A Video Game Talk Worth Having

By Judy McCormick
8/3/2021 Sussex County Health Coalition.

In January 2021, the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems (DCGP) launched their virtual presentation, “Kids, Video Games, and Gambling” for middle and high school students all across Delaware. The virtual presentation via Zoom has been essential in promoting DCGP’s “Protect Your Brain” message during the Covid-19 pandemic by fostering understanding of the potential dangers of the rapidly developing video gaming landscape and its convergence with the gambling industry.

The youth prevention team at the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems wants kids (and adults) to realize the importance of playing age-appropriate games, to recognize some of the signs of potential gambling and gaming addiction, and to also understand how some of the embedded gambling themes within many video games can be potentially dangerous for the teenage brain.

The data so far in 2021 is startling: roughly 40 percent of middle and high school students in Delaware who were surveyed play games for over 4 hours a day. Another 25 percent play games for 3 to 4 hours a day. This does not include remote learning, social media apps, or general internet use.

According to one large scale survey of 14,000 respondents, teens who reported five hours or more of video games or digital use daily had a significantly higher risk of  sadness, suicidal thoughts and suicide planning (1).

Many video games, such as Grand Theft Auto 5, Red Dead Redemption, and Gacha Games, feature gambling mechanics such as casino games and other digitalized random reward systems like loot boxes. The “digital dopamine drip” that is produced by responding to phone notifications, social media likes, texts, and stimulating graphics and mechanics in video games are what can keep us glued to the screen. Even casinos in gambling towns like Las Vegas and Atlantic City have also turned to video game-themed gambling machines to attract a younger demographic and to capitalize on a trending revenue stream.

Amanda Mattei, a health teacher at AI DuPont High School who helped pilot this year’s virtual program, feels that parents should focus now more than ever on their  child’s gaming behavior. “This is a topic that parents need to be mindful of because you may think they are at home working on their school work remotely but they could  be gaming all day long for four, six, ten hours a day. Without having any knowledge of that I just think it’s very important for parents to be aware of the dangers of gaming.” Cam Adair, the founder and CEO of gamequitters.com, and a former gaming addict himself, knows there are carefully built in motives for kids to play video games.

Games offer a temporary escape from issues that could be stressful or cause anxiety, provide opportunities to socialize and create a sense of community, feature constant measurable growth, and games are a challenge which provides a goal to work towards.

However, not all video games and gaming behaviors should be viewed as negative or unproductive. According to the Centers for Control and Disease Prevention (CDC), “When supervised by an adult, kids who play learning (educational) video games can develop their socioemotional, cognitive, and other heath developmental skills.” Games like Minecraft, Gamestar Mechanic, Animal Genius, and Math Blaster are great games that can boost performance in preparation for STEM programs as well.

A BBC News investigation revealed that China’s most famous esports player, Jian Zihao or ‘Mad Dog’, recently retired from professional gaming at the age of 23, citing type 2 diabetes and other health problems resulting from a fatty diet, lack of physical activity and the high stress of continuous gaming (1).

Other signs of problematic gaming are increased tolerance (needing to play more to achieve satisfaction), irritability when not playing, being consumed with thoughts of
gaming, loss of sleep, school/job struggles. Many of these signs of potential gaming disorder are the same diagnostic criteria for gambling disorder and drug or alcohol addiction.

If you or anyone you know may be struggling with gambling or video gaming, the DCGP has trained professionals who can help with both issues. Call 888-850-8888 or go online to DEProblemGambling.org to get the help you need today.

(1) Data provided by Intenta.Digital, 2021