Video games have evolved leaps and bounds since the days of Frogger and Pac Man.  Game play is more involved, characters are more lifelike, and some scenes feel like you are watching a movie.  Just about everyone has at least one game on their phone and somehow kids who cannot read know exactly where to find Candy Crush and Angry Birds.  In this digital age, video games have remarkable applications.  They help people cope with Post Traumatic Stress and manage pain.  Surgeons who play video games have better hand-eye coordination than their colleagues who do not play.  Video games also improve memory skills, are used as a training tool, and can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.  With all of these great things video games can do, what could be so bad?

What if playing video games takes over other aspects of your life?  The word “addiction” will often make you think of drugs, alcohol, shopping, or even food.  Did you know experts say video games create the same reactions in the brain as drug and alcohol addiction?  People who are experiencing video game addiction can also be violent after playing video games or if their game is taken away.   A recent trend shows some cases of domestic violence and child abuse connected to people who had a video game addiction.  In extreme cases, children have died of neglect because of their parents’ video game addictions. 

Video game and electronic distractions are becoming more prevalent in younger children.  Children who play video games excessively have displayed increased autistic-like symptoms, such as decreased empathy, communication skills, and athletic ability.  As always, the key is moderation.  Parents should monitor the amount of time that children spend in front of any screen whether it is playing video games, using the Internet, or watching TV.  Be aware of warning signs of video game addiction in yourself, your partner, or your children.   Look for signs such as using video games as a way to escape problems, skipping homework or household chores to play video games, doing poorly in school or at work because of playing video games, or spending excessive amounts of money on video games or gaming fees.  For more information or help, reach out to your local Prevention and Education Specialist with the Family Advocacy Program.