive away from your gaming. However, if you regularly enter your game feeling anxious, angry, sad, or hopeless, you might find yourself having a less enjoyable experience, but also be less likely to take away the positive effects of gaming when your session ends.
Some examples of these positive effects could be feeling like part of a team, feeling challenged, feeling excited or relaxed. Not taking these positive effects away with you might lead to chasing them in the digital world, resulting in playing more than you intended or allowing your gaming to negatively impact on the rest of your life.
Should video games provide the function of escaping something else going on in your life, this might be worth a closer look.
2. What is the video game doing for you?
With such a vast variety of video games and game genres to choose from, gaming can provide very different things to different people at different times. You might seek out gaming to compete with other players, improve your tactical skills or even experience different roles to take on within a team of friends or strangers. Perhaps you want a solo experience, roleplaying as the protagonist - or antagonist - of an engaging story that progresses with the decisions you make. Or maybe you just want to visit an immersive and exciting world to roam around and explore, or to enjoy some quiet puzzles in an aesthetically pleasing environment.
When thinking about your gaming, it can be very helpful to consider what your video game is doing for you. Does it provide a social arena, a place to connect with new people or perhaps strengthen ongoing relationships? A place to be competitive? Perhaps it provides a way to experiment with different roles and creative expressions, a fun way to test your skills or reminisce about childhood nostalgia? The game might provide a way to immerse yourself in a different world that provides some entertainment, or even just a calm and grounding immersive environment. These functions of gaming can all be signs of a healthy hobby that brings positive experiences into your life.
However, should video games provide the function of escaping something else going on in your life, this might be worth a closer look. If diving into gaming has become a way of avoiding your problems rather than dealing with them, this coping strategy might do more harm than good in the long run. One way of exploring this could be to ask yourself: when thinking about gaming, do I feel the urge to escape my life rather than to enrich it?
3. What are you taking away from your gaming?
When a healthy gaming session is over, you always take something away from it. Sometimes you wouldn’t even notice or think about it, as it happens automatically. Some of the things you might take away are new or improved skills and relationships, a relaxed state of mind, creative input, or new ideas and perspectives to reflect on.
However, sometimes it’s not possible to take anything positive away from the gaming experience. The reason why will vary between people but might be related to underlying issues, such as anxiety, depression, or relationship difficulties. When you are not able to take anything positive away from the experience, the desirable effects of gaming will stay in the digital world rather than coming back with you. As a result, you might find yourself chasing the experience of being in-game and end up playing more than you intended, finding it difficult to stop.
When thinking about whether you are taking something positive away from your gaming, consider your mindset when calling it quits for today. Do you feel at ease, happy to take away the new experiences you encountered in the game? Or do you find yourself upset to end your gaming session, because gaming is where you can find a sense of relief, self-confidence, excitement, or appreciation from others?
If you find that you are not taking anything positive away from your gaming, but rather leaving the positives behind in the digital world, it might be time to take a step back and think about what function gaming has for you. Is it enriching your life, or is it becoming your lifeline?
Video gaming addiction
There is still disagreement between experts about how to define an addiction to video gaming. However, there is a broad consensus that being unable to quit gaming when trying to do so, or finding that gaming is causing harm to your ability to support yourself (such as employment), or harming opportunities or relationships you care about, can suggest a problematic relationship with video gaming.
This article is not intended to be a screening questionnaire for video gaming addiction, but rather a guide to help you think about whether your gaming might be headed in an unhelpful direction and needs your attention. While the grand majority of gamers do not suffer from video gaming addiction, it can still be useful to occasionally re-evaluate what your gaming is doing for you – or not. Your hobbies should be adding something positive to your life, not creating new problems or making old ones worse.
If you think you might have a problem with your gaming or would like to cut down, speaking with a therapist or counsellor can help you untangle some of the issues I have touched on in this article. Therapy can help with clarifying the function of your gaming, provide you with tools to cut down and help support you in resolving whatever underlying difficulties are expressing themselves through excessive video gaming.