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Plugging Into Addiction

March 3, 2014, 10:16 PM by Leland Steva

Plugging Into Addiction

For some, video games are a part of everyday life.

According to the Entertainment Software Association, 58 percent of Americans play video games, and over half of households have a game console.

But are people playing more than they should?

Video games have taken over pop culture. Gamers are able to visit different worlds and play different characters, without ever leaving the comfort of their living room.

"There's a lot of plusses to how they distract folks," Behavioral Health Triage Therapist Karla Harmon said.

There are plusses, but video games can lead to more time being spent on the couch and less time doing other activities.

"Video games are reasonable fun, but when people start changing behaviors, start changing how they represent to other people, especially other people they love, employers, all those kinds of things become red flags like there might be an issue," Harmon said.

Psychology professor at the University of Sioux Falls Mike Grevlos says video game designers creatively find ways to get players turning on their systems over and over.

"They make sure that there are really clear goals. They make sure that there is going to be concentration that you can immerse yourself in the activity. There's immediate and direct feedback. You can get lost in your sense of time," Grevlos said.

Grevlos says players indulging in the sights and sounds of games can get a rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain's pleasure center.

"These are games we wish we could reproduce in our everyday life," Grevlos said.

As gamers continue to play to get that dopamine, they could want to play more to get more of that rush. Just like other addictions, when the person no longer uses the item or activity giving them that high, the problems start to come to the surface.

"When they were taken away from the activity, they would feel like some kind of withdrawal, some irritability, more short answers," Harmon said.

"Typically what happens instead of developing this understanding of, 'The game is something I really want to do,' it becomes something they feel like they have to do," Grevlos said.

Harmon says she hasn't seen much of an issue in Sioux Falls with video game addiction, but she believes someone that does game too much can damage the ones they love the most.

"It would isolate them from the rest of the family. There would no longer be real predictability as far as what is going to happen from day-to-day," Harmon said.

But there are steps people can follow to make sure they don't become isolated while gaming.

"Make sure there's a clock. Make sure there's boundaries.  Allowing some freedom in playing but set boundaries. Make sure it's not in their bedrooms. There's a twice as likelihood to really have some problems with video game excessive use if that game console or television or computer is in their bedroom," Grevlos said.

People need to be aware of its negatives, but Grevlos says that playing games has its benefits.

"They can improve special abilities, which is important in science and applied science and other areas of life. They can help with tension. They can change and make perception more acute," Grevlos said.

No matter what playing video games does to one's behavior, gamers will continue to plug in and play.

According to the World Health Organization's criteria, 10 percent to 15 percent of gamers are addicted.

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