Video Game Addiction and the Youth of Pakistan

Author Zarak Khan

 

Talha glared at his computer monitor with tired eyes as his online avatar was killed once again. Almost immediately his fingers fly across the keyboard typing out one message after another criticizing his team mates for not being there to support him, telling them not to engage the enemy without him and then finally insulting them as they proceeded to do just that and lose them the match. As the inevitable ‘Defeat’ screen popped up before his eyes he resisted the urge to rip off his headphones and throw them against the wall in frustration, remembering how long he had to save up just to purchase them. He checked the time and noted that it was 3 AM, school started in four hours and he had yet to sleep. Talha paused for a moment realizing how tired he really was then started up another hour long match, promising himself it would be the last one of the night…

Adnan stared intently at his computer screen as he navigated his online avatar through the virtual landscape and ambush an enemy teammate, killing him before they realized what had happened. His teammates, seeing that they now had a numbers advantage, rushed into the enemy base and engaged the enemy team. As the towers defending the base fell one by one Adnan ignored the praise from his team mates and the insults from the enemy until the inevitable ‘Victory’ screen popped up. Leaning back in his chair he let out a sigh of relief and smiled with pride at his performance in-game, especially the game winning play. Checking the time, he realized it was 3 AM, he had to get ready for work in four hours and he had yet to sleep. Adnan yawned as he realized how tired he was and the large amount of paperwork he still had to finish before the deadline. And then he started up another hour long match, promising himself it would be the last one of the night…  

 

 

Approach a young male in Pakistan (between the ages of 13 to 21 years old) and ask them what they are planning to do once they get back home from school or over the weekend holidays.in their free time. Chances are that most, if not all, of them will respond with ‘gaming’. This could mean playing online with friends from around the country (even world) in games such as Dota 2, League of Legends, Players Unknown Battlegrounds, Counter-Strike among many others. It could also mean enjoying a single-player classic such as The Witcher 3, Dark Souls series, Fallout 4 or any of the numerous others available. All of this is made easier by the ease of most games being free to play and download while pirated copies of others can be easily found available online with relative ease. 

Likewise, approach any of their parents and they will complain about how  much time their children are spend in front of computers, laptops, gaming consoles, cellphones and other appliances. ‘They are addicted to their games, their devices and to the Internet.!’ 

That will be the consensus among most parents who would also agree that these violent games are causing their children to be more aggressive, making them more anti-social, affecting their studies and ruining their health. In Pakistan especially playing video games is perceived as a sign of immaturity by one’s elders, relatives and most of society. Parents would prefer that their children spend time playing games into more productive activities such as studying, going out with friends and just about anything else that isn’t playing video games.

The WHO classified gaming disorder as a mental illness in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) after consultation from experts around the world and analysis of relevant research. Also known as video game addiction the disorder is characterized by gaming for long stretches of time to the point where it interferes with other interests and activities such as sleeping and eating for up to a period of a year. And while it is estimated that approximately 2.5 billion people in the world (according to Statista) play video gamers which is close to 30 % percent of the overall population the disorder itself is believed to be relatively rare, only affecting 3 percent %f of all gamers. That still makes up around 75 million potential sufferers of gaming disorder around the world. 

Pakistan is no exception to this, Aa research conducted by Anowra Khan and Rabia Muqtadir, from Quaid-E-Azam University, on youth from various educational institutes throughoutin Islamabad and Rawalpindi discovered a notablethe presence of problematic gamers (195 out of the sample of 357). Males were more likely to become problematic gamers and played more games and for longer as compared to their female counterparts (Khan et al, 2014). Another study carried out by Halima Qureshi, Mussarat Khan and Uzma Masroorin Pakistan, conducted on adolescent video gamers, discovered that pathological video gaming could induce aggression and feelings of isolation. Similarly, it was discovered  here that males spent more time playing these games and were at greater risk than females (Qureshi et al, 2013).

There are multiple reasons as to what makeswhy these video games are so addicting for players. Most video games, especially MMORPG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games) and mobile games, contain compulsion loops. These are namely a chain of activities that are completed repetitively to gain a neurochemical reward such as the chemical dopamine which creates feelings of pleasure. An example can be taken of grinding for rare items as is popular in online games like World of Warcraft while another notable example is that of loot boxes which are acquired through completing in-game missions and can also  be purchasableed with real world currencymoney. Games are also more accessible than ever before, they can be purchased online, pirated and even downloaded and played for free.

 not only can one purchase them directly online but most of them are easy to pirate off of various torrent sites and this is not to discount the popular online and offline games that are free to download and play.  

While parents may disapprove of their children’s gaming habits they also do not care enough to check and see if their children are playing age appropriate games. The most popular mainstream games, such as GTArand Theft Auto 5, contain an abundance of violence, curse words and sexual content are played by children under_ 18 which is the games intended audience. Exposure to such  mature games at such an early age can cause neurological damage to their frontal lobes, stunt their social skills, reduce academic performance and much more. There is no shortage of stories about children who spend obscene amounts of time on video games only to pass away due to exhaustion, dehydration and poor health. This is not exclusive to just youth; adults are just as likely to develop this addiction to the point where they neglect their own children while they spend all their time online. 

However, the situation is not completely bleak; gaming disorder is an impulse disorder and can be treated as most other forms of addiction. Counselling can help identify the indicators of this disorder early on and take measures early, especially when its family therapy where the entire household can be involved with the treatment at home. Cognitive behavior therapy is another option wherein the addict can be taught to modify their faulty thoughts and beliefs into healthier ones. In this case it would be through identifying which thoughts and feelings lead them to turning towards gaming over healthier options such as going out for walks or talking about their problems to someone closea friend/family member. 

There is also the option of going to rehabilitation centers wherein the change in atmosphere, treatment options and group sessions with other addicts can be beneficial in aiding their addiction.

For parents Iit is essential for parents to that they take an active interest in their children’s gaming habits. ProhibitingEliminating them from playing games entirely is neither feasiblereasonable nor reasonablefeasible as will be discussed later, games do provide a myriad of benefits that children can benefit from. Rather, it is recommended that parents should monitor whether or nottheir children are playing age-appropriaterelevant games and to regulate the amount of time they spend on gaming and on electronicscomputer devices in general. For children between 2 to 5 it is recommended that they only have one hour of screen time and for children 6 and above it may vary per household is up to the parents. However, it is important that the parents make children understand that their first priorities should be towards their sleep, homework, school, sleep, social and physical activities (one hour at least) before they turn to their devices. IParents should also involvinge  their children in physical activities from an early age, such as playing outside and exercising with them, helps form ing these habits early on and will reduce the future likelihood that they turn to gaming in their free time.

Parents need to understand that playing video games in moderation can be extremely beneficial in the development of their children. Children who play video games can develop better problem-solving techniques, enhance their critical thinking abilities, improve hand eye coordination and improve fine motor skills. There is also a surprisingly large potential for social development as video games allow players from around the world to communicate through the internet and for friendships which team children how to better function in teams, especially in multiplayer games. Video games are also an effective way of venting negative emotions such as stress and anxiety and reduced stress can in fact decrease aggressive tendencies amongst children.

Gaming is one of the fastest growing and influential mediums taking over the world, for the young and old alike. Rather than shaming our youth and restricting them from indulging in these games we would be better off involving ourselves in their habits and regulating their play time to foster their development.  

 

Game Recommendations:

Following are a number of recommended games that children as well as more mature players may enjoy and appreciate. Parents can also join in their children’s adventures in some of these titles and play alongside them.

  1. Super Mario Odyssey (Platformer)
  2. Splatoon 2 (Shooter, Multiplayer)
  3. Overcooked (Co-op, Cooking)
  4. Minecraft (Action-Adventure, Sandbox, Single and Multiplayer)
  5. Pokémon Series (Action, Puzzle, Fighting)
  6. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Exploration, Action-Adventure)
  7. Rocket League (Multiplayer, Sports)
  8. Portal 2 (Co-op, Puzzle)