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I am a mother of a brilliant 18.5 year old young man who is obsessed with video gaming. This is a habit that has existed since he was 13 years old and was exacerbated when his severe chronic cystic acne began. Academically he has always been a superstar, and just finished first year of college with a perfect 4.0 average in computer science and Electrical Engineering. Due to his Ap credits he will be finishing college in 3 years. The narrative above is not intended for bragging purposes, but rather to give you a quick profile. Socially he has only one or two friends that he sees on a rare occasion, and all his other interest surround computers, in fact he has a an elite standing on this site. My concern is that the majority of his free time is spent in his room playing a cyber video game called "Sauerbraten". On average he plays about 25 hours a week. I feel that he is addicted. This issue has adversely affected my relationship with him, As the acne has not resolved, part of me feels extremely bad, yet I know that this type of video gaming is not healthy. I have been dismissed by therapists and even at times by my husband as everyone says that since he is doing so well in school,does not have a drug or alcohol problem I ought to leave him alone. Your advice and guidance is much appreciated, as I am finding myself in a very difficult place. Looking forward to insights and replies.

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Additionally, bear in mind that your son is doing a CS/EE course. I'm not familiar with "Sauerbraten" myself, but when my parents were worried about me spending 4 hours a night playing Unreal Tournament when I started university, I was actually spending a lot of my time modding the game and developing skills I now use in my career. Obviously I can't promise you that's the case with your son, but time spent indulging his "interest in computers" isn't necessarily time wasted. –  Iain Galloway Jun 10 at 9:17
    
Have you actually spoken to your son about it? –  Iain Galloway Jun 10 at 9:18
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@IainGalloway Sauerbraten is, appropriately enough, a first-person shooter with in-game editing/development features, and has an open-source game engine for serious/hobby game development purposes. A CS student spending 25hr/wk messing with a game development platform is... well, very much not far from your experience with UT. :) –  SevenSidedDie Jun 10 at 17:03
    
You are describing someone who has a very large class load and is playing 25 hours a week. How much has he been sleeping? I would worry if he is not getting enough sleep, which may cause health problems. –  kleineg Jul 24 at 12:34
    
25h/w, is perhaps 3h/day. Say, if he worked out 2h/day, and watched tv 1h/day, you would not react at all, I think, but rather think this is normal, borderline healthy. Besides, a high class load, also requires some time to distance from school stuff. I think that I also had similar statistics on gameplay in those years, at least for some periods. –  Per Alexandersson Aug 3 at 6:16

5 Answers 5

First, let's talk about addiction.

You say that you feel he is addicted, largely because he plays 25 hours a week, you "know that this type of video gaming is not healthy", and because it has adversely affected your relationship with him.

Addiction, specifically in this case a behavioral addiction, is the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences:

The essential feature of behavioral addictions is the failure to resist an impulse, drive, or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or to others (4). Each behavioral addiction is characterized by a recurrent pattern of behavior that has this essential feature within a specific domain. The repetitive engagement in these behaviors ultimately interferes with functioning in other domains.

-- Introduction to Behavioral Addictions

The DSM5 describes "Internet Gaming Disorder" in the section on "Conditions for Further Study". It defines the criteria as:

  • preoccupation with such games
  • withdrawal symptoms of irritability, anxiety, or sadness
  • the development of tolerance
  • unsuccessful attempts to control the behavior
  • loss of interest in other activities
  • continued excessive use despite knowledge of psychosocial problems
  • deceiving others regarding the amount of time spent gaming
  • use of this behavior to escape or relieve a negative mood
  • jeopardizing/losing a significant relationship/job/educational opportunity

Note that the categorization under "Conditions for Further Study" is because not enough information exists to warrant inclusion as a formal disorder.

In all honesty, nothing you've described, with the exception of the deterioration of his relationship with you, sounds like video gaming has done substantial harm to him, or that his interest level has gone beyond healthy.

Looking at the criteria above, are there more signs that you've seen that are causing concern? Has he decided to quit, and failed? Has he agreed with you that his playing is harmful? Does he show signs of mood changes, particularly when other activities prevent him from playing? Does he lie to you and others about how much time he spends playing? Has he lost friends because of gaming?

Despite playing games to a degree you find worrying for more than 5 years, he is doing excellently in college. You say he plays, on average, about 25 hours a week. That's actually not so much when compared to what some people who are playing video games to destructive levels average. Some people play as much as 40 or more hours a week.

It is still a lot, and I can understand your concern, but if he's self-conscious about his looks, introverted, and spending a lot of his time studying, it may not be a warning sign in and by itself. If, has been suggested in comments, a significant portion of his time spent on video games has been involved in working with the design of the game, via mods or changes to the open source code, you may actually want to look at at least some of that time as homework, rather than play, especially given his area of studies.

Keep in mind that there is a lot of socialization that can occur in online games. He may have more friends online than you may be aware of, and while the idea of "online friends" may seem foreign to you, many people today are finding engagement in online communities to be a socially acceptable compliment to other social activities. If he's self-conscious about his medical condition, and generally an introvert, online socialization may be a very appealing alternative.

In all honesty, if you've discussed this with therapists, and your husband, and no one except you feels that this is a problem, you need to honestly ask yourself: is the problem the video game's impact on your son, or is it your belief that video games are "harmful", which, in turn, is causing you to criticize your son's behavior to the point that it is harming your relationship with him?

Addictive behavior is rarely subtle. The fact that your husband does not seem to share your concerns, nor professional therapists, is not pointing to this being a problem on your son's end, especially considering his academic performance.

I suggest the first thing you should do is talk to your son, and ask him why he plays so much. What does he get out of it? Why does he enjoy it? Does he have friends online? Is he playing, designing, or both? If both, how much time on it does he consider " work"?

Open communication will be a great starting point for determining where to proceed next.

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Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not discussion. Please take any discussion to Parenting Chat. All prior comments have been purged. –  Beofett Jun 10 at 17:15

As an avid gamer and software developer, I have never heard of a game called "Sauerbraten." I looked it up and apparently it is a first person shooter named after a German pot roast. It isn't a widely popular game created by a major video game company. It is an open-source community-made game. It also doesn't appear to be a very "good" game. Something else is attracting your son to it. It could be that he has made several friends while playing it and enjoys spending time with them. I think more likely, judging by your son's field of study, it is quite possible he may be involved in the development of the game. He may be involved with the development of the open-source game engine or in the map-making and modding community. Either way it is a great start to a career in software engineering.

By the verbage in your question it seems that you know very little of video gaming. I would suggest that you simply need to take interest in what your son is playing and find out why he enjoys it so much. Not only will your relationship improve but you might even realize that his hobby isn't as harmful as you think.

Please keep in mind that video gaming is a perfectly legitimate hobby and should be respected as any other hobby would be.

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Sauerbraten is in fact a popular game, especially among the Linux crowd. It's a great oldschool multiplayer FPS a la Quake. –  Alex M. Jun 9 at 18:44
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+1. When I was in college, I spent a lot of time on MUDs.... except a large fraction of that was on PROGRAMMING a MUD that a friend of mine ran. That led to at least one of my part time jobs. –  user3143 Jun 10 at 0:48
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+1 for suggesting to take interest in the son's hobby. –  Ida Jul 21 at 17:40

As a 23 year old son, that also play 25h/week, i must ask you: have you tried to invite him to do something together? like bowling, or anything that he likes?

I ask you this, because i usually play games if im bored (understand that there are only few things that i really think that is interesting..), so, whenever my mom/dad ask me to go to a place that i like, i accept :D, and we spend time together having fun! You should try this, and let me know if it worked =D

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This is how my huge time spent gaming works with my wife. She says "let's go to the movies." I stop playing (or at least finish the current game of LoL) and go with her. –  Almo Jun 9 at 15:57

I'm gonna tell you about my experience, not as a parent but as a teenager who spent a lot of time playing video games. Hope you'll find it helpful.

During high school I spent most of my free time playing video games. And that was way more than 25h a week. Actually I could play more than that in a week-end. I don't think I was addicted, since when I had other things to do (holidays or whatever) I could stay away from a keyboard and not miss video games for a week. I just really enjoyed it and didn't have another hobby. I didn't have so many friends and wasn't particularly into hanging out with people or partying at the time. So I played video games.

It wasn't that bad though. It made me interact with people, discuss topics I was really interested in. I learnt to speak English mostly by playing and chatting with players from other countries. And all that stopped when I made a lot of friends in college and spent a lot of time with them. My time playing video games became less and less important, until I didn't think about it at all anymore.

So my advice is this : don't worry too much. As long as his passion doesn't affect his college education, let him enjoy it. It might end naturally sooner than you think. And if it doesn't, if that's the way he is happy, well so be it.

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As someone who once played video games a lot, I wish I hadn't played them quite as much. It's not the time spent playing games that I remember or have fond memories of (despite to this day having a strong nostalgia for some of the storylines etc. just as with a good film or book - but not the playing per se) Therefore now feeling like I don't have as many fond memories as I would like is a shame, but this is only something I'm able to recognise in retrospect, I had no capacity to process this abstract concept when I was your son's age. Had someone pointed that out to me, even with all the studies etc. I probably would have still ignored them for that reason. It sounds like one of those things where if you were free to start again you'd make all the same mistakes.

Of course as others have said, the thing to find out I suggest is whether your son is finding this social enjoyment in his activities - rather than playing it in isolation (as I tended to do). Because with that social engagement (which can spread into the outside world with hack weekends and the like) he might find he will have those fond memories in ten years time.

Video games didn't damage me, they even provided a strong comfort as books did traditionally during my difficult years 12 to 14 where I was bullied. In fact, I firmly believe that gaming from about 5 (alright, that was like Frogger... onto games like Sim City) is what got me my job as a Software Dev Manager. Something that I'm very proud of.

That said a couple of years ago I did learn, and I did decide that I wasn't ever going to play a game that 'had no end' after racking up thousands of hours. But I learned that in time.

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-1: My issue with this answer is that you seem to regret the time spent, but the rest of your answer is fairly positive about the outcomes. I'd appreciate a little edit to say what it is you actually regret. –  deworde Jul 22 at 9:42
    
@deworde OK - will do, although it was that conundrum that I was trying to express. –  Jumbert Jul 22 at 10:00
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+1: Great edit; the idea that you won't remember the playing with fondness is a really critical idea. I personally have the other feeling; I can remember beating incredibly difficult challenges with glee, but there are so many TV shows I wish I'd never spent the time on. –  deworde Jul 22 at 11:08

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