"I worked in a pretty boring role all day and started gaming for the mental stimulation. I spent more and more time playing, it was all about winning. When I wasn't winning I became real moody and hard to be around. I stopped doing other things so I could get back to gaming and was mostly online every evening and weekends... if I hadn't stopped, it would have cost me my relationship" - MB Sailor, NZ Navy

Video gaming can be a great source of entertainment. But it can become a very real problem for many people. International studies have suggested that between 6 to 15% of all gamers exhibit signs that could be characterised as addiction. Gaming is an extremely common hobby amongst New Zealanders, with 2 out of 3 Kiwis playing video games every day. While most New Zealanders play video games in moderation, according to a 2012 report 6 to 8% of us may have problems with the way we spend our time gaming or using the internet.

Is this a problem in NZDF?

Our research suggests yes - 8% of military and 2% of civilians who participated in the 2019 Health and Wellbeing Survey indicated they spent an average of 3 or more hours gaming a day, and 2% of military personnel surveyed spent more than 5 hours a day. While this might be appropriate for some days - like a wet Sunday afternoon - spending this amount of time gaming can interfere with our ability to function across other areas of our lives.

How do people get addicted to gaming?

Standard video games are generally designed to be played by a single player, and involve a clear goal or mission such as saving the world. The addiction in these games is often related to completing that mission or beating a high score or preset standard. Then there are online multiplayer games, which can be especially addictive because they generally have no ending. Gamers can enjoy creating and temporarily becoming an online character, and often build relationships with other online players. For some, this community may be the place where they feel most at home.

Video game addiction explained

Can you recognise the signs that your gaming may be getting out of control?

Many different factors lead to video game addiction, but one of the main drivers is that video games are created that way - to be addictive. Video game designers, like anyone else trying to make a profit, are always looking for ways to get more people using their product. They accomplish this by making a game just challenging enough to keep you coming back for more, but not so hard that the player eventually gives up. In other words, success for a gamer often feels just out of reach.

Gaming can often meet our needs for purpose and goals, for achievement, for belonging and community, for freedom and escape, and for a sense of identity. While there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, an important question to consider for each of these areas is this: Is gaming the only way in which I can meet this need?  Unfortunately, it tends to be the case that the more we meet particular needs through gaming, the less we meet them in other ways in the rest of our life, and so it can start to feel difficult or impossible to moderate gaming time.

What are the signs of video gaming becoming a problem?

As with any other addiction, video game addiction has warning signs. It's important to know how to recognise these signs if you or someone you care about is an avid gamer. Signs can be both emotional and physical.

Emotional signs

  • Preoccupied with online activities and the next gaming session.
  • Feeling irritable or agitated when not able to play.
  • Lying to others about amount of time spent gaming.
  • Spending less time with others so you can play games instead.
  • Negative impact on relationships, job or education due to gaming.

Physical signs

  • Migraines and headaches due to eye strain from screen.
  • Fatigue and tiredness.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome from overuse of mouse and keypad.
  • Body stiffness and muscle pain from long periods of sitting.

Short-term and long-term effects of video game addiction

Like any other compulsive disorder, video game addiction can have severe negative consequences. The majority of these symptoms may be manageable in the short-term, but the long-term effects can be significant if not addressed properly. Chronic sleep and health problems, plus the negative impact on your job, relationships and overall wellbeing are serious consequences. There’s also a link between gaming addiction and depression and substance abuse.

How to change your gaming habits

If you ever feel you are gaming more than you would like, that you're missing out on other areas of your life because of your gaming, that your gaming is negatively affecting your mood, or that you don't have as much control over your gaming as you would like, then it may be that you're at the point of wanting to do something about your gaming. The first step to overcoming any addiction is recognising it exists. If you find that you or someone you care about is exhibiting any of these warnings signs, it's a good time to cut back on gaming.

Help to reduce or quit gaming

  • How To Overcome Video Game Addiction
  • 4 Reasons to Quit Gaming
  • Is gaming a waste of time?
  • Escaping video game addiction

Getting help

If you or someone you know are having difficulty limiting time spent on gaming, or are concerned about the impact it's having on other areas of life, you can find options for support and more information on the Net Addicition website for resources for computer gaming addiction in New Zealand.

Olganon has forums offering support for family members, parents and friends of addicted gamers, and has a great deal of useful information. They also provide a database of professionals who work with gaming addiction and offer online support meetings. Other online support sites include Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous (CGAA) and StopGaming.

Getting Help From Professionals

If none of the above options work well for you, seeking help from a professional therapist, counsellor or psychologist might be the next best option. Talkingworks: provides a list of various mental health practitioners throughout New Zealand. Although not many therapists or counsellors in New Zealand specialise in working with gaming addiction, most therapists with a background in addictions should be able to help you.

Away from the keyboard

This video explores the relationship between online gamers and the games that they play.