Online Gamers Anonymous (OLGA) was founded by Liz Woolley in May of 2002 after her son, who was addicted to online video games, committed suicide.1 The tragic loss of her son inspired Woolley to help others who have been affected by video game addictions to have a community of people and a wealth of resources to reach out to when they need it.1 Although Online Gamers Anonymous began as a grassroots organization, by 2009 OLGA had become an international nonprofit corporation, and in 2014 it began its community outreach program that provides free recovery support groups worldwide.1
Online Gamers Anonymous believes that online video gaming is becoming a new “drug of choice” for people of all races, genders, and ages. Its vision and goal is to provide education, support, and healing to those who are addicted to video games and the loved ones who are also affected by online video game addiction.1 OLGA provides free resources to the worldwide community primarily through its online presence.1 Some of the services it provides for both people who are addicted to gaming and their loved ones include:1
- Chat rooms.
- Online support group meetings.
- The ability to have private conversations with other members of OLGA.
- Face-to-face meetings (although these are limited but growing daily).
- A list of local therapists who can help people with online gaming addictions.
- Self-administered tests to help a person determine if gaming is a problem.
- Articles related to gaming addictions.
- A YouTube channel about gaming addictions.
- A hotline service for those seeking help: (612) 245-1115.
OLGA is an invaluable resource for those who are affected by a gaming addiction because as a society at the beginning stages of really understanding and accepting gaming as an addiction, resources are limited. Members of OLGA provide knowledge, experience, compassion, and ongoing support for those who need to better understand how to deal with the impact of a gaming addiction.1
Video Game Addiction
Video game addiction is a serious disorder characterized by excessive game play. Video game addicts have difficulty thinking about activities other than gaming. Video game addiction treatment centers have the resources necessary to help compulsive gamers cope with this disorder. These rehabilitation facilities offer individual counseling, group counseling, and other tools for helping compulsive gamers change their behaviors in a positive way. Read More
What Is Online Gaming Addiction?
Online gaming addiction is referred to as an Internet Gaming Disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5).2 Its recognition as a diagnosable mental health condition is relatively recent, so more research would help it to be more fully understood.2
Internet Gaming Disorder is a pattern of gaming behavior that is recurring, happens online, and often takes place with other online players.2 To be considered clinically relevant, you must meet 5 or more of the following criteria over the span of 12 months:2
- A preoccupation with online gaming.
- Symptoms of withdrawal experienced upon cessation, such as anxiety, irritability, aggression, or craving.
- You need an increasing amount of time to play over what you initially required.
- An impulse to game and lack of control over that impulse.
- You give up other hobbies and interests to game.
- You continue to play despite negative consequences to other areas of life (social, educational, occupational, relational).
- Deception occurs to allow for more game time.
- Changes in mood related to playing or not being able to play.
- Loss of employment or other significant areas of your life are affected due to gaming.
In addition to meeting 5 or more of the above criteria, your functioning must become impaired in some area of your life, or you have distress related to gaming addiction.2 Some researchers also suggest that relapsing when trying to abstain from gaming and increased conflict with others should be considered criteria for a gaming addiction since these tend to be present for many who are addicted.2
Scientists who have researched online gaming addictions believe it to be a neurobiological disease or a disorder that has the potential to affect a person’s neurological (brain) and physical functioning.2 Studies show that when a person first begins to play video games, their brain functions on a much higher level than it does after chronic gaming.2
Brain imaging related to this discovery shows that when a person first starts gaming, their prefrontal cortex (the executive/higher functioning region of the brain) is activated.2 This part of the brain is associated with being able to make well-thought-out, rational decisions.2 The longer a person games, however, the less activated this part of the brain becomes, which simultaneously coincides with the increased activation of the lower parts of the brain such as the amygdala.2 This part of the brain is responsible for emotions and survival, more commonly known as the fight-flight-or-freeze part of the brain.2
Increased dopamine equals increased positive associations with the activity that triggers that release.
In addition to different areas of the brain being activated with prolonged video gaming, the brain also releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter associated with our brain’s reward systems.2 Increased dopamine equals increased positive associations with the activity that triggers that release.2 These things combine to create a craving and preoccupation to game and a lack of control over that impulse.2
While research does support that gaming can increase hand-eye coordination, the changes in the brain caused by excessive gaming can lead to various negative consequences, including:2
- Problems with impulse control.
- Inability to regulate emotions (emotional lability).
- Lack of behavioral inhibition.
- Impaired decision-making and higher thought processes.
- Inability to focus or maintain attention.
- Increased aggression or feelings of hostility.
- Lowered stress tolerance.
There is also a link between excessive gaming and certain mental health problems and disorders, such as:2
- Depression or a general dissatisfaction with life and withdrawal from others.
- Bipolar disorder.
- Dissociative symptoms (disconnecting from reality).
- Borderline personality.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Other addictions, including sex, alcohol, or drugs.
Not everyone who plays online games will become addicted and experience the symptoms previously mentioned, but researchers have identified several risk factors that increase the likelihood. Certain personality traits, motivations for gaming, and game characteristics may increase the chance that you will become addicted to online gaming or to a certain game itself.2
Higher-risk personality traits include:2
- High anxiety.
- Aggression or hostility.
- High sensation-seeking tendencies.
Motivations for gaming that increase your chances of becoming addicted include:2
- Gaming to cope with stress.
- Gaming to escape reality.
- Gaming to feel a sense of connection with others.
- Gaming for the challenge or excitement.
- Gaming to boost self-esteem.
Game characteristics that are more likely to lead to addiction include:2
- Those with adult content.
- Those that allow scene playback.
- Those that have hidden and rare collection items.
- Those that have avatars that a person can create a persona for.
The Role of 12-Step Groups in Recovery
Online Gamers Anonymous asks its members to reflect upon, observe, and practice the tenets of a 12-step program.1 While most people associate 12-step programs with a religious approach to recovery, OLGA emphasizes the importance of a universal approach in order to serve their worldwide audience, and therefore are inclusive of all religions.1
The principles of the 12 steps as outlined by OLGA include:1
- Honesty and acceptance in admitting powerlessness over gaming.
- Hope that a power higher than us can restore sanity.
- Faith and turning our lives over to that higher power.
- Courage to act and fearlessly make a moral inventory of ourselves.
- Integrity to admit to a higher power, ourselves, and one other person the nature of the problem.
- Willingness for the higher power to remove these obstacles to our character.
- Humility in asking for the removal of shortcomings.
- Compassion in listing all people who have been harmed and making amends.
- Seeking justice for others in making amends when possible.
- Perseverance in continued reflection and admitting when we are wrong.
- Increasing spirituality by seeking to connect consciousness with a higher power.
- Serving others by awakening spiritually and giving them the message.
Through the process of a 12-step program, a person is asked to be fearless in their honesty and integrity while going through the process of ridding themselves of a gaming addiction and healing the wounds, to themselves and others, that may have been caused throughout the course of that addiction.1 Twelve-step programs are free and provide the support, knowledge, and healing that is so important in strengthening a person’s commitment to recovery and helping a person feel they are not alone on the path to recovery.1 All whose lives have been affected by a gaming addiction are asked to join the fellowship and community of Online Gamer’s Anonymous (OLGA).
None of the information provided here is intended to help you or a loved self-diagnose a gaming addiction. If you or a loved one have reason to believe a gaming addiction is present, it is best to seek the advice of a professional.