There are positive aspects to gaming immersion, says Anthony Bean, PhD.
Technology companies and game publishers share an interest: they want to keep your eyes on the screen. And for the most part, they have been incredibly successful in doing so. So if you and your child are consumed by video games and other screens you are not alone, but there is something you can do about it.
First of all, worry a little less about how consuming games and screens are for your child. This likely speaks more to the alluring nature of screens than it does to a pathological interest in technology. Games and technology are built to call out for your attention and to make it difficult for you to leave. As Adam Alter describes in his book Irresistible, technology companies have become experts in behavioral addiction. They keep users consumed by the use of goals, feedback, progress, escalation, cliffhangers, and social interaction in their technologies. However as much as games and technologies have a built-in strategy to encourage addiction, very few adults and children are actually addicted to games and meet the criteria for the clinical diagnosis of Internet Gaming Disorder.
According to Anthony Bean, Ph.D., many of those who meet these criteria appear to come to their excessive gaming with pre-existing anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Bean also describes others who, rather than having an addiction to technology, identify themselves as gamers for whom their pronounced use of technology is part of who they are. Gamers may have many of their social relationships tied into their game play and are apt to be involved in technology-based work and use their screen time to challenge themselves cognitively.
I have read Bean’s book, Working with Video Gamers and Games in Therapy: A Clinician’s Guide, and had a few discussions with him about the common concerns of too much screen time. One of the interesting perspectives he takes is that becoming immersed in a game is rewarding for many gamers. He describes immersion as helping gamers to focus solely on the task at hand and posits that gamers who become engrossed in screens will keep wanting more of the same. Bean describes the extent to which gamers love the Legend of Zelda series and continue to purchase each new game, even though it may be similar to those from the past. It is the experience of being immersed in something that is so powerful to gamers.
Unfortunately, many non-gamers do not understand the positive aspects of this immersion and instead view it in terms of addiction or being inherently dangerous due to the focus engendered by many video games. Few professionals would argue that being immersed in a great book, riveted to a play or movie, or fully taking in nature on a hike would be considered addictive or detrimental to one’s mental health. As I have stated in the past, the key ingredient is that kids (and adults) have other interests, a healthy and balanced ”Play Diet” in which digital play is not their sole activity.
Bean’s book is a tremendous resource for professionals who want to know more about video gaming and learn the terminology that is used by gamers as well as their less engaged peers. He provides a glossary of video game terms and puts gaming into the broader context of play, creativity, and imagination that will be crucial for 21st-century children. Working with Video Gamers and Games in Therapy could also be a useful tool for parents who want to know more about the psychology of gaming and why kids enjoy video games so much. The book helps to put video gaming into a more historical perspective and could allow non-gamers to begin to understand that the content and mechanics of gaming are so attractive and entertaining and can help to broaden one’s perspective.