MMO Family: When enough is enough

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Whether yours is the kind of family with "screen time" limits or the type that takes a more laissez-faire approach to logging in, there comes a point when enough is enough. Plenty of pixels and ink have been devoted to the debate over whether or not internet and gaming overuse should be considered an "addiction." What we're here to discuss is how gaming affects your family. As parents who game, we should be in a unique position to appreciate, respect and guide our children's attraction to games. But sometimes in the crush of day-to-day living, it's easy to let those last few minutes slip into half an hour ... past an hour ... into the evening ... into a habit that's begun eating away at family balance.

To help parents recognize when their children's gaming may have passed what's reasonable and productive for them as individuals, we touched base with psychiatrist Dr. Kourosh Dini (author of Video Game Play and Addiction: A Guide for Parents and himself a gamer). Statistics on gaming use, he explains, show that most gamers manage to balance gaming with their daily lives without negative consequences. "In fact ... sometimes what one can gain from a game is quite profound," he observes. "The person's mind and the video games together set the stage – either for benefit or for detriment." A gaming schedule that suffocates one child's motivation and energy might buoy another through social problems at school. Our mission: to keep the mix healthy, productive and fun.

Before we go any further, let's re-emphasize that we're not here to demonize time spent gaming or set inflexible time limits. We do, however, want parents to have the tools to diagnose real problems in the making. How much gaming is simply too much? These questions from Dr. Dini's book can help you pinpoint problem patterns. Admittedly, this is a lengthy list – but every child is different, and one size absolutely does not fit all. Few kids will struggle with all or even most of these issues. Look for changes that seem remarkable for your child.

Neglecting school, work and relationships
  • Does your child spend longer periods of time gaming than originally intended or permitted?
  • Does your child play games when chores and homework are waiting?
  • Has gaming impacted negatively on important social, occupational, educational, domestic or recreational activities in your child's real life?
  • Does your child attempt to get friends or family to play, specifically with the intention of playing more herself?
  • Has your child withdrawn from real-life sports or hobbies?
  • Has your child missed days or work or school because of game playing?
  • Has your child jeopardized or lost a significant relationship or educational opportunity because of game playing?
Physical changes
  • Have your child's eating or sleeping patterns changed since beginning to game?
  • Has your child experienced negative physical effects from gaming, such as finger or wrist pain, eyestrain, etc.?
Emotional changes
  • Does your child often become defensive or secretive when asked about what she does when gaming?
  • Does your child often become irritable or bothered while gaming?
  • Does your child deny, rationalize or minimize negative consequences resulting from neglect due to extended gaming?
  • Does your child try to hide the extent of her gaming?
  • Has your child lied to family members, a therapist or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gaming?
  • Does your child often fear that life without gaming would be boring, empty and joyless?
  • Does your child use gaming as a way of escaping from problems?
  • Does your child view games as a way to relieve feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression?
  • Does your child feel guilt, shame, anxiety or depression since she began playing games?
  • Does your child play games to avoid people?
  • Does your child feel that life would be better if she did not play games?
  • Has your child ever stolen or lied in connection with her video game use (e.g., has she stolen a game or lied to play more)?
  • Does your child continue to play even when upset or frustrated by the game?
  • Does your child feel preoccupied with gaming (to the point that she cannot concentrate on other tasks)?
Difficulty quitting
  • Does your child say she can stop playing any time yet demonstrates that she cannot?
  • Has your child repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop game playing?
  • Does your child express the need for increasing amounts of time spent game playing, in order to achieve satisfaction?
  • Does your child seem less enthralled with games if continuing to play a consistent amount each session?
  • Does your child seem restless, moody, depressed or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gaming?
  • Do the negative feelings go away once your child begins gaming again?
Thinking about the gaming/life balance
There's a lot of discourse out there today on how gaming can affect growing young minds and bodies. Like anything else, some of it is solid gold and some is complete tripe. Still, our kids' emotional health is important enough to merit keeping an open mind. While there can be very real harm in allowing gaming to intrude on the rest of our children's lives, we're also familiar with the family bonding, opportunity for learning and sheer fun of gaming as a family.

Sift out the hysteria and the hype from valid cautions and criticisms. Be honest with your children and yourself about how things are playing out in your home. And always keep in touch with your children and how they're gaming. Well played!

More reading:
Big trouble in little articles: Ten game addiction fallacies
Blogger discusses EverQuest addiction interview: Dr. Hilarie Cash of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program
Compulsive gaming a social problem, not an addiction
This article was originally published on Massively.