Tam is a typical Scots teenager with time on his hands or rather at his fingertips. A bright kid good at science and maths, unfortunately he has placed school in limbo and spends an inordinate number of hours daily in a virtual world playing video games. He's good at them and often wins. However, like any addiction, they have all but taken over his young life to the point where the 17-year-old hardly goes out. He's looking a bit pasty and online games players have become his new pals as those nearby and at school take a back seat.
There's another Tam. It's an example of computer-speak. TAM is an acronym for 'technology acceptance model', a process monitoring social influences and experiences to specifically predict users' ready acceptance of online gaming. I read 'control', behind-the-scenes and a powerful force designed to keep an unsuspecting young person hooked on their games controller. For as long as possible.
The BBC reported shortly before the end of 2022 that Epic Games, maker of popular video game Fortnite,
has agreed to pay £427m ($520m) to resolve claims from US regulators that it 'violated child privacy laws and tricked users into making purchases'. The States' Federal Trade Commission said the firm duped players with 'deceptive interfaces' that could trigger purchases while the game loaded and it was also accused of using 'privacy-invasive' default settings.
What chance does a young person have when what amounts to sophisticated highly-technical tricks, led by clickbait, are used against him or her? In 2021, the gender ratio of gaming worked out at 58.5%/41.5% respectively, according to Statista, although society still views it as a predominantly male pursuit. Not so.
Widespread availability of mobile devices and internet access is considered to have significantly contributed to what's become known as 'gaming disorder'. There appears no let up. A study by a gaming site called AskGamblers
analysed the number of Google searches for technology products on sale in 2022. The outcome is that, such is the grip of gaming, the PlayStation 5 (PS5) was the most searched tech followed, beating the usually unassailable iPhone 13, then Nintendo Switch, with XBox Series X fourth and Apple Watch fifth.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled gaming as a 'real mental disorder' just five years ago, placing it in the ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases) reports Castle Craig addiction rehabilitation centre. WHO describes gaming disorder as 'a pattern of gaming behaviour characterised by impaired control' where gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continues to escalate negatively.
Castle Craig is a world-renowned residential rehab clinic, situated at West Linton that has, since being established in 1988, helped over 10,000 patients, with a majority going on to achieve long-term abstinent recovery from their addictions. The team there report that, unfortunately, addictions can be accompanied by depression, anxiety, trauma, relationship issues, eating disorders and PTSD. A typical diagnosis involves deterioration in functioning and day-to-day life like school, family, work, health or social life over 12 months or more.
People at risk are urged to request to be monitored for changes in physical or psychological well-being. In the case of gaming, the symptoms include a preoccupation with the pastime and an inability to control one's time or money spent on video games. Long-term or severe behaviour can lead to cross-addiction, influencing a person to turn to alcohol or drugs in order to stay alert and awake or to deal with stress and insomnia due to extreme gaming.
Tomer Shaked, 17, has written a book – Game Over: One Teen's Guide to Kicking Video Game Addiction
– in which he discusses his personal struggle to overcome a severe video game habit and provides practical tips to help others cut the cord.
All proceeds from the young American's Game Over
are being donated to the States' Jack & Jill Center, a non-profit organisation with a mission 'to strengthen children and families through innovative education, supportive programming and community engagement'. Tomer freely admits gaming consumed a large part of his childhood, years he realises he will never get back. He says video games deprived him of many irreplaceable experiences and moments, such as time with family and friends. Simply put, video games create a disconnect from reality, and it's that disconnect that becomes an addiction.
It's common for kids to think grown-ups are overreacting to such video game consumption. It makes Tomer's perspective and self-awareness that much more compelling, and well worth sharing with other young gamers. He outlines his relationship with gaming, which began innocently enough as a hobby before it escalated into an unhealthy obsession. It's an account that will likely sound familiar to many parents and teens.
Tomer's book also shares practical advice to help others who want to break free from gaming's grip. He says his goal in writing it is to 'inspire and influence' kids and teens to put down the game controller and live life to the full. It's an important read that will help teenagers and their parents recognise what video game addiction looks like. It's hoped to reach an audience prone to video game addiction as well as those who are close to someone who is deep into gaming.
Tomer, a high school senior and first-time author, struggled with video game addiction from an early age after receiving his first Xbox and spent years choosing video games over almost everything else in life. His addiction lasted until one day, in one moment, he made a radical change to stop gaming. He hopes he can inspire his generation to step outside of the game and thrive in the real world.
Former Reuters, Sunday Times, The Scotsman and Glasgow Herald business and finance correspondent, Bill Magee is a columnist writing tech-based articles for Daily Business, Institute of Directors, Edinburgh Chamber and occasionally The Times' 'Thunderer'