Are Video Games a Coping Mechanism or Problem Behavior?

Young adults play video games for different reasons. Some play for entertainment or competition, while others turn to video games as a way to cope with stress or anxiety. Understanding your young adult’s motivation to play may be key to identifying some of the causes of gaming disorder. The reason young adults turn to video games can help parents differentiate between healthy use, excessive screen time, and video game addiction. 

The Addictive Nature of Video Games

Nearly 25 percent of young adult gamers play four or more hours a day; however, only between 2 and 8 percent of young adults who play video games become addicted. Video game addiction doesn’t necessarily refer to the amount of time someone spends playing video games, but rather the reasons why they turn to video games. 

  • Accessibility. Cross-platform games can be played on one’s computer, TV, or on their phone, which makes it easier for young adults to justify staying connected to the online worlds these games create. 
  • Escapism. Many young adults withdraw socially and turn to online worlds to escape from conflicts in their personal lives and other responsibilities.
  • Coping. Video games can be used to distract from or cope with negative emotions or thoughts.



How Are Video Games Used for Coping?

Video games were designed as a form of entertainment that appealed to young people who loved the instant gratification of the graphics. As games became more realistic, young people realized that video games gave them access to virtual places and activities that they didn’t experience offline. Video games carry young adult’s imaginations to fantasy worlds, big cities, and sports fields where their online selves may be more skillful than their offline selves. It is not surprising that many teens who experience low self-esteem and rejection offline may cope by playing video games. Coping through video games allows them to imagine themselves differently and to find pleasure in their daily lives. 

Benefits of video games may include:

  • Improving one’s mood
  • Distracting from stress
  • Unwinding after a long day
  • Role playing different characters
  • Practicing problem-solving
  • Feeling less alone, especially when games have a chatroom feature

According to a study published in the Psychology of Popular Media Culture Journal, people with greater anxiety who use video games as a means of coping with that anxiety are more prone to video game addiction. “For most people, playing video games is a normal, healthy way to relieve stress, but some reach a point and can no longer control that behavior. Loss of control is, of course, a hallmark of addiction,” lead author Douglas Gentile explains. “The issue is when the gaming begins to disrupt normal and healthy functioning. This may mean they’re getting worse grades, they’re lying to people about time spent gaming or they’re performing poorly at work.”

When Does Playing Video Games Become a Problem Behavior?

Gentile’s previous research suggests that while nearly 25 percent of young adult gamers play four or more hours a day, rates of gaming disorder are between 2 and 8 percent of gamers. Someone can spend a lot of time playing video games with friends and have minimal problems in other areas of their lives, while others may lose interest in other activities and spend most of their time either playing video games or thinking about playing video games. 

The key element of video game addiction is the effect it can have on young adult’s mental health, whether it is used to avoid negative emotions or if it leads to increased negative emotions. This suggests that simply limiting screen time may be an ineffective way to address how video games affect mental health. 

The World Health Organization suggests that signs of video game addiction include: 

  • Impaired control over gaming (frequency, intensity, duration)
  • Increased priority given to gaming over other interests
  • Continuation or escalation of gaming despite negative consequences
  • Increased interpersonal conflict or social withdrawal
  • Distress when access to technology is limited

How Can Young Adults Learn to Cope More Effectively With Their Offline Lives?

While video games may provide an escape from stressors in young adults’ offline lives, they are more effective at helping young adults avoid feelings of anxiety and depression rather than addressing how to overcome them. Many young adults who spend a lot of time online struggle to feel connected offline, leading to failure to launch into independence. Video games may allow them to practice skils like decision-making and budgeting, but they don’t always seamlessly transfer in other settings. 

Transition programs, like Foundations Asheville, help young adults navigate personal goals and functional living skills in a supportive environment. We understand how technology can be a tool for communication and learning, but recognize that it can have an impact on emotion regulation and social integration. Our goal is to help young adults connect with organizations and activities in the community that give them the opportunity to learn from experiences, rather than staring at a screen. We offer individual and group therapy to help young adults learn healthier coping mechanisms to deal with depression, anxiety, and self-doubt.

Foundations Asheville Can Help

Foundations Asheville is a young adult transition program located in the mountains of North Carolina. The program serves young adults age 18-24 who are looking to acquire the tools to make the transition from adolescence to life as an independent adulthood. Foundations helps young adults aspire to find meaning, direction, relationships, and self-reliance in their lives. At Foundations, we strive to create a full and rewarding life through an individualized combination of education, vocation training, community service, healthy lifestyle skills, relationship building, and participation in a genuine community of peers.

For more information, contact us at 18773187273.

Contact Us