What drives gaming addiction?

Nimhans’ Internet deaddiction centre, called SHUT Clinic, sees about 30 cases in a month.
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 21:01 IST
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 21:01 IST

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An 18-year-old killing his younger brother for playing mobile games all day has brought the perils of Internet addiction back into the spotlight. The incident took place in Sarjapur, Bengaluru, last week.

The younger sibling, 13, would borrow his brother’s phone to play games and refuse to give it back.

Nimhans’ Internet deaddiction centre, called SHUT Clinic, sees about 30 cases in a month. Dr Nitin Anand, additional professor, clinical psychology, Nimhans, and consultant at the clinic, says gaming becomes addictive because it fulfils many needs. “It gives a break from the real world. You can choose an avatar you like. You feel a sense of belonging and achievement while winning a game in groups.”

Here are some cases handled by the seven-member team at the clinic over the past six months.

Grieving son

A man brought his son, 15, to the clinic last November. The boy’s gaming time had shot up from two hours a day to eight. He would rush out of home after school, play mobile and physical games with his friends, and return when his father got back from work. Once home, he would again play aggressive video games.

The team found he was trying to avoid his stepmother. His father had remarried a year after the boy’s biological mother passed away. Gaming became an escape for the grieving boy. The first challenge was to help him see the problem. “He would say ‘If I can escape my (negative) feelings, what’s the harm?’” recalls Dr Anand.

The team started by addressing the child’s unresolved emotions about losing his mother. They educated him and his parents about Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) and gave him tips on self-regulation. “We asked the family not to rush him to accept his new mother. We saw a remarkable improvement after 12-13 sessions but, yes, there was a lapse once or twice when he felt sad.”

Bullying at school

A 17-year-old boy from Hyderabad relieved himself on the bed because he was in the middle of a multi-player real-time strategy game, and excusing himself even for a minute could have jeopardised the team’s winning chances. “This happened one or two times. He realised it wasn’t normal,” says Dr Anand.

His mother brought him to the clinic. “It all started with the fear of bullying at school. He had failed his first term exams in Class 11. He didn’t want to face his classmates, so he skipped school for two weeks. That became four months and then he dropped out. He would lie in bed, playing games for up to eight hours a day.”

He had stopped socialising. His self-hygiene took a hit – he was bathing once in four or five days. Since his co-gamers were in different time zones, he would stay up till 5 am. “He had a low level of assertiveness. He agreed to whatever time his group leader chose. We had to show him how bullying, poor confidence and isolation are linked. He was amenable to the therapy, which lasted seven sessions. We also contacted his school to provide him support,” shares Dr Anand.

Break-up woes

A heartbreak drove a college-going girl to gaming. The 19-year-old would stay holed up in her PG accommodation, skip college, avoid eating with her roommates, not respond to WhatsApp chats, bathe only twice a week, and occasionally, cry.

“She had developed depression. She was feeling worthless and lonely. She felt she had no control over her present or future. An introvert, she vented her anger by playing massively multiplayer online role playing games. She also got into virtual relationships with her co-gamers,” he says.

As part of her therapy, still ongoing, the clinic taught her how to cope with unpleasant emotions.

“To bring her meal, sleep and hygiene to normal, we gave her small tasks like ‘Wake up when your roommate wakes up, or go to college with friends’,” he says.

Math problem

A 13-year-old boy from Bengaluru started making excuses to skip school after he entered Class 8. He would stay home instead, glued to a slew of games for six hours. “He was anxious to go to school because he could not cope with math, Sanskrit and Kannada. He had specific learning disabilities (dyslexia and dyscalculia), which were never detected,” Dr Anand shares.

He was trapped in a “vicious cycle” – his disinterest in these subjects made him sad while gaming elevated his “mood”. Besides talking about IGD and tips to improve self-esteem, the team apprised his parents about provisions for children with special needs. “They are given extra time during exams. They are exempted from spelling mistakes,” he shares. They recommended phonetics training for him, and aligned career options. “In 17-18 sessions, his gaming time came down. Two hours a day is normal.”

In numbers

SHUT, the Internet deaddiction centre by Nimhans, sees about 30 cases a month, of which 40% are related to gaming, primarily in the 14 to 27 age group. The problem affects more boys than girls. SHUT stands for Service for Healthy Use of Technology.

Timeout strategies

(As advised by Dr Nitin Anand from Nimhans)

1. Ask your family to drop their phones in a basket for a stipulated period every day, say, from 8 pm till they retire to bed.

2. Designate no-phone zones, such as bedrooms and bathrooms.

3. Put notifications of unimportant apps on silent. 

4. Use the timeout to learn skills like baking and sketching.

SHUT Clinic at Nimhans Centre for Well-Being, BTM Layout, 9.30 am-4.30 pm (Mon-Sat), call 94808 29670

Published 21 May 2024, 21:01 IST

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