Thanks to cutting-edge technologies, video games are becoming increasingly ingrained in the lives of Americans. Stimulating creativity, improving dexterity, and enhancing memory are just a few of the cognitive benefits of gaming—but, like most good things, too much gaming can quickly turn dangerous.
With 13 million Americans playing video games for upwards of 50 hours a week, serious video game addiction leaves little time for much else. In fact, some estimates show that around 8% of children are clinically addicted to video gaming.
That’s why full-time MBA student Kruti Kanojia (Questrom’20) and her husband Dr. Alok Kanojia, a psychiatrist and former gamer, have begun building Healthy Gamer, a platform to help gamers regain control of their lives.
Recently classified by the World Health Organization as a disorder, there are serious health risks and concerns, both mental and physical, that arise from video game addiction. Short-term effects (lasting anywhere between 24 hours and two weeks) can include fatigue, stress responses, and dopamine exhaustion, which occur from video game binges. As a result, people start thinking other things are no longer fun and begin to neglect things like personal care, social/familial interactions, educational/professional responsibilities and other areas of functioning.
“There’s nothing wrong with playing video games,” Kruti explains. “For example, surgeons who play videogames have fewer technical errors. When an addiction to gaming begins to interfere with other aspects of life, however, there’s something to be addressed.”
“There is a generation of smart, capable people completely disengaging from reality,” shares Kruti. “This is a huge loss! What we often see is that video games at some point can become mutually exclusive with the ‘real’ world’. It can be a 3-5-year process to get your life back together because you’ve missed the boat on things like medical school applications, internships or key friendships. It leaves the gamer isolated, exhausted and unfulfilled, which exacerbates the cycle.”
Built on the latest neuroscience research, clinical addiction psychiatry, and behavioral psychology, Healthy Gamer’s approach is multifaceted, with options for schools, parents, and, of course, gamers.
By understanding the warning signs and recognizing the importance of addressing video game addiction, parents and peers alike can realize their full potential to best help addicted gamers. The first product from Healthy Gamer is a parents’ course, designed to empower parents to change the direction of their children’s lives through productive communication and healthier lifestyle choices.
For the gamers, Healthy Gamer’s approach focuses on three main tenets of recovery: professional support, group support, and individual reflection. As their website reads, “spoiler alert: it’s not about quitting gaming, it’s about creating a life worth living.” Instead of preaching abstinence and avoidance, Healthy Gamer advocates for balance, control, and substitutions.
Below are a few ways non-gamers can help those struggling with video game addiction, as prescribed by Kruti’s husband, Dr. Alok Kanojia, an expert who works with addictions at McLean Hospital (the #1 Psychiatric Hospital according to US News & World Report) and is faculty at Harvard Medical School.
INVOLVE GAMERS IN THINGS OUTSIDE OF THE VIDEO GAME. Since video games provide a safe environment free of judgement, it can be difficult for gamers to engage in activities in the real world. Invite a gamer to do something with you, whether it’s grabbing a meal, taking a hike, or studying. For parents, help get your kids out of the house and into fun, confidence-building activities (martial arts are a good choice because they can be competitive, but aren’t inherently so).
PROVIDE GAMERS WITH COMPASSIONATE, CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK. Often, gamers don’t know what they’re doing wrong—from problems with hygiene to using inappropriate words and actions, these things aren’t always apparent to gamers. Most feedback that is given constructively without a judgemental air is very well received by gamers.
LET THEM HELP YOU. Gamers often feel like their only valuable skill is within a video game, so if you have a challenge or are trying to think through a problem, ask for a gamer’s help. Feeling helpful is one of the best things to help someone disengage from a game. For parents, this could be through integrating your children into your daily routines—ask them to help you with making dinner or take them with you to run an errand.
“As a society, we need to grapple with digital addictions and the impact digital worlds are having on our psyche,” says Kruti. “It’s a new problem that needs a new perspective.” And a fresh new perspective is exactly what Healthy Gamer brings to the table.