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Pushing the pause button


Girish Kumar Krishnan began playing video games after experiencing a massive culture shock when he and his family moved to the rural parts of the U.S. in 1998 from the crowded city of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala (India).Krishnan, a Georgia State student, said he didn’t have any idea of what America was like because he and his family were only used to seeing the U.S. on TV, which was primarily depicted like New York City.

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Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) is a new addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JADE JOHNSON | THE SIGNAL

“So we thought we were coming to the future; [we imagined there was] going to be robots and skyscrapers,” he said.

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“Then we land in Knoxville, Tennessee.”

Krishnan said he felt powerless by these changes, especially when his family later moved to Suwanee, Georgia. These changes resulted in feelings of social isolation.

“Imagine a 12-year-old Indian boy trying to grow up in rural south Georgia. Shit was weird,” he said. “Growing up I didn’t feel like I could connect with or had any control over my environment.”

Krishnan continued playing video games throughout high school, still feeling as though he had a sense of his own environmental control.

However, things changed when gaming began to affect his grades in college and he began losing his own self control by developing a video game addiction.

Wake Forest University

“I noticed I always had problems with finishing things, procrastination, attention and started looking into why that might be,” he said.

After failing organic chemistry, Krishnan said he decided it was a time to not only stop playing video games but figure out why he had let them impact his academic career.

Putting down the controller

Krishnan is now a graduate student at Georgia State pursuing a masters degree in Mental Health Counseling and interns at a facility to treat patients with video game addictions.

Krishnan works with licensed counselor Thomas Andre at Warnecke Professional Counseling which is currently run by Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Andrew Warnecke.

Warnecke Professional Counseling, located in Marietta, provides counseling to patients with game addictions through a program called Reboot, according to the center’s website.

The official name for problematic gaming is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as “Internet Gaming Disorder” (IGD).

“Once it [a disorder or addiction] hits that book, it allows research to be done in such a way that it can be substantiated and verified,” Andre said. “So it’s on it’s way to becoming a clinical disorder.”
The symptoms of IGD are similar to those of drug and alcohol abuse, according to Andre.

“[Symptoms include] failed attempts to control it yourself, very similar to drug and alcohol problems — heightened sense of euphoria while playing. That’s the people that get so ingrained — so focused — that hours can pass by before they realize how much time they wasted and maybe they didn’t do their homework,” he said.

Andre also said symptoms include cravings, neglecting social outlets and obligations, restlessness from not playing and dishonesty about the amount of time individuals play or about their behavior with it.
People with IGD go to extreme circumstances to continue gaming, according to Andre.

“I’ve had some people that have stolen money — stolen credit cards — from their parents to fund the gaming or buy extra powers or whatever,” he said. “I’ve known some people that lied about attending school, maybe not even registered and concealed it.”

Psychology behind the games and addiction

Krishnan said people develop problems with video games because they are trying to escape from something in their lives.

“Escapism is a factor,” he said. “If they feel powerless in their own lives or have little power over their environment or [are] just anxious or agoraphobic sometimes… all of these things lends itself to problems with video games because they can almost self medicate with video games.”

He also said the addiction is often correlated with associations of escaping their real-world problems.

“For every behavior there is a purpose. Even an addict’s behavior. Why does an addict do what he does? It takes the pain away,” Krishnan said. “It takes his thoughts away. For a lot of them it’s association and video games can be a source of induced association so they don’t have to sit with their thoughts and their worries.”

Andre said for people that are shy, gaming can also be an outlet for them to talk to people or be part of group interaction.

“You don’t know me, anonymity. You can’t see me, invisibility. See you later, asynchronicity,” he said.
Krishnan said IGD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often bidirectional.

“People with problems with attention play more video games or are drawn to video games because video games are able to hold their attention because it’s so stimulating,” Krishnan said. “But at the same because it’s so overly stimulating and chronic then it starts to worsen their attention problems.”

However, he also said not all gamers are addicts.

“I’m not saying all video games are bad either, It’s almost like alcohol or anything else. There’s people who can drink a beer or two and be fine and then there’s people who obviously have problems,” Krishnan said. “Same thing with video games in my opinion.”

Understanding Internet Gaming Disorder

Andre said the professional method of treating patients is through psychology-based education.
He and Krishnan are currently treating five patients who are three weeks into an eight-week group program.
“It’s a process group for people to talk about their own lives, talk about what’s going on in their lives, why they do what they do,” he said.
Andre also said he has seen approximately one hundred patients in the three years since he’s been working with IGD.
After graduation Krishnan intends to continue research on IGD, human attention and the impact of technology on our neuropsychology.

“I want to keep counseling while doing research and publish and educating people on this to some extent.”
Krishnan said his belief that psychology is used in games to encourage people to keep playing and pointing this out to his patients can be a catalyst for change.

“When I explain these things, they [those addicted] start to change because now they understand,” he said. “They have a concept of what is going on. Usually it’s people just telling them, ‘Hey, stop playing video games. It’s bad for you.’”

Those with an addiction to gaming and want to stop should have hope, according to Krishnan.

“They might think it’s hopeless, that they can’t ever break these cycles or that they are losers… You can change and science says you can too,” he said.

videogames

Psychology behind the games and addictionKrishnan said people develop problems with video games because they are trying to escape from something in their lives.“Escapism is a factor,” he said. “If they feel powerless in their own lives or have little power over their environment, or [are] just anxious or agoraphobic sometimes … all of these things lends itself to problems with video games because they can almost self medicate with video games.”He also said the addiction is often correlated with associations of escaping their real-world problems.

“For every behavior there is a purpose. Even an addict’s behavior. Why does an addict do what he does? It takes the pain away,” Krishnan said. “It takes his thoughts away. For a lot of them it’s association and video games can be a source of induced association so they don’t have to sit with their thoughts and their worries.”

Krishnan said the games he had the greatest problems with were Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) and League of Legends (LoL).

Krishnan also said it is his opinion that playing LoL is similar to gambling because to you can either gain or lose points depending on whether you win or lose battles.

“People usually get to a skill plateau and they’re not going to go much higher beyond that. They’re going to lose some, win some,” Krishnan said. “It’s almost the same as the gambler, they get superstitions and ‘It’s the next one.’”

Andre said people get hyper-focused on games because of how engaging they are.

“Often the games nowadays are built with hooks and built specifically to reinforce the habit so there’s a reward system,” Andre said. “In Candy Crush you get to a level and you get more levels. It engages you.”

Krishnan said IGD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often bidirectional.

“People with problems with attention play more video games or are drawn to video games because video games are able to hold their attention because it’s so stimulating,” Krishnan said. “But at the same because it’s so overly stimulating and chronic then it starts to worsen their attention problems.”

Not only himself but Krishnan said he saw how video games affected those around him negatively.

“Personally, one of my roommates got into WoW (World of Warcraft) and next thing I know I see him a year and a half later and he’s dropped out, working at Publix and growing his own weed. And this is not somebody you’d expect to do that.”

However, he also said not all gamers are addicts.

“I’m not saying all video games are bad either, It’s almost like alcohol or anything else. There’s people who can drink a beer or two and be fine and then there’s people who obviously have problems,” Krishnan said. “Same thing with video games in my opinion.”

Understanding Internet Gaming Disorder

Andre said the professional method of treating patients is through psychology-based education.

He and Krishnan are currently treating five patients, who are three weeks into an eight-week group program.

“It’s a process group for people to talk about their own lives, talk about what’s going on in their lives, why they do what they do,” he said.

Krishnan believes that psychology is used in games to encourage people to keep playing, and pointing this out to his patients can be a catalyst for change.

“Look at a game like Call of Duty and you see all the achievements, you unlock this, you got that skill, you got to go to this level. That’s small levels of dopamine hit,” Krishnan said. “Goal achievement and reinforcing behavior and it makes it harder and harder to extinguish that behavior because it’s almost a gamble with these video games.”

Krishnan said these are the things he is pointing out to his patients because understanding why an individual keeps playing can be a catalyst for change.

“When I explain these things they start to change because they now understand. They have a concept of what is going on. Usually it’s people just telling them, ‘Hey, stop playing video games. It’s bad for you,’” Krishnan said.

Krishnan said an important keys to recovery are awareness and mindfulness.

“Using mindfulness to practice being here sitting with their thoughts, their pain might help them move past that.” Krishnan said.

Krishnan said people that have a problem with gaming and want to stop should have hope.

“They might think it’s hopeless, that they can’t ever break these cycles or that they are losers … You can change and science says you can too.”

1 Comment

  1. Mathew,

    The article that you wrote will help bring to light an issue that remains so hidden for some and obvious to others. It is one reason why, I believe, that internet gaming/problematic computer use and abuse remains “the hidden illness” because in some ways it has been right under our noses. It has crept in our lives in the dark and needs to be brought out into the light.

    I wanted to let your readers know that there is help out there. They don’t have to go it alone.

    Warmest regards,

    Thomas E. Andre, MA, NCC, LAPC
    Warnecke Professional Counseling
    2050 Roswell Rd. Marietta, GA 30062

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