Although game addiction occurs mostly in those in their late teens or early adulthood, in countries like Japan and Korea, and now more commonly in other parts of Asia, it’s the adults who are getting more into dangerous levels of gaming, says Psychologist Associate Professor Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan.
Chung (not his real name), 42, lost his job when his company downsized early this year.
He tried to start a business with two of his friends, but despite looking promising, it didn’t kick off because of the pandemic.
“It was difficult. I was doing odd jobs just trying to make ends meet, ” he says.
Chung’s wife, Clara (not her real name), 36, says that she noticed her husband growing more distracted and “he just wasn’t himself”.
“He was at home most of the time, always on his laptop or handphone. I thought he was trying to find a job or some other way to earn a living. But I found out that he was playing games online. He was in his own world, ” she says.
“Playing games helped me to escape reality. I could not face the fact that I had failed miserably in providing for my family, ” says Chung. “I felt guilty because my wife had to work hard to support me and our two children.”
He admits that he also felt depressed because of the pandemic.
Contrary to the popular belief that game addiction is a problem just with youth, Chung is in his 40s.
After several months, Chung finally found an office job through a friend’s recommendation. But his gaming continued.
“I would play for six hours every night and be a zombie at work. I just couldn’t put the game down, it was so addictive. I wanted to be great in the game and I only cared about the game, ” he says.
He admits that he couldn’t focus on work or other areas of his life and his brain was constantly in a mental fog, which prevented him from doing anything productive.
“My marriage suffered because I hadn’t had a real conversation with my wife for a long time. We didn’t even have dinner together because often, I would just eat in front of my computer, saying I had work to do, or be on my phone during mealtimes, ” he adds.
Supporting a person with game addiction is the same as supporting one with any other addiction, says Dr Anasuya.
“Be supportive but don’t feed the addiction.
“For example, if someone is addicted to games and refuses to come to the dining table to eat with the family during mealtimes, don’t bring their food to their room or wherever they are. This only encourages the wrong behaviour. It’s better if they get up and do things for themselves instead of being stuck at the computer or mobile phone the whole day."
When the games interfere with their day-to-day life, family members may need to intervene and this is more difficult with an adult.
“Try to talk to them and reason with them, that their behaviour is out of control and destroying their life and their relationships with their family and friends, ” she says.
If it gets really bad – interfering with their daily life and work, making them unable to function as a human being, causing them to neglect their health or hygiene, destroying their relationships with their spouse, other family members and friends – then the game addict may need professional help, says Dr Anasuya.
“But, it’s not easy and takes a lot of effort, discussing and convincing an adult to seek counselling or consult with a clinical psychiatrist. They need to first realise and admit that they have an problem, ” she says.
Clara was worried, and tried talking to Chung, to no avail. Short of forcing him to get professional help, there was nothing she could do.
“The lack of sleep and a balanced lifestyle made me burnt out, and I started to get sick. I had headaches – sensations in my head that wouldn’t go away – even though I took medication, ” Chung says.
He was often irritable and short-tempered, and snapped at his wife and children.
Until one day, Clara left and took the kids. It was the wake up call he needed and he decided to seek professional help.
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