Dear Wanda and Wayne,
I just heard a report on the radio about a study that said video game addiction is a legit mental illness. Now I'm convinced my boyfriend isn't just a video game obsessive but an addict. He is constantly playing in the morning, afternoon and night, at home, in the car when I drive, and even at work when he has a break. And on the TV, on the laptop and on his phone. It feels like it's non-stop and it's been that way since he was a kid apparently.
He says and I will admit that he never let video games get in the way or stop him from doing something important or even let it interrupt time between us. And that is all true technically. He's a man of his word and very responsible about doing his share at our place and at work, which is part of why I love him. But there's a gray area too, because he fills every second that isn't important with video games. I'm a guy who takes his time when I get ready for anything, so he gets ready super quick and then plays video games while I'm getting prepped. If we're waiting for anything, a table, a movie, whatever, out comes the phone and games. He's mastered playing games and carrying on conversations with people including me. You should see him on the phone with his mom when he's at home with a controller in hand. She has no clue and would be soooo mad!
Anyway, it's been a running joke for us because he is so good and sensitive about being present when he has to be. But the rest of the time he's zoned out and I don't really think it's funny anymore. At what point does his habit become addiction? At what point do I stop joking with him and tell him I think he's a functioning addict? Or am I totally wrong? I don't even know what life would be like if he wasn't always playing video games!
I think you nailed it, buddy — your BF is probably a functioning addict. The good ones can keep a nice, if not perfect, balance between their vices and their lives. The great ones hide it so well that the people around them, including loved ones, have no clue.
Clearly you notice — your man has no shame in his gaming. And you've both normalized it by joking. Hey, it's not like he's covering up tracks on his arm or using mouthwash to hide whiskey on his breath.
I'm no expert, but it doesn't take Dr. Mario to say this lands somewhere on the spectrum of fixation, obsession and addiction. If you can't visualize what life would be like without him playing games, I promise you that he can't even imagine it and has never even tried. Sounds like addiction.
This is where people who truly care step up. And this is when boyfriends like you stop enabling and start being tough and honest. Tell him how much you care about him and that you can't ignore this anymore. Then be frank about your concerns about his health, his issue and his need for help. Maybe it will be a lightbulb moment for him, but more likely shifting the conversation about his game playing from silly to serious will turn him into an angry bird.
If he can't or won't hear it from you, ask him to at least see a professional and talk about it. Like for most mental health challenges, there is professional help available. That's a great first step. Good luck with the journey.
Addiction is a strong word, and many experts agree it's too strong to apply to obsessive gamers. The American Psychiatric Association has listed "Internet gaming disorder," or IGD, in its handbook that lists possible mental disorders. They suggest there are several notable signs of IGD: gaming is a predominant activity; withdrawal symptoms like anxiety kick in when one can't play; they have trouble breaking away from the gaming and can't control how much time they spend doing it; they stop wanting to do other hobbies; they know their gaming is a problem but keep playing anyway; they lie to people about how much time they really spend playing; they using gaming to escape negative situations and moods; and finally, the gaming results in relationship problems.
If your dude shows five or more of these symptoms in a 12-month period, you may be in trouble. Or, you may not be.
It could be that your guy is just bored, or in a rut, or even depressed and withdrawing into his games as a way of not dealing with reality. He also could simply be incredibly introverted and someone who just prefers staying home and doing quiet personal activities to being out and socializing.
How about a happy medium: rather than diagnose him and haul him to rehab, suggest that one night a week, you unplug — quite literally. No phones, no computers, just you two and some Netflixing and chill time. If this proposal completely panics him, you may have a problem. But maybe he'll surprise you and power down so the two of you can recharge.