Gaming addiction 'something of an issue' for young New Zealanders, therapist says

A Kiwi psychotherapist says gaming addiction is "something of an issue" in New Zealand, with somewhere up to five per cent of young people being negatively affected by playing video games.

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Psychotherapist James Driver says up to five per cent of young people have a problem. Source: Breakfast

Psychotherapist James Driver, speaking this morning to TVNZ1's Breakfast programme, said international research shows between two and five per cent of youths are gaming in ways which could be considered addictive behaviour, while a further four to five per cent are gaming in ways that could be considered problematic.

"It's not really just a function of the number of hours they're spending, but how is it actually affecting everything else," Mr Driver said.

"Are they able to keep the rest of their life in balance? Or is it creating problems in their relationships, their sleep schedules, their school work, all those sorts of things."

Mr Driver said certain types of game are typically more associated with behavioural gaming problems, such as online battle arenas or massively multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs).

The online battle arena genre includes games such as Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm.

Some examples of MMORPGs include World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls online, EVE Online and Final Fantasy XIV.

"I think those games just meet a lot of different needs," Mr Driver says, "they're engaging to people in a lot of different ways - there's the social aspect, the competitive aspect, there's a high degree of skill and challenge and so I think those games are just inherently very appealing.

"And then for people who may already be susceptible due to other stuff that's going on for them, that can lead to problems."

The treatment of gaming addiction in New Zealand is "still very much an emerging area", Mr Driver said, adding that he believes therapy staff need to be up-skilled to deal with this kind of issue.

Mr Driver said it was still difficult to procure funding for gaming addiction, whereas for other addictions such as drugs, alcohol and gambling, there was plenty of help available.

If a parent believes their child is spending too much time gaming, Mr Driver said, the first thing to look for is whether there are any other underlying problems which might be causing them to withdraw into that world.

He said parents should also look at their own screen use, and consider whether they might be modeling that behaviour for their kids.

The final thing to look at is helping kids find alternative ways to meet their needs which might be easily provided by gaming - connection, challenge, excitement - so they're able to self-regulate around their technology use.