“There is an increase in gaming among youngsters after the lockdown. It is definitely in the excessive range,” says Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of clinical psychology at NIMHANS, Bengaluru, and coordinator of Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) clinic. He has observed a 30% spike in gaming addiction, and relapse among those who had managed to cut their screen and gaming time.
He cites the example of a 17-year-old boy who was having trouble sleeping because he’s been online for an extra four to five hours a day, gaming with friends he hasn’t seen in months.
Dr Yatan Pal Singh Balhara, an additional professor at the department of psychiatry at AIIMS, New Delhi, has drawn clear links between an increase in gaming behaviour among college students to examination- and covid-related stress. In a study published in the Indian Journal of Public Health, he observed that 50.8% of participants spent more time gaming after the lockdown and that an equal number reported high stress caused by uncertainty about their academic and future career.
“Most see gaming as a way to cope with stress,” he says. “This is the first time in their lives that adolescents and young adults are experiencing such a stressful situation.”
Yet many of these young people do not see the increase in online time and the disruption it causes to their routine as a sign of addiction, says Dr Sharma.
They believe they will be able to drop the habit once life returns to ‘normal’.
“But that’s not always the case,” he says. “Parents have to make the extra effort to cultivate alternative offline activities, which would keep young people from possible addiction. It’s more effective than rebuking or scolding.”
For the past three months, Shreya, 23, who does not want to reveal her last name, has been hooked to Minecraft, a team video game. The postgrad student, who is home in Dehradun because college is closed, plays online with about 15 others, all aged between 22 and 26, for about five hours a day. Before the lockdown, she never played online video games.
“It’s a nice way to occupy myself, connect with people and socialize. I don’t have a social life now since we’re all stuck at home. I’m not addicted. I’m sure I can cut down on game time once we’re all back to our normal lives,” she says.
More hours spent on gaming cuts into the time spent on what Dr Balhara calls “other life activities”, such as personal care, exercise and “true communication” with others.
Worries about the disease and the lack of a real social life, apart from exam stress, and uncertainty about the future have pushed young people toward the sense of community that online gaming can offer.
He also examined Google trends 28 days before and after the lockdown and observed a significant increase in searches for online games.
Colleges have been closed from March, and many have not completed their exams, which “could be a potential factor” factor in the mental health of students.
“If someone is predisposed to addiction, the lockdown and other stay-at-home rules provide a conducive environment,” says Dr Balhara.
“There is a need to focus on students’ coping style to ascertain the likelihood of them depending on gaming as a coping mechanism against stress.”