How video games could ruin your relationships

Published: Nov. 9, 2011 at 3:22 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Video games used to be known as child's play, but now more adults are getting hooked, sacrificing their jobs, families and friends to spend all their time online.

Janet Hunt loves spending time with her husband, Don. But a year ago, he had no time for her, only his videogame.

"Sometimes he could play up to 20 hours straight," said Janet. "He could be on there by 6 a.m. and by the time that 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. that night rolled around, he could still be sitting there playing."

It got so bad that Don lost his job, and Janet filed for divorce.

"It was lonely. It was real lonely. And it felt like I was like a widow. That I had lost my other half and just, I felt alone all the time," said Janet.

Janet's story is all too familiar to Ryan Van Cleave, author of the videogame addiction book Unplugged. He says more and more adults are becoming consumed by the games, and the consequences can be grave.

"They're killing careers, they're killing families, they're killing relationships, they're killing health, and literally now we're having people killing others and themselves over videogames," said Van Cleave.

How bad can it get? Police removed six children from the home of a mother in Pennsylvania  after finding them living in filth and animal waste. The kids' stepfather says the mom was too addicted to games to care for the children.

A Denver mother admitted she was playing an online Facebook game when her 1-year-old son drowned in the bathtub. And in Ohio, a teen was convicted of murdering his mother and wounding his father because they took away his Halo 3 game.

"Relationships fail and divorces happen and I've even heard of people - they don't want to leave the computer so much that they take every meal at the computer and then they wear diapers so they don't even have to go to the bathroom," said Douglas Gentile.

Gentile is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University. He considers videogame addiction an impulse control disorder.

"You know you should go to bed but you just want to get one more level. And you're not able to actually control those impulses to play. And what people need to do is get that back into balance," said Gentile.

The problem is since videogame addiction isn't a recognized medical diagnosis, help can be difficult to find.

"You're probably going to need to find a therapist who is used to dealing with people with impulse control disorders or with substance abuse disorders because they have a lot of ways to help people who start getting things out of balance in their lives," said Gentile.

And if it's your spouse that has the problem?

"The number one thing to do is not confront them while they're playing the game," he said. "A calm, clear conversation with them at a moment when they're not gaming is a great way to start things moving in the right direction."

Janet's husband was finally able to break his videogame addiction and they got back together. Today, they are working to get back on track both emotionally and financially.

"Life now is good. I have my husband back. I have my best friend back," she said.

Remember, we're not just talking World of Warcraft or Halo here. Experts say even so-called casual games, such as the ones you might find on Facebook, can become just as addicting.