Why do we develop difficulties with the internet or video games? Several models try to explain why some of us develop excessive behaviors towards the Internet or video games. It would seem that a combination of factors come into play. These are linked to the person himself, to his context, but also to the characteristics of the digital activity practiced. When Internet use is excessive, it is most often restricted to one area (e.g. online video games, cybersex, etc.); more rarely, it is generalized to several activities on the Internet. Some Internet practices are more likely to lead to a loss of control. This is essentially the case for activities that stimulate the reinforcement center through intense and/or quick rewards.
For example, some online games that significantly activate the player’s social recognition, competition, and group cohesion have a stronger addictive potential, especially if the player loses his or her lead when exiting the game16. However, the risk of excessive use does not depend solely on the addictive potential per se of the type of activity. Most users will indeed be able to practice the behavior in a controlled manner; only some, weakened by bio-psychosocial factors, will develop excessive practice. Among these different factors, some authors mention unsuitable beliefs, associated with behaviors that are themselves unsuitable.
These beliefs can be grouped into two categories: beliefs about oneself and beliefs about the world. The first often reflect low self-esteem and low self-esteem of one’s abilities (for example: “I am only good on the internet”, or “in my daily life I am nobody, but on the internet, I am a good person”), while the second reflects the perception of a hostile world, in which the person has no place (“the game is the only place where I am respected”; “the members of my guild are the only people I can count on”). The person then resorts to the internet and/or video games in order to get positive feedback. When a person is experiencing emotional difficulties (anxiety, depression, conflicts in the family or at work), using the internet can become an escape from confronting these problems.
If the practice of the internet and/or video games is positive (experiencing pleasure, satisfaction, being admired or recognized by others), the person is positively reinforced and will tend to continue the activity. He or she will thus be led to repeat the activity more often in order to repeat the pleasant experience during the first experiences, sometimes to the point of excessive use, which can lead to the appearance of negative consequences that increase the initial problems. In the more specific case of adolescence, video games or the Internet can be a place for learning and socialization that responds to a specific need of this period of life.
Thus, for several authors, the intensive practice of video games or the Internet can mark the passage of adolescence. The use of video games and/or the Internet is indeed an excellent way to immerse oneself in strong and exciting emotions while practicing to control them by manipulating different parameters (avatars) as one pleases. The social contacts made on the internet allow one to obtain recognition and approval from one’s peers, which is difficult for some young people outside of this context. Young people’s interest in new technologies is a sign of their desire for knowledge; the virtual world can be a way for them to prepare to enter the adult world.
Excessive use of video games
There is no standard profile. Excessive practice can affect any category of the population with access to the Internet. However, certain socio-demographic factors appear to be statistically associated with excessive Internet use: being male, young, urban, from a single-parent or blended family, being single, having financial difficulties and having a university education. Furthermore, clinical experience shows us that the following factors often emerge as concomitant to excessive practice:
- having a problematic social, family, school or professional situation,
- lack self-confidence or be shy and introverted,
- not feeling gratified in the real world and wanting to avoid confrontation with problems and conflicts,
- be impulsive and seek immediate rewards,
- have had traumatic experiences during childhood,
- have difficulty dealing with strong emotions,
- suffer from psychological disorders,
- have experienced strong emotions during the first video games,
- go through periods of identity crises, particularly during adolescence,
- have easy access to the internet or video games.
People are affected by excessive use of video games
Since Internet-related and/or video game-related disorders are not currently recognized by the medical community as an established diagnosis, it is difficult to obtain reliable figures. Most research is targeted at young people, and many recruit participants through online gaming sites or forums dedicated to video games, making the data unrepresentative. A Swiss study carried out in 2015 indicates that 1% of the general population aged 15 and over have a problematic internet experience. This figure rises to 5.3% if one includes users whose use is at risk of becoming problematic. For the 15-19 age group, problematic use was estimated at 7.4%. A relatively similar percentage (8.5%) was found in a more recent study conducted in 2017 among 12-19 year olds. In Europe, between 1 and 8% of adolescents are reported to be concerned.