With much of the world in lockdown, video-game use has exploded.
Online Gaming has become a way for millions of isolated people to pass the time and stay connected to others without spreading coronavirus and health officials have praised the idea. But for some percentage of users, the indulgence comes with a dark side of addiction.
Video-game addicts similar to gamblers, are under a number of pressures, including stress, isolation, and unemployment. And they’re being urged to engage in the very behavior they struggle with.
“Every risk factor for gambling addition is spiking right now, and the same is true for internet and gaming addiction,” said Keith Whyte, executive director at the National Council on Problem Gambling.
Ubisoft Entertainment SA released free games and discounts, encouraging people to “play your part, play at home.” Activision Blizzard Inc., Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube, and Zynga Inc. also said they will offer rewards to promote handwashing and efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Having these entertainment options is helping people to stay home and not feel like they have to go out and meet people,” Ray Chambers, the WHO’s Ambassador for global strategy, said in a phone interview.
“The longer this is going on, the more likely some people will develop problems.”
But some gamers may struggle to get their lives back on track after the pandemic is over.
Activity on online game platform Steam surged in March, with more than 24 million people playing at peak time. Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox and Mixer services are seeing record numbers. On Verizon Communications Inc.’s network, gaming usage during peak hours was up 75%.
For people prone to game addiction, the present time is “the perfect storm,” said Sherer, who is a gamer himself.
Typically, it’s the immersive games like World of Warcraft – with no structured end – that can suck people in, Kuss said.
“The longer this is going on, the more likely some people will develop problems,” Kuss said.
The WHO isn’t a stranger to the problem: It recently recognized game addiction as an official mental health ailment. But it’s also trying to save lives.
“It’s not our priority to reduce gaming-related problems – it’s to reduce the exposure to the pandemic,” Kuss said. “So encouraging gaming on a general basis is probably the right thing to do.”