What is excessive use of video games or the Internet? Different terms are used to qualify an excessive use of video games or the Internet: cyberaddiction, cyberaddiction, hyperconnectivity, problematic, excessive, compulsive, pathological practice, etc. These terms encompass different practices, the Internet being a vector that allows access to multiple contents (purchases, information, social contacts, video games, etc.), some of which are also accessible offline.

In excessive use, the state of knowledge to date does not allow us to differentiate the precise role played by the internet vector from the content itself. In this brochure, we use the term “video game” to refer to both online and offline games. As far as the Internet is concerned, we will not deal with the excessive practice of targeted content such as pornography, purchases, or gambling, which are the result of specific mechanisms. A recent report commissioned by the Federal Office of Public Health proposes to distinguish between the disorder linked to the practice of Internet use on the one hand, and the problematic use of the Internet on the other hand.

The disorder refers to a persistent and recurrent practice of Internet use leading to marked suffering and/or social alteration, for a period of at least 3 months. As for the problematic use, it is defined by a set of repetitive dysfunctional behaviors, which are characterized by preoccupations related to the practice of the Internet and by a difficulty to control it, resulting in certain negative consequences, which however do not reach the severity of those observed in the disorder. Here we will use the term excessive use or practice of video games or the Internet in a broad sense, including these two levels of severity.

Is excessive use of video games or the Internet an addiction?

This question has been debated for several years by professionals in the field. If addiction traditionally refers to the use of psychoactive substances, it is now recognized that the practice of gambling can lead to addictive disorders. Concerning the excessive use of video games and the Internet, a body of data also shows characteristics similar to those observed in addiction, in particular: continuation of the activity in spite of the negative consequences, symptoms of tolerance (increase in time spent) or even withdrawal symptoms (nervousness and uneasiness when the practice is stopped). However, several authors caution against using the term “addiction” to refer to everyday behaviors such as video games.

Indeed, other data show that in many cases, the classic mechanisms of addiction are not found, or not in the same way. The increase in time spent gaming can thus be considered as a search for efficiency and performance, rather than as a phenomenon of tolerance. Moreover, it is frequently observed that excessive use is transient and context-dependent, whereas, in classic addiction, the disorders are often chronic. The lack of sufficiently solid data in this area has led the American Psychiatric Association to include “video game-related disorder” only in the category of “disorders requiring further investigation” in its 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; on the other hand, the WHO has planned to include the disorder as such in its 11th re-edition of the International Classification of Diseases. In conclusion, future research will undoubtedly provide further insight into these issues. In the meantime, clinical practice shows us the importance of assessing and managing each personal situation in a specific way.

What are the reasons for using the internet or playing video games?

The motivations are very diverse. According to the studies that have been conducted on this subject, we most often find a search for entertainment, pleasure and excitement, a search for a different experience, a search for social interaction or companionship, a search for a space that allows one to express oneself without being criticized on physical appearance, sexuality or age, or a search for encouragement or recognition. It also seems that young Internet users find it easier to trust others on the Internet – invoking the anonymity and invisibility “guaranteed” by the Internet – and to address sensitive issues such as sexuality. Swiss data show that young people (12 to 24 years old) who are all over the world use the Internet for :

  • Create/update their profile on a social network (88%)
  • Read or consult news (80%)
  • Use video portals (YouTube) (76%)
  • Surfing social networks (65%)
  • Buying/ordering products (goods or services) (62%)
  • Listening to music (57%)
  • Searching for health-related information (52%)
  • Make electronic payments (49%)
  • Learn about political campaigns (43%)
  • Playing online games (24%)
  • Watch TV shows online (22%)

What about people who have problems controlling their gambling or Internet use? Similar motivations can be found. However, other motivations may become more important, such as seeing the Internet or video games as an escape from problems in daily life (work, family, school, etc.) or emotional difficulties (depression, low self-esteem, insecurity). This tendency seems to be more prevalent when the family context is difficult.

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