Game Over: Pulling the Plug on Addiction

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo and even tablets: These days, kids always seem to be connected to an electronic device or playing some sort of video game.

But how much game time is too much? For one Hampton Roads teen, it was when he started to notice his grades slipping in school.

“It really started in kindergarten. I started out with racing games and what not. As soon as I’d get home, I’d hop on,” he said.

The teen wanted to remain anonymous because he’s not proud of the habit he formed but says that playing was addictive because of control.

“It definitely sucks you in. It makes you feel like a hero, so you keep coming back. You’re like, ‘I got to do this. I got to do this next thing,’” he said.

The teen says getting involved with extracurricular activities at school has helped limit his playing.

Gary Rotfus, a licensed clinical social worker, says he’s seen an increase of young adults coming in for video game dependency.

“They’re interfering with their everyday function. It’s definitely much more common now than it was a couple of years ago,” Rotfus said.

According to a study by the Entertainment Software Association, 65 percent of American Households have someone who plays more than three hours a week, with 67 percent of homes owning a device that is used to play video games. A study done by Iowa State Professor Dr. Douglas Gentile found that nearly one in 10 youth gamers are addicted to playing.

Rotfus says addiction among children and young adults can negatively affect their social lives.

“It’s like a form of arrested development. Part of your teenage years and young adulthood is practicing to socialize and be comfortable around other people,” he said.

Rotfus says parents should notice the warning signs like staying up late, skipping school, not going to work and not performing menial chores around the house. He also says that their reactions to bringing up video game limits is another warning.

“If you question them about it and they become irritable and depressed on an emotional level, more distancing, more alone time,” he said.

But some in the gaming community are trying to highlight the positives of video gaming.

“There is a very small percentage that get addicted and need to get that help,” said Raymond Mead, owner of That Game Store.

Mead opened the lounge in Virginia Beach four years ago. It’s part gaming store, part lounge and offers those in the community a place to play and socialize.

“I wanted to bring that back because with arcades going away, the younger generation has last that social interaction,” he said.

Mead says he welcomes those with an addiction to join their tight-knit community if they need help.

“Our main goal is to provide a safe gaming environment for any age,” he said.

And it’s Rotfus’ goal to help other families struggling with addiction. He says parents need to put their foot down by pulling the plug when it’s gotten out of control.

“If they’re still living at home, you still have some say so on how long they can play the game,” he said.

Rotfus recommends counseling for those addicted to video games and to those with disorders who use video games instead of counseling.