This article is Part 2 of an ongoing series of articles under the project, ‘Addictions: Breaking Bad’
“I’m going to throw your X-Box out of the window if you don’t turn that game off right now”
How familiar is this phrase (or one of its variations), coming from one of your parents or elders? It has probably become so routine now that it sticks with you like water does on a frog’s back (it doesn’t). If you’re here, eagerly reading this, my guess is you’d likely fall into one of the three categories:
- A loved one (child, spouse, sibling, friend) is addicted to gaming and will not budge nor will he/she accept that he/she has a problem. You’re at your wit’s end and are game (pun intended) for any solution at this point.
- You are a gamer who stumbled upon this article and are now warily reading through it waiting for the gaming is haram, bad, toxic, desensitizing accusations to be flung yet again, and you’re either annoyed or have given up at how misunderstood this genre of hobbies is.
- You need help. You’ve recognized you’re addicted beyond doubt. Your relationships are in shambles. You’re spending more money on upgrades, skins and new games than you’d care to admit.
Now if you belong to the second category, let’s begin by first extending a virtual olive branch. If, as you read on, you find that the signs of a gaming addiction are not manifest in you, then this is not for you.
Gaming is definitely known to help with a child’s mental development and their cognitive skills. I’ll also be the first to say that gaming has instilled a deeper love for history in a lot of people I know; it has helped foster their interest in science, building and critical thinking. However, a big condition that needs to be spelled out in big bold letters, particularly due to what I see with youngsters and the nature of games nowadays is- it is crucially important that
CHILDREN MUST PLAY AGE-APPROPRIATE GAMES.
Islam is all about moderation, and this moderation must be extended to all aspects of life. Playing games is definitely not haram, as long as they check out our usual Islamic checklist of no immorality (violence, idolatry, sex, nudity) being consumed by young eager eyes or any eyes for that matter.
I think it’s safe to say that that rules out a lot of games like GTA, Red Dead Redemption, PUB-G etc. Even more problematic is when you see kids as little as 5 years old proudly declaring that they’re playing GTA, or casually replying to absolutely shocked, out-of-the-loop adults, while grasping their Nintendo switches that yes, all players start out naked and we need to collect clothes on our way. They’ll smugly ask you how many skins you have while they proudly show you their collection of skins and guns, which have all been bought with real money, not game currency. Let that sink in for a moment. These are kids who are way below the permitted age range for them to be playing R rated games. Moreover, at a time that their brains are developing, they’re being hooked on to dopamine-hit serving machines, serving them one buzz after another. Is it not rattling to think that maybe, perhaps, our kids are being fed too much too soon?
I’m not done addressing you my dear brother/sister, the one who belongs to the second type. I’m assuming, since you’re out here reading this article, that perhaps you belong to the 90’s or the early 2000’s. Since you’re a gamer, I’m assuming you’ve been gaming since a young age. Can you honestly tell me, hand on heart, that games today are like the games you grew up playing? Did you spend your formative years playing hyper-realistic, xyz games that run on micro-transactions and no pause button, therefore making you either lose a round (ugh) or keep stalling your mom (one minute, mom!) until you complete the round? Absolutely not! Games back then were a lot more wholesome, a lot more focused and adventure-based (Pac-Man, Super Mario etc) instead of mindless running around on-loop (Fortnight) and educational (Magic School Bus, Age of Empires).
With better graphics through the years, games have also altered their algorithms and have been tweaked to become more open-world, more addicting, more aimless.
“Gaming companies will hire the best neuro-biologists and neuro-scientists to hook up electrodes to the test gamer. If they don’t elicit the blood pressure that they shoot for- typically 10 over 120 or 140 within a few minutes of playing, and if they don’t show sweating and an increase in their galvanic skin responses, they go back and tweak the game to get that maximum addicting and arousing response they’re looking for.” 
I hope this has convinced you that, yes we have a serious problem on hand, and no, I’m not attacking the genre of gaming as a whole. Games for the sake of pure gaming without any immorality and filth (think Need for Speed, FIFA, Rocket League, Gangbeasts, Cities: Skylines, Minecraft, Age of Empires), played for a reasonable amount of time are totally fine and dare I say it, good. It can be just as much of an escape or a hobby as reading a book, or painting or gardening can be. The problem arises when time limits, supervision, and all sense of moderation seems to disappear; when they become a leisure break not just from work but from life; when you find it taking over your thoughts, body and life.
Now having addressed that end of the spectrum, let’s move on to that group which either recognizes it has a problem or that group which is living with someone who has a problem. To tackle this, we need to address this step by step.
AM I ADDICTED?
The path to solving a problem is to first recognize and accept that there you might have one. Here are some basic signs that you might be addicted to video games:
- Feelings of restlessness and/or irritability when unable to play.
- Preoccupation with thoughts of previous online activity or anticipation of the next online session.
- Lying to friends or family members regarding the amount of time you have spent playing.
- Your salah and other acts of worship are getting affected by your gaming (eg: missing fajr due to late night gaming).
- Frequent fights/arguments with loved ones over gaming habits and lack of involvement around the house.
- Isolation from others in order to spend more time gaming.
- Migraines due to eye strain or intense concentration at the screen.
- Disinterest in maintaining personal hygiene.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome caused by overuse of controller or computer mouse.
- Uncontrolled spending habits in order to buy upgrades, skins, guns etc.
If you check at least 3 or more of these, it’s time to get into corrective mode and get down to the nitty-gritty in recognizing why this addiction has taken root and how to break free from it.
To tackle any problem, we need to first get to its root, and analyze what might be that you relate to. Commonly, a gaming addiction is said to stem as a result of at least one of the following reasons:
- Looking for an escape – either from a dysfunctional family life (parents don’t get you, or parents are constantly fighting etc), or from a school and social life where you just don’t fit. Therefore, what better way to busy your mind than in a game where you’re always the hero who always gets the bad guy, and is never defeated.
- Loneliness – this causes you to turn to video games in an attempt to be a part of a community that just gets you. You end up having a social circle (albeit virtual) without the cons of possible awkward social interactions! Win!
- Looking for a goal or a sense of purpose.
“As I worked with hundreds of gamers, it became apparent to me that many of these kids were looking for some sort of deeper connection and a sense of purpose. Alienated and adrift in soulless and institutional high schools, the meaning-starved kid finds purpose in a digital fantasy realm of adventure where there are monsters to slay, competitors to vanquish and prizes to attain; there is a soul-satisfying sense of purpose- and if the games are played with others, a shared sense of purpose.” 
- A break from a dizzyingly monotonous life, where the be-all-end-all of your routine is gaming- a safe alternative to going out for a change because why bother, when you can switch up worlds at will and still have fun?
Now that we know what the root causes are, we have some direction on what needs to be worked on.
Now that you’re ready to start making some positive changes in your life, we have a few things you can do to break the shackles of this obsession:
- The first and most important step, and more often than not- the hardest one- is to set time limits for yourself and stick to them. Allow yourself a realistic yet reasonable amount of game time and start to slowly taper down once you feel comfortable with it. If you feel like you’re someone who needs to be held accountable to show results, involve a friend/sibling/spouse/parent in your plan and ask them to help you stick to your time limits.
- The best way to break a bad habit is to create a new (good) habit in its place. Try to fill your time by taking up another hobby. Find something feasible that you’ve always been interested in and take the plunge! InshaAllah, this will help you to keep gaming under control.
- Make sincere earnest dua asking Allah to help you overcome this. Nothing is possible without dua.
- Try to incorporate some more physical activity/exercise in your day-to-day routine.
- Reward yourself for hitting certain milestones, and if you fail to get to said milestones, ask Allah for help, grit your teeth and try harder. Ask yourself if it’s worth all that you’ve realized you’re risking and start over.
Always remember that any change can occur with the right mindset and sheer willpower. We ask Allah to make this easy for you, and we ask that He reward you for actively wanting to bring about a positive change in your life.
اللهم لا سَهلَ إلا ما جعلته سهلا، وأنت تجعلِ الحُزنَ إذا شِئتَ سهلا
, Kardaras, N, “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids”
 Paraphrased from Duhigg, C’s “The Power of Habit”
Note: This series of articles involves and is written in consultation with clinical psychologists and other industry professionals.
Missed Part 1? Read: Rooting It Out: Understanding Addiction and Its Origins
Missed Part 2? Read: Gaming: Game Over? Or Level Up?
Missed Part 3? Read: Music: Lost In A Song
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