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KUSA – Video games, which used to be thought of as toys for children, have skyrocketed into a $20 billion industry, with millions of fans flocking to stores to buy everything from vintage 80s games to the newest releases.

Industry experts estimate that the average video-game player is 30 years old and spends 8 hours per week playing games. Approximately 56 percent of game players are men.

For most individuals, their game play is not a problem. But, nationwide surveys have revealed there is a growing concern with "problem video game playing" or video-game addiction. One survey of more than 3,800 video-game players found that 1 in 20 adults and 1 in 12 children show a pattern of problematic playing.

Following are warning signs, which can be indicative of a problem:

  1. Playing longer than intended on a frequent basis.
  2. Lying about the amount of time spent on games.
  3. An inability to stop thinking about the game when not playing.
  4. Losing track of time during the game.
  5. Forgetting who one is during the game (or, losing one's sense of self).
  6. Worsening job/school performance.
  7. Family relationship problems.
  8. Losing friends in real life.
  9. Neglecting other interests.
  10. Forgetting to eat or take care of personal hygiene.
  11. The development of anger, depression, or anxiety (especially when not playing the game)
  12. A family history of addiction problems.

Experts studying this phenomenon have observed the addiction to video games follows a process similar to alcohol and gambling addictions. It can change a person's electrical brain patterns, even when the game is no longer being played, and it taxes an individual's nervous system.

Although video-game addiction is a real problem, there are other behaviors in which a person can engage that are significantly more addictive. For example, research estimates that about 16 percent of people who drink alcohol and 32 percent of people who smoke cigarettes are addicted. Comparing that to the 5 to 8 percent of people addicted to video games should put the problem in some perspective.

However, given the number of adults and children playing games, a 5 to 8 percent addiction rate adds up to millions of people. The games themselves are designed to become irresistible. Psychological research has been used to develop games that people want to keep playing.

Here are a few techniques psychologists use to help game companies develop a blockbuster. See if you recognize any of these properties in your favorite games:

  1. A series of tasks that are easy to learn but difficult to master.
  2. An elaborate and exciting storyline.
  3. Characters with whom players can empathize.
  4. The ability to create personalized avatars for game characters.
  5. The manipulation of time during game play (for example, changing from day to night or dark to light).
  6. Carefully designed relationships between game characters.
  7. Random games of chance mixed into the overall game play (such as the opportunity to win a new feature).
  8. A constant and regular series of rewards (for example, you earn a new badge or feature after you play for a certain amount of time).
  9. Opportunities to interact socially with others through the game.
  10. Repetitive tasks that have no defined endpoint.

If you are concerned you or a loved one falls into the minority of individuals who is addicted to video games, or even if you are just worried you might be spending too much time playing games, research points to a number of different techniques you can use to make a change.

  1. Make the games hard to access. Unplug your consoles. Delete apps from your phone. As with other addictions, proximity to the problem behavior increases your chances of engaging in that behavior.
  2. Set strict limits for the amount of time you play the game. If you only want to play for an hour, set a timer and force yourself to stop when it starts buzzing.
  3. Take the skills you need to be a good gamer and use them in your offline life instead. Concentration, drive to succeed, eye-hand coordination—these are all good skills and can be used in the real world.
  4. Seek treatment from a Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC). Most therapists have experience treating people with addiction issues, but CACs have taken extra coursework and completed thousands of hours of addiction-specific treatment to earn their certifications.
  5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works well for many types of addictions. Research has shown that a particular type of CBT, known as Narrative Therapy, is effective with video game addiction.
  6. Finding an Online Gamers Anonymous (OLGA) group can also be helpful. This is a 12-step program similar in structure to AA or NA.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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