What is the difference between excessive use and non-problematic use? Several researches have tried to define and situate more precisely the limit between non-problematic use and excessive use of video games or the Internet, with different results. There is no defined threshold marking the passage from non-problematic to excessive, for example in terms of the number of hours spent. For each individual situation, a meeting with a health or social professional may be necessary to evaluate a practice that raises questions. The different types of use described below, however, provide some benchmarks to help situate oneself.
Occasional use occurs when the practice is often not daily, and the user easily manages to stop gambling, or browsing, and spends a relatively short amount of time in front of the screen. Regular use refers to daily practice with extended screen time. The gambler may exceed pre-set limits, but most often manages to stop by choosing alternative activities. There are no significant negative consequences, although family tensions or minor difficulties at school or work may appear transiently in relation to the time spent in front of the screen.
Excessive use of unproblematic use
At this stage, the person may spontaneously reduce the time spent gambling or surfing the internet. Excessive use is characterized by an intensive practice associated with negative consequences at the psychic level (irritability, depression, anxiety, etc.) and/or relational level (arguments with parents, marital tensions, social isolation, etc.), social level (school difficulties, professional difficulties, etc.) or even physical level (reversal of the sleep-wake rhythm, poor lifestyle, etc.). It should be noted that there is no clear limit between regular and excessive practice, particularly in terms of the number of hours spent.
Whether or not other satisfactory activities are maintained is a key consideration. One of the characteristics of excessive use of video games and the Internet is loss of control, with gambling or the Internet becoming the main focus of interest and enjoyment. At the time of reprinting this brochure, the pathological use of video games or the Internet is not subject to a diagnosis established by the medical community. However, a diagnosis of “video game-related disorder” will be introduced in the next revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), scheduled for 2018. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), on the other hand, while the notion of “disorder” is not currently recognized, it is under consideration for online video games, with the criteria listed below.
- Constant preoccupation with video games (anticipating the next moment of play, thinking about previous games, etc.),
- Psychological state of withdrawal when not having access to online games (e.g. irritability, anxiety or sadness),
- Symptoms of tolerance, i.e., the need to increase the amount of time spent gambling,
- Unsuccessful attempts to reduce or stop gambling,
- Loss of interest or reduction in leisure activities,
- Maintenance of excessive practice despite negative consequences,
- Lying to others to reduce the extent of gambling,
- Seeking escape through gambling to relieve negative moods,
- Endangerment or loss of a significant emotional relationship, employment, or educational opportunity.
Note that at least five of the following should be present over a 12-month period.
Positive aspects of video games
The benefits of video games can be seen at different levels, including cognitive, emotional, motivational, and social.
- At the psychomotor level, games (especially action games) can improve spatial skills, eye-hand coordination and reaction time.
- At the cognitive level, some video games increase problem-solving skills and attention span and are associated with high levels of creativity.
- Games can contribute to education in areas such as reading and math and are associated with a greater ability to focus on several things at once.
- Video games can represent a balance between frustration and success that helps develop motivation to persevere in challenging situations; this motivation can extend to challenging situations outside of gaming.
- Gamblers appear to develop social skills by playing some games that focus on self-help or cooperation.
- In digital worlds that allow users to put themselves in the place of a figure that represents them (avatar), gambling helps to develop empathy for oneself and, secondly, for others, through the attention that players pay to each other.36 In the digital world, gambling is a way to develop empathy for oneself and, secondly, for others, through the attention that players pay to each other.36 These games encourage positive social behaviours and decrease aggression.
- Avatars also participate in the construction of identity (this is mostly found in multiplayer games, such as MMORPGs). The use of an avatar in the game can represent a way of dealing with the gaps between oneself and an ideal of oneself. Belonging to a networked group of players helps to develop one’s identity as a member of a community.
- An escape from ordinary reality can improve feelings of happiness and satisfaction, reducing stress levels. Moreover, it is nowadays recognized that video games are sometimes used for medical and psycho-educational purposes, especially in the field of mental disorders or chronic diseases.
Discussing these positive aspects of video games with a gambler, even if excessive, does not present a risk of increasing gambling behaviour; on the contrary, the fact that this aspect of the practice is also recognized often makes it possible to lay a more favourable foundation for a change in behaviour.